By Abdur-Rahman Balogun
It was a dream come true when on 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 confirmation of Hon. Dabiri-Erewa as the Chairman/CEO of the new Commission.
It was indeed a dream nurtured since 2007 when Hon. Abike Dabiri became the first chairperson of the newly created Committee on Diaspora Affairs by the then leadership of the House of Representatives. It was meant for members of the opposition without any structure to fall back on but with her dedication and dynamism, Diaspora committee, which has been replicated in the Senate too, is to be reckoned with.
So, for eight years out of the 12 years she spent in the parliament, Hon. Dabiri alongside her colleagues and some stakeholders tried to get the bill on Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission through but when passed was never assented to until 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law following the eventual passage by the eighth assembly and intense lobbying by Hon. Dabiri-Erewa as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora Affairs.
But to actualize what was assented to, President Muhammadu Buhari in his wisdom, forwarded the name of the pioneer and visioner of the Act, to the Senate for approval as the Chairman/CEO of the new Commission in 2018 which was eventually materialized in May 2019 with the approval of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as the Chairman/CEO of the newly created Commission.
Permit me to reflect on the need for the establishment of the Commission. Over the past 20 years, with the massive exodus of Nigerian professionals out of Nigeria, labelled the ‘brain drain’ various initiatives were suggested to stem the tide including persuasion through the media, stringent visa requirements and others. This did not deter nor abate the trend due to the globalised nature of the world and the economic push-pull factors.
It was therefore proposed that initiatives and strategies be put in place for a meaningful interaction with the Diaspora to reverse the trend by turning it to brain gain which can only be achieved through a focal institution that will engage with the Diaspora on a continuous basis.
The call therefore for the setting up of a Diaspora Commission in Nigeria became imperative with the large numbers of professionals emigrating and this led to the processes leading to and the passage of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission bill in 2017.
The Commission in spite of the challenges of office accommodation, lack of budget and paucity of funds, hit the ground running to meet up with the challenges ahead within the confines of the three-point agenda of the Buhari government in terms of National Security, fighting Corruption and Economic Growth and Diversification.
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 fulfill the mandates of the Commission. Within a year, the Commission has lived up to expectations as it has performed as if it was in existence in the last 10 years.
Such activities include advocacy to states to key into the larger Diaspora movement with the inauguration of Diaspora focal point in the Governors offices in all the states of the Federation.
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 second National Diaspora Day under the Commission with the theme “Leveraging Diaspora Resources for National Development in a Covid-19 Era’’, took place on July 25, 2020. It was unique and extra-ordinary as it took place via a webinar conference with over 3,000 participants across the globe including President Muhammadu Buhari, who declared it open.
On November 5th and 6th, 2019, the Commission organised a successful second Nigeria Diaspora Investment Summit (NDIS) in Abuja with other stakeholders witnessing over 600 people from different parts of the world while the third one is being planned for November through webinar due to Covid-19 pandemic.
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. It was also a great success.
A major breakthrough for the Commission was the validation of the drafted holistic Diaspora policy in collaboration with other stakeholders which is currently awaiting the approval of Federal Executive Council. This will solve a lot of challenges affecting Diaspora activities in the country.
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 to hopefully makes this a reality in Nigeria through amendment to the country’s Electoral Act.
Other activities of NIDCOM
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.
Visitation to Ghana and South African High Commissions and Togolese Embassy: – 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 a swift intervention visits to both Ghana and South Africa High Commissions and Togolese Embassy all in Abuja to put a stop to the indiscriminate xenophobic related killings of Nigerians insisting that it is highly reprehensible, condemnable and unacceptable.
Intervention with respect to Zainab Aliyu and Ibrahim Ibrahim’s cases in Saudi Arabia and others: 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.
Data capturing of Nigerians in Diaspora: 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.
Nigerians in Prisons: Sadly enough, Nigerians are in various prison cells serving various jail terms. The Commission under Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa does visit some prisons outside the country to inquire about the welfare of the Nigerian inmates and see what could be done to assist them. This again, demonstrates the citizen diplomacy stance of President Muhammadu Buhari.
NiDCOM meeting with stakeholders: 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 among several others to see how collaboration with the Commission will enhance better opportunities for the Nigerians abroad.
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 the NIDO Sierra Leone Chapter wherein they were counselled to be good ambassadors of Nigeria.
Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa:
Following interventions to ameliorate series of attacks on black Africans in South Africa including Nigerians, NIDCOM received the first and second batches of stranded Nigerians back home in Lagos on Sept. 11, 2019 and Sept. 18, 2019 respectively with a total of 501 Nigeria returnees.
They received sim cards with N40, 000 worth of airtime plus 9GB of data valid for two months, as well as a soft loan from the Bank of Industry to support those interested in small trade and businesses.
While a programme of re-integration has been put in place with the support of some NGOs and their respective states of origin which had been written by NIDCOM after the returnees had been profiled for necessary assistance.
Visit to Comptroller General of Immigration Service:
Inundated with series of immigration issues from the Nigerians in the Diaspora, the Chairman/CEO led top officials of the Commission to meet with the Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammed Babandede on a fact finding mission and way out of some of the issues especially on passport issuance, renewal and the new scheme recently introduced by the Service to ease passport procurement by Nigerians anywhere in the world. The meeting was fruitful and mutually rewarding.
Engagement with National Assembly Committees:
NiDCOM Management team from time to time do engage with relevant National Assembly committees 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 make the take off of the new Commission smooth.
Official visit to Ministry Of Foreign Affairs:
As the new baby of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa equally met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama and other top officials of the ministry as matter of courtesy. Top on the agenda were some of the challenges confronting the new Commission and solicited for assistance in nurturing the Commission into meeting up with its core mandates.
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.
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.
On daily basis, NIDCOM treats petitions of Nigerians in the Diaspora received in its known mail addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, as it affects their welfare and get it resolved as soon as possible.
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.
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.
12th All African Games:
NiDCOM was part of the delegation that cheered Team Nigeria to victory at the 12thAll African Games which took place in Rabat, Morocco from August 14 to 31, 2019, where Nigeria came second in the overall medal table.
Donation from a Patriotic citizen:
A patriotic two-time Nigeria cancer survivor donated her one month salary (#500,000) to children of the Nigeria South Africa returnees through NiDCOM.
Multi Choice and NDE showered Mrs. Esther Iyoha, a widow, mother of four (4) and a South Africa returnee with N2.5 million.
In the same vein, NIDCOM also promised to sponsor one of her children’s education.
NiDCOM Boss Received Nigerian MBE Award Philanthropist: Mrs. Olasubomi Iginla-Aina CEO Light Up Foundation, a Nigerian, was honoured with the insignia of MBE in London to mark the Queen’s Birthday for her humanitarian effort.
In return, NIDCOM boss awarded her as the Commission’s first Diaspora Ambassador. 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
Visit to World Bank Director:
Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa led a delegation to visit the World Bank Director of Nigeria Africa Region, Mr. Shubham Chaudhuri; where issues of Diaspora remittances and collaboration with the World Bank took the centre stage.
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 50 of her citizens to covid-19 pandemic abroad. May their gentle souls rest in perfect peace.
Undoubtedly, it is a statement of fact that within 12 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.
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 shortchanged in the scheme of things.
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.