- Picture- R-L: Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa , Abdur-Rahman Balogun
The month of May can aptly be described as Diaspora month in Nigeria. This, apart from July 25, designated as National Diaspora Day by the Federal Government, was the month when the dream of most fundamentals of diaspora was birthed.
It was in May 19, 2019, the hitherto office of Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora Affairs and the occupier, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa transmuted to Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) following the Senate approval and her confirmation as the Chairman/CEO of the new Commission.
It was indeed a dream nurtured when in May 2017 President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law through the acting President then Prof Yemi Osinbajo following the eventual passage by the eighth National Assembly.
Similarly, it was also in the month of May that the Federal Executive Council ratified and approved the much-awaited and expected National Diaspora Policy, the first of its kind in Nigeria and a holistic policy geared towards engagement of Nigerians in the diaspora in policies, projects and in participation in the development of Nigeria.
So, the formation of NIDCOM through the Act of Parliament, the appointment of the first Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa as the pioneer boss of the Commission, the ratification and final approval of National Diaspora Policy by the Federal Government all took place in the respective years in the month of May as well as the final public presentation and launch of the National Diaspora policy, also took place in the month of May 2021.
With the stage set for the commission to justify the need for its establishment, among which is the reduction in the massive exodus of Nigerian professionals abroad in search of greener pasture thus creating a ‘brain drain’ in the system and efforts by the commission in stemming the tide and change the narrative to brain-gain through a constructive engagement with the Diasporas and tapping their potentials for national development.
Not backing down due to daunting challenges starring at it in the face, the Commission has been able to live up and even beyond expectations in its two years of existence.
It must be mentioned here that the Nigerian Diaspora is part and parcel of the population to bring about accelerated economic growth using their resources, intellect and global exposure. They are the real catalyst and asset for economic development of the country.
Since the establishment of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, a lot of activities have been embarked upon to fulfil the mandates of the Commission. Within two years, the Commission has lived up to expectations and even beyond it despite daunting challenges.
1. Such activities include advocacy to states to key into the larger Diaspora movement with the inauguration of Diaspora focal point offices and officers in 33 out of the 36 states of the Federation including the FCT.
In May 2021, the focal point officers coordinated by NIDCOM had a successful three-day Summit in Abuja, the third in the series since 2019.
2. NIDCOM also ensured the consolidation of the declaration of July 25 every year, by the Federal Government of Nigeria as `National Diaspora Day’, a date set aside to recognise and appraise Nigerians in the Diaspora on their contributions to national development. This is to ensure networking, dialogue and constructive interface between Nigerian professionals and experts in the Diaspora and Nigerians at home on development challenges and opportunities. The third in the series will hold on Sunday July 25, 2021 via hybrid and webinar.
3. Similarly, by Nov. 2021, the Commission will be organising the third in the series of Nigeria Diaspora Investment Summit (NDIS) in Abuja with other stakeholders from across the globe via webinar thus lubricating the Diasporas interest and participation in investing back home in any sector of their choice.
It will be recalled that as a follow-up to the Summit, on 18th and 19th December, 2019, two young Nigerians resident in Saudi Arabia, put together the first Saudi Arabia/Nigeria Investment Forum, an offshoot of the Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit in Abuja and it was also a great success.
4. As part of the Commission’s collaborative efforts with other stakeholders, some 19,085 Nigerians were evacuated and brought back home from various countries due to reasons of deportation, human abuses and trafficking, voluntary returnees and effects of Covid-19 pandemic from June 2020 to March 2021.
5. Of course, with Nigerians in Diaspora contributing so much to the Nigerian Economy, estimated at over $25 billion US dollars in 2019, it is widely believe that they deserve to vote. So, the Commission already working with the National Assembly and other stakeholders like National Diaspora Voting Council, to hopefully make this a reality in Nigeria through amendment to the country’s Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution.
6. The Commission through its Chairman/CEO or her representatives had participated in many activities within and outside the country geared towards advancing the course of Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Such activities include the participation of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa in the 25th anniversary of Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas (ANPA) wherein she was amazed at the quality of Nigerians doctors as the best brains in the Americas
7. In line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s desire that the welfare and well-being of Nigerians anywhere in the world is top priority, the Commission paid swift intervention visits to many High Commissioners and Embassies in Abuja to put a stop to the indiscriminate xenophobic related killings of Nigerians, discrimination, inhuman treatment, illegal detention among others, insisting that it is highly reprehensible, condemnable and unacceptable.
