NIGERIANS living abroad have won a major battle as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has finally yielded to their request to cast their ballots in their countries of residence.

According to the electoral umpire, the stage was set for INEC to conduct the pilot “Diaspora Voting”in four countries to enable Nigerians living abroad to have the opportunity of participating in the electoral process.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu who made the disclosure in Abuja at the weekend, while addressing stakeholders in the electoral process, said that the commission had concluded plans to conduct elections in four English-speaking countries, including Britain and the United States (U.S.)

His words: “On Diaspora Voting, all we need to do is to amend Section 77(2) of the Constitution just to remove one clause that says only Nigerians resident in Nigeria can register for an election, not even vote. If we do that, that would be okay.

“We chose Britain and others for the pilot project because these are countries where we have many Nigerians and there would be no language problems.”

Replying, the Chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said that the decision was apt because of the contributions of Nigerians living abroad to the country’s development.

The committee cahirman said that with an annual remittance of $11 billion, Nigerians in the Diaspora were capable of mobilising substantial investments and development capital for the country.

She said that the committee was sponsoring the Diaspora Commission Bill, with a view to unleashing the force of technological, socio-political, scientific and innovative power in the country through the mobilisation of the intellectual and creative energies of Nigerian professionals overseas.

Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa noted that 15 countries had full ministries dedicated solely to Diaspora affairs, while about 10 countries had institutions dealing with Diaspora matters.

She stressed the need for a central organisation that would deal with all matters concerning the best Diaspora practices, while coordinating programmes in a systematic manner.

Her words: “Right now in Nigeria, the various departments and agencies dealing with Diaspora issues are fragmented. Therefore, it is desirable to have a central body where Diaspora issues can be systematically and adequately addressed.”

The bill, sponsored by Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa and 16 other lawmakers, has seven clauses, 23 sections and has gone through the second reading in the lower chamber of the National Assembly.

It seeks to establish the Nigerians in Diaspora (Establishment) Commission, while facilitating the engagement of Nigerians living abroad in the policies, programmes and projects aimed at engendering the country’s development.

The bill also intends to pool the human capital and material resources of Nigerians living abroad and use them for the socio-economic, cultural and political development of the country.

More than 17.5 million Nigerians are currently living abroad, with over three million of them residing in the U.S.