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The Diaspora Day Is Worthless To The Diaspora

Tunde Odediran writes on why the Diaspora Day is a waste of tax payers’ money by the Nigerian government.

Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa / Photo credit: thecable.ng
Chairman/CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa / Photo credit: thecable.ng

With the declaration of July 25 as the National Diaspora Day, it would seem that the Federal Government is finally recognising Nigerians living abroad for their contribution to the economy and national development, but it is just a lip service. The day has no value yet.

The Nigerian government has never taken bold steps nor appeared to be deeply interested in the welfare of the Diaspora where they live or their involvement in the affairs at home.

This reality makes the Diaspora Day and the condiments of diaspora celebration a waste of tax payers’ money, having no meaning in the lives of those it was declared for.

Successive governments have been sponsoring events that feign to recognise the growing importance of the diaspora to the national economy.

That portrayal is false and the activities that purport it are staged. Planning, consultation and engagement are not taking place.

The setting up of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) has failed to lift the needle as well. What Nigerians abroad have continued to see is a lack of seriousness and an unwillingness to involve them in national affairs

Since former President Olusegun Obasanjo came to the US in September 2000, to insult rather than rally the emigrant community, no wood thrown in the fire to ignite the Diaspora spirit has burned.

The setting up of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) has failed to lift the needle as well. What Nigerians abroad have continued to see is a lack of seriousness and an unwillingness to involve them in national affairs.

The National Diaspora Day is vain and useless.

The impression the Buhari administration is trying to create – that it has a programme that caters to, and is embraced by, those living abroad – is false.

There is no such relationship or progress. Rather, the government’s relationship with the diaspora may have deteriorated.

Nigerians abroad do not participate in diaspora activities planned by the government, and they are too busy to monitor the digressive and wasteful expenditure in their name.

There is usually no outreach and the organisers lack a reach far beyond the embassies. The Day is the height of deception and pretension, and will die of malnourishment.

The fact is that individuals in the Diaspora know quite well they are on their own and the Nigerian government does not have their back.

Alone, they stand; alone they fall. The Nigerian government that does not comprehend its responsibilities and commitments to citizens at home, has never been expected to do much for those abroad.

Responsible governments around the world spare no effort to care for and protect their citizens around the world.

When an American citizen is in trouble, there is help from the US government; but a Nigerian citizen cannot count on any Nigerian embassy or consulate for assistance.

The Nigerian foreign mission does not pick up the phone. As a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United States, my Nigerian passport serves only one purpose – to avoid applying for a visa when visiting home.

Nigerians in the Diaspora need efficient services, not a ceremony in Abuja. They want to exercise their rights of citizenship to elect and be elected where they are.

And they clamour for a Nigeria that they can someday return to. The day set up for them has no meaning until there is progress towards these yearnings.

The Nigerian foreign mission does not pick up the phone. As a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United States, my Nigerian passport serves only one purpose – to avoid applying for a visa when visiting home

Those of us living abroad cannot receive basic services from our home country, the least of which is the renewal of the Nigerian passport.

Some Nigerians periodically protest at the embassy in London against terrible services related to passport renewals. In fact, one of them is in court for destroying automobiles belonging to embassy officials out of frustration.

Without the ability to deliver simple consular services, how can we even focus on the more difficult responsibilities of a foreign mission, such as voting, airlifting citizens in trouble and defending the rights of citizens.

There is hardly any Nigerian in the Diaspora naïve enough to believe Nigeria has a government that has the resources and will to respond in time of dire need. And a responsive government is needed more than a diaspora day.

Other than carrying Nigerian passports, there are few rights for the Nigerian Diaspora. The right to vote is denied in spite of demands.

During the Jonathan years, a group purportedly representing the Diaspora was called to Abuja and I had the opportunity to feed into the meeting – through a lawyer and human rights activist with connections to the embassy in the US – the need to prioritise voting rights for the Diaspora.

This burning issue was not even an item on their agenda. The feedback from the government was instant: the right to vote in the diaspora is futuristic.

Why can the Diaspora not exercise voting rights, when 115 countries and territories have systems in place to allow their emigrants to vote, including 21 African nations, 13 North and South American, 15

Asian, six Pacific and 36 European countries?

Not only are we not allowed to vote, we have no voice in government and remain constituents of nobody. Overseas constituencies have become an essential part of democratic governance.

Such constituencies engage diaspora voters who retain their citizenship and give them a political voice.

France reserves legislative seats for citizens who live abroad. Algeria reserves eight of its 382 parliamentary seats for expatriates, many of whom reside in France.

Why can the Diaspora not exercise voting rights, when 115 countries and territories have systems in place to allow their emigrants to vote, including 21 African nations, 13 North and South American, 15 Asian, six Pacific and 36 European countries?

A single seat in the Chamber of Representatives is reserved for Colombians abroad. Italy has four overseas constituencies, each with three representatives.

Seven representatives are elected by the Dominican diaspora: two to represent Dominicans living in the Caribbean and Latin America, two for Europe, and three for Canada and the United States.

Portugal’s Assembly of the Republic seats two reserved seats for expatriates, one for Portuguese expatriates in Europe and the other for expatriates elsewhere.

In Nigeria, you either come home to vote or be voted – or you are not a Nigerian.

Needless to stress, the Diaspora today sustains the Nigerian economy. Those who contribute this much to the nation, by the government’s own admission, deserve a lot more than an empty day celebrated by those that the diaspora has no relationship with.

The NIDCOM website states: “The official inflow of migrant remittances into Nigeria in 2018 is estimated at USD22Bn (source). The estimate for 2019 is about USD25Bn.

To put this in context, this is about 7% of Nigeria’s GDP. The transfer from NNPC to the Government was a little less than the USD11Bn in 2018.

Needless to stress, the Diaspora today sustains the Nigerian economy. Those who contribute this much to the nation, by the government’s own admission, deserve a lot more than an empty day celebrated by those that the Diaspora has no relationship with

This means that the Diaspora is providing more than double the FX to Nigeria than our oil provides to all levels of governments. In fact, this understates the amount, because the $25Bn is the official remittance flow.”

I read a rebuttal on NIDCOM ‘s website to an article “Nigeria’s Diaspora Day Nonsense” by syndicated journalist in the US, Sonala Olumhense. Olumhense condemned the Diaspora Day, NIDCOM’s ineffectiveness and the impotence of