The Commission was at the forefront for the release of Zainab Aliyu on death row by the Saudi Arabian government for alleged drug related offences as well as Ibrahim Ibrahim. The Commission intervened positively in rescuing other Nigerians in such dilemma in Malaysia, Oman, U.A.E., China, Brazil, Morocco, Singapore, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Qatar and Ethiopia.
8. One of the objectives of the Commission is to have adequate data of Nigerians living abroad for effective planning purposes and the flag off was done in partnership with National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) where the enrolment took the Commission to some parts of West Africa, Europe, Asia and Americas. This is a continuous exercise under the commission Diaspora Mapping policy.
9. Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa assisted by the Secretary of the Commission, Engr. Dr. Yakubu Sule Bassi and other top management of the Commission at various times do interact with stakeholders such as International Organization for Migration (IOM), National Youth Service Commission, EFCC, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), International Labour Organization and Association of Bureau De Change Operators of Nigeria, NAPTIP, NDLEA, among several others to see how collaboration with the Commission will enhance better opportunities for the Nigerians abroad.
10. Inauguration of some NIDO Chapters: The Commission under the leadership of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa also led some Commission staff to witness the inauguration of some of the NIDO Chapters wherein they were counselled to be good ambassadors of Nigeria.
11. Securing a Nigeria passport abroad has been a recurring headache to many Nigerians in the Diaspora. To ease the process, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa took out time to engage with Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola as well as the Comptroller General of Immigration Service. These efforts have paid off as backlog of the passports issuance occasioned by the lockdown of covid -19 in many countries have been eased out.
12. During the year under review, the Commission had its maiden Diaspora Quarterly Lecture with both Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Amb. Zubairu Dada and Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior Affairs. The duo engaged the Nigerians abroad on many issues of great concern with Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa moderating for over four hours. It was indeed a fruitful engagement and mutually rewarding.
13. In exercising its over-sighting functions, various standing committees of the National Assembly do engage with NIDCOM Management from time to time to brief them on the activities of the Commission and solicit for more support especially in the areas of funding and necessary legislative interventions to ease the task of the two-year old Commission.
14. Media Engagements: From time to time as it may be required, NIDCOM issued various statements and interfaced with the media especially on issues as it affects the welfare of Nigerians in the Diaspora.
It has also a 30-minute weekly package on NTA International called “The Diaspora’’ wherein the programmes and activities of the commission were being showcased.
Similarly, there is monthly Diaspora Newsletter being produced by the Commission where all the activities of the Commission within the month are well stated out.
Added to that is the new online global radio station being test run for the commission. It is expected to start full operation before the year runs out. All these are in addition to NIDCOM social media handles.
15. Diaspora Town Hall Meetings: NIDCOM boss in entourage of Mr. President on state visit do organise town hall meetings for Nigerians living abroad to meet and interact with Mr. President and discuss issues affecting their welfare while using the opportunity to also brief Nigerians in Diaspora on efforts being made by the administration to revamp the economy, tackle insecurity and fight corruption to a standstill in the country.
16. Petitions: On daily basis, NIDCOM treats petitions of Nigerians in the Diaspora received in its known mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, as it affects their welfare and get it resolved as soon as possible.
17. Enlightenment/Advocacy: NIDCOM Chairman or her representatives devote time to engage Nigerians both within and outside the country on advocacy and enlightenment on the mandate of the Commission by delivering lectures, goodwill messages and talks on various Diaspora related issues.
18. Diaspora Festival: The Commission in conjunction with some private sector NGOs held the third in the series of Diaspora Door of Return in Badagry in Lagos from October 15 to 20, 2019 where the Diasporas made a pilgrimage to the motherland, reminiscencing of the slaves’ trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. Due to Covid-19, the 2020/2021 editions of the festival could not hold as planned.
19. Intervention: Due to the efforts of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, some individuals and groups from the diaspora donated both medical equipment and services worth millions of Naira towards ameliorating the impacts of Covid–19 pandemic in the country as a way of giving back to their fatherland.
Many more Nigerians were recognized for their wonderful contributions to their host country and Nigeria as a way of encouraging others and for them to do more. To this extent, the Commission is presenting to the public soon a compendium of great Nigeria achievers in the diaspora as a way of celebrating and encouraging them to do more.
