July 2, 2013/ Titus Olowokere, Atlanta, GA
“Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, took up the challenge with a passion, blazing the trail of diaspora consciousness, creating astounding awareness on the seriousness and urgency of the interests and peculiarities of Nigerians in Diaspora. On several occasions, she has stressed the need for the Nigerian government to show more commitment to the welfare and management of its citizens in Diaspora. She has visited most places around the world where Nigerians in Diaspora live, held interactive sessions with them, understanding their behavioral characteristics, listening to their meditative declarations and amassing thoughts on how best to harness this vast human resource for the good of the country.”
On the heels of the upcoming Nigeria Diaspora week in Abuja (July 22nd – 25th), it is imperative to pause and reflect on the dynamics of the Nigerians in Diaspora, where we are, how far we have come, meticulously extrapolate into the future and march resolutely on the path of the formulation of tangible policy for aggregation, engagement and utilization of this sector of our population.
The fact has reverberated around the world and has been emphatically reiterated in Nigeria, more unequivocally than ever, that Nigerians in the Diasporas, the "scattered seeds", as it were, the sojourners, the “Nigerians abroad”, that most governments previously ignored and in some cases even denigrated — are increasingly seen as agents of national development. Without prejudice, Nigerians in Diaspora possess immense human, material, intellectual and professional resources. Several Nigerians in Diaspora are extremely skilled and have added immeasurable value to their countries of residence. Lack of a structured institutional framework has inhibited the effective contribution of this important resource to national development. It is therefore necessary to re-visit the necessity for a policy that will mainstream the Nigerian Diaspora in the development agenda.
This article will expound on recognitions of Diaspora Contributions to World Development, review the journey so far with Diaspora mileage in Nigeria, discuss the governmental apparatus of managing Diaspora affairs in other countries, analyze obstacles to the creation of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, examine what Nigerians in Diaspora really want in the Nigeria Diaspora Commission and conclude with an extrapolation of the tasks ahead and a concerted clarion call
Recognition of Diaspora Contributions to World Development
The contributions of the Diaspora community to global trade, extending the frontiers of technology innovation, anchoring major strides in Healthcare revolutions, as well as value added to good governance in their respective countries of residence, cannot be over-emphasized.
Look at the United States for instance; Nigerians in the Americas today are more than the population of many African countries. Earlier this year, the White House recognized 11 Diaspora inventors and entrepreneurs in US as “Immigrant Innovator Champions of Change”. “Immigrants have long made America more prosperous and innovative,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said in announcing the honors in May 29. “We are proud to recognize these leaders who work every day to grow our economy, advance science and technology, and support their home communities.” An official release by the White House asserted that, "more than 40 percent of the 500 biggest U.S. companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. In 2011, immigrants started 28 percent of all new businesses in the United States, according to the White House". Even though no Nigerian was named among these Immigrant innovators, several Nigerians are making waves, creating novel break-through and landmarks in leadership, entrepreneurship, public service, and in fact, in almost every sector of the American economy.
In Sept 2012, two US-based Nigerians employed by the American government were honored with presidential awards for outstanding performances. One was recognized with the US Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and Call to Service Award, while the other, a scientist at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, was applauded as one of the top US early scientist recognized by White House. This is the case in many other developed countries with high presence of Nigerians in Diaspora. The question then is ‘How is Nigeria tapping into this rich professional resource’?
A number of countries such as China, India, México and Israel have significantly benefited by capitalizing on their links with their Diaspora. Other countries have also initiated measures and designed policies and legislation to create an enabling environment for the Diaspora to participate fully and contribute to the development of these countries.
The journey so far with Diaspora recognition in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government has made some overtures toward the diaspora, but it has not developed a coherent position on such key questions as repatriation, engagement, retirement, and investment. Realizing this potential, the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora, headed by Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa, was set up in 2009 under the then Speaker Dimeji Bankole in the 6th National Assembly. Among the terms of reference of the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs is to “To initiate policies needed to recognize and harness the potentials of Nigerians in Diaspora networks and organizations, assist in the realization of their agenda, and promote institutional changes to help public servants collaborate effectively with Diaspora representatives.”
Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, took up the challenge with a passion, blazing the trail of diaspora consciousness, creating astounding awareness on the seriousness and urgency of the interests and peculiarities of Nigerians in Diaspora. On several occasions, she has stressed the need for the Nigerian government to show more commitment to the welfare and management of its citizens in Diaspora. She has visited most places around the world where Nigerians in Diaspora live, held interactive sessions with them, understanding their behavioral characteristics, listening to their meditative declarations and amassing thoughts on how best to harness this vast human resource for the good of the country. She has visited countries with similar perspectives to their Diaspora Citizens. Earlier this year, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa led the Nigerian delegation to the 11th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2013 (India in the Diaspora Convention). The lawmaker, who was the first non-Indian invited to deliver a paper at the Convention, said the occasion was an eye-opener to Nigerians in the Diaspora.
In pursuit of her terms of reference, the House Committee on Diaspora affairs has proposed a Bill for an Act To establish the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, aka NIDCO. The Nigeria Diaspora Commission by design is meant to be a one-stop agency to handle Diaspora matters, which are now on the forefront of strategic national discussions. The Commission will be charged with the responsibility of “coordinating and organizing a system of collaborations of Nigerians in Diaspora for their contributions by identifying, preserving, and mobilizing the human/capital/material resources and expertise to the general development of Nigeria.”
Now, even though this is a laudable step for the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs, as novel and unprecedented as it is, the question remains, though, “Where are we with the Diaspora Commission establishment FOUR YEARS LATER?” My most recent recollection is that this Bill is has passed through all three readings at the House of Representatives level, and is currently waiting approval from the senate. This is the thrust of this article, that by the time this article is published or by the time the Nigeria Diaspora Week takes place in July, this Bill should have passed senate approval. Currently, the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) is the main agency responsible for Diaspora Affairs in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SFG). The Diaspora Commission, when established, will supposedly subsume the NNVS.
One welcome expectation of the Bill is the proposal to “Establish Diaspora offices of the Commission at various Nigerian Missions”. This is a sine qua non, as it will replace the need to have the superfluous and improvident “NIDO Desk” at the Nigerians Missions aboard. NIDO role is currently ambiguously defined under the present dispensation. This new “Diaspora Office” is more germane to the operations of the Foreign missions, and should compel NIDO to live up to its billing, to focus on reaching the professional grassroots, grow its membership like every other Nigerian organization and jettison this inglorious, often-abused accolade of “Government baby”, “Government Agent” or such perception of NIDO, that are counter-productive to healthy existence of Nigerian organizations in the Diaspora.
Diaspora commission in other countries
Creating a Diaspora Commission, an entity of management of nationals in the Diaspora, is not a Nigerian originality. Many other countries around the world have put structures in place to proactively and effectively harness their Diaspora resources. In fact Nigeria is a ‘late comer’ in this space. Some countries in Africa already have full Ministries of Diaspora. A number of countries have developed comprehensive policy packages. For instance:
♦Our neighboring country, the Republic of Benin developed a National Policy Plan for Beninese abroad, launched in 2001 and supported at the presidential level. It comprises a National Policy Declaration and establishes a new ministry in charge of relations with Beninese abroad.
♦In May of 2004, a cabinet-level department, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), was created with a mission to connect the Indian Diaspora community with its motherland by providing information, partnerships and facilitations for all matters related to Overseas Indians.
♦The Government of Grenada on 11th September 2009, same year the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs was created in Nigeria, launched a vibrant initiative to bring the development of a Permanent Grenadian Diaspora Agenda under one Desk, with the creation of the Office of Diaspora Affairs.
♦In the Philippines, government has recognized this potential as early as 30 years ago, creating the Commission on Filipinos Overseas, mandating it to provide services to overseas Filipinos.
♦Colombia launched a new program “ColombiaNos Une” monitored at presidential level and has achieved good results. Colombia also works with the countries that are host to Columbian Diasporas, especially with the United States. A pilot project for a “Consular Registry Card” is being implemented in Washington.
♦The Ethiopian government established the Ethiopian Expatriate Affairs and the Ethiopian Expatriate Support and Coordination Office as part of the country’s capacity-building efforts.
♦Ghana has the Ministry of Tourism and Diasporan Relations
♦Mali created the Ministry of Malians Abroad and African Integration
♦Senegal formed the Ministry for Senegalese Living Abroad
♦Tunisia instituted the Ministry of Social Affairs, Cooperation and Tunisians Abroad
♦Similar structures for guiding Government approach to Diaspora matters are in place in Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Armenia, Bangladesh, Benin, Dominica, Serbia, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Chile, China, Mexico and several other countries.
The fact is that the world will not wait for Nigeria on the issue of Diaspora integration. We must step up and catch up with the world on all issues in an increasingly globalized economy. So, the question remains, “Where are we with the establishment of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission FOUR YEARS LATER?”
Obstacles to the creation of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission
In the light of the foregoing and considering the cost-benefits analysis, the institution of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission is a sine qua non for national development. So why has the Diaspora Commission, aka NIDCO, not yet been established? What’s in the way? The NIDCO Bill was almost killed last sometime last year, having been in the legislative mill for a couple of years. It is incomprehensible that some of our lawmakers opposed the Bill, arguing, though erroneously, that the bill should be discarded for “these people are not deserving of such a platform because they are doing more harm than good to the country.” Phew! Megida, Oga, Onyeshi, how far from the incontrovertible facts can that be! There have also been some aboriginal sentiments to keep the status quo, arguing that any changes would jeopardize regional interests and frustrate some political advantages conferred on certain sections of the country. But it turned out to be sheer sentiments and unfounded fears. The material obstacles are the lack of understanding of Diaspora matters, “playing politics”, and resistance from “home-bred” Nigerian professionals, submitting that they have stayed with the system and want to keep the “Nigerians Abroad” at arms length.
Throwing all such obstacles out the window, the unequivocal reality though is that the establishment of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission is a win-win situation for the Nigerians in Diaspora and Nigeria itself. NIDCO will be and should be commissioned to deal with Diaspora matters and harness our human resources that are outside the shores of our country. No one loses anything. It paves way for a lot of Nigerian professionals and business people abroad, who remit over $20 billion annually to Nigeria to contribute to their quota to the development of our country, give back to their roots, bring their expertise, knowledge and sometimes equipment, and have a structured platform to connect with the system. Can it be any better than that? It reminds me of the saying that what we are seeking in “Sokoto” is in fact in the pocket of your “Sokoto”!
What Nigerians in Diaspora really want in the Nigeria Diaspora Commission
No doubt the Commission will live up to its billing to assist in the participation of Diaspora Nigerian professionals and entrepreneurs in economic projects in Nigeria, creating conducive political, economic, cultural, legal and spiritual environment. However, this is not about semantics. This is the time to put grandiloquence aside, keep political sentiments in the cooler, elevate national interest above self, analyze the realities, the challenges of living in the Diaspora and examine specific ways the establishment of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission can be mutually beneficial. So, the question is ‘What do Nigerians in Diaspora really want to see in the Diaspora Commission’?
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