(Being An Address presented by Olukayode Ajulo, ESQ. (National Secretary of Labour Party, Nigeria) on the Occasion of the Opening of Labour Party Nigeria’s International Bureau in London, UK on Thursday, 4th December, 2014)
Fellow Country men and women, enthusiastic youth and gentlemen of the press, I thank you for your presence at this occasion. Compatriots and friends of our party and our country, I bring you message of hope and optimism from the homeland. Today indeed marks an important day not only in the life of our party, but also in the life of our country Nigeria. We are opening the office of our party the Nigeria’s Labour Party in London. We are opening a great chapter in the history of development of our party. As a party that has not only declared its detribalized and truly nationalistic nature, but that which is truly ideological and objective in praxis, ours remains the only party that builds true hope for the majority of the downtrodden working people and the poor. We equally remain the voice of the unrepresented and unrecognized.
Today the population of Nigeria is estimated at 170 million. The population of Nigerian Diaspora living in Europe and the Americas totaled 17 million and the total remittance of this population to the national economy has been estimated to be $21 billion, a whopping 10 percent of the Gross National Product (GNP). Yet the Nigerian Diaspora that provides such financial base for many businesses back home, provides the fund for the education of a chunk of the youth population at home, and provides means of sustenance of a large population of aged and unemployed, has been alienated from the political process by being disenfranchised collectively.
The denial of right to vote to the Nigerian Diaspora is anathema. It is preposterous and opprobrious. It is not only contrary to standard practice in exemplary democracies around the world, but equally falls flat in the face of the peculiar facts earlier highlighted.
Compatriots, our recent political history, particularly in the 1990s when intractable military dictators and monstrous tyrants held sway over the lives of our people like an albatross, will furnish anyone who cares to dig deep with tales of heroism and intrepid deeds by Nigerians in Diaspora. At a point in time the exiles in Europe and America became the main driving force of the struggle. Every centre of struggle for democracy strategically had then a Europe or American chapter. Indeed, it can be said that without the contribution of the Nigerian Diaspora the democracy we have today would not have come to live when it did.
Yet today Nigerians in the Diaspora are all but disenfranchised. At the risk of sounding rather hyperbolic I must say that until we face this blight in our democratic journey and stamp it out, until we seize the bull by the horn and do the needful, until justice is done and is seen by all, both at home and abroad to have been done, we can’t say truly to ourselves and to the rest of the world that we are on the right road. We can’t say that we are on the road to true democratic development.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this regard, the road to justice is not lost, the road to justice is not a treacherous crossroad, neither is it a precipitous bend in a Dante’s dark forest at the gates of paradise. It is a clear road with prominent road signs. Only that as a nation, as an emerging democracy, we have chosen to skirt around far afield. Now is the time to act; time to retrace our steps. We must get back to the road and face the challenge together. There is no occasion for this than now.
Therefore, today, at this historic occasion and on behalf our people in Diaspora and true lovers of democracy at home and world over, the Labour Party demands that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) put in place the appropriate structure and mechanism for the participation of the Nigerian Diaspora in the 2015 general elections.
For the avoidance of doubt, this by no means amount to a tall order. In practical terms, it is a very easy thing to do. INEC needs to register the electorate in the various countries, delineate voting centers according to best practices and ensure that polling booths are provided. The countries of the West and Asia have effective infrastructure for such and it can be done. We must insist that this be done. There should be no going back.
Let me also seize this opportunity to address a very cogent issue, one that seems to have cast a pall of doubt and pessimism over INEC. Recent activities would appear to show that INEC is not fully prepared to play its role as an unbiased umpire. One: there was the skewed creation of new polling booths across the country, which the commission has been compelled by public outcry to put on hold. Now, there is the ongoing distribution of permanent voters cards (PVC) which is fraught with many irregularities, including disappearance of names of duly registered voters from records, displacement of voters, duplication and all what not. But more disturbing are the pictures of underage voters on queue collecting PVC! All this makes us a laughing stock. It is the position of our party that all necessary administrative, technical, institutional and legal steps must be taken to address this. Untrammeled doubt in the electoral process is a recipe for instability and failure.
While one is at ease with INEC explanation that the distribution of the PVC is ongoing process, it is our hope and prayer that all eligible voters be issued their PVC a month to the election as prescribed.
It is also our prayer that INEC should without hesitation do a mock election is some designated areas to test run the PVC in order to identify the unforeseen factors that may plague the election in time.
Once again, thank you for lending me your ears. Together we shall pull through this journey to greatness as a nation.
Labour Party! Forward Ever, Backward Never.