20. COVID-19 AND NIDCOM: Despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the Commission remains active online as a necessary tool to link up with the Nigerians abroad. It was through this effort that the commission launched a portal wherein it coordinated the collation of data of Nigerians stranded abroad and facilitated the evacuation of over 9,000 stranded Nigerians back home in conjunction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies. Regrettably, Nigeria lost over 60 of her citizens to Covid-19 pandemic abroad. May their gentle souls rest in perfect peace.
21. Welfare: Staff welfare is a top priority at the Commission. Apart from internal training, some of the staff across the departments and units were sent on capacity building training both within and outside the country to enhance their performance amidst other welfare packages by the management.
22. It is gratifying to note that owing to some of the modest achievements within two years of the existence, a lot of accolades, awards and recognition were bestowed on the Chairman/CEO and the Commission by various groups such as Business Day Award and Guardian Distinguished Award amongst several others in recognition of the contributions of NIDCOM to Diaspora affairs in the country.
23. Also in May 2021, NIDCOM was listed among the 20 outstanding Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government adjudged as performing in the year 2021.
This was disclosed by the CEO, Profiles & Biographies, Mr. Kammonke Abam, in a statement in Abuja, as an update on the firm’s research and compilation of the accomplishments of MDAs to mark the sixth anniversary of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
He said the assessment result is relative to the MDAs fulfilling their ministerial mandate in line with the administration’s 9-point development agenda, and his firm’s evaluation benchmark.
Undoubtedly, it is a statement of fact that within 24 months of the Commission existence, it has really lived up to expectations and even surpassed it, though not yet uhuru, as Nigerians in the Diaspora is assured that their interest and welfare will continue to be adequately taken care of.
In addition to the sustainability of the above achievements, the Commission intends in the years ahead to work with stakeholders to do DIASPORA MAPPING geared towards having a data of Nigerians living abroad for effective planning.
More importantly, the commission intends to re- launch DIASPORA BONDS in collaboration with Debt Management Office just as the $300 million Diaspora bonds was successfully launched in 2017.
In the years ahead, the Commission intends to have a regular DIASPORA CHAMPIONS and AWARDS to deserving Nigerians in the Diaspora as a way of encouraging them to be good ambassadors of the country.
Equally, the Commission will work with National Assembly relevant committees to ensure DIASPORA VOTING for Nigerians living abroad through amendments to some electoral laws.
Talks are on with relevant government agencies to have a befitting Diaspora City in Abuja with over 17,000 housing units. This will be replicated in some states of the federation.
CHALLENGES: Despite two major challenges facing the Commission, which is lack of office accommodation and paucity of funds, the Chairman/CEO, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa has vowed not to be cowed by the challenges but to forge ahead and ensure that Nigerians in the Diaspora are not short changed in the scheme of things.
Writing on NIDCOM and the dilemmas of our diaspora” Dr Abiodun Adeniyi of Baze University Abuja opined that “NIDCOM is rich in ideas, but often unfortunately weak in execution. This weakness is no fault of theirs, nevertheless, for some reasons.
First is poor funding, and second, because of a subtly loud indifference for its mandate. Third is some suspected threat of a conflict of responsibility between it and the overarching foreign ministry. Fourth is the poor structural and facility support it presently has, plus a disinterest in helping them out, or even a concern for denying them of the little they have, Fifth is the hitherto inability to appreciate the full import of diasporic influence.
In spite of the above challenges, Adeniyi added that the progress in the public sphere of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa has arguably been synonymous with diaspora issues, making her a factor in the description of Nigeria diaspora.
“Add her passion, media initiative, and a level of influence she covets, plus her stimulus and it would be tougher to deny the effect of her brand”.
“Overall, I imagine an empowered NIDCOM reconciling, or resolving these issues” he said.
Above all, with the establishment of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, which has been a veritable link in many areas of human endeavours to ease the task of Nigerians in Diaspora in engaging with the Nigerian economy, it is expected that all Nigerians in the Diaspora will reciprocate the gesture by continuing to be good Ambassadors and project the good name of the country wherever they may find themselves. The Commission shall continue to celebrate her heroes and heroines in the Diaspora.
- Abdur-Rahman Balogun is the Head, Media, Public Relations and Protocols Unit, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, (NIDCOM) Abuja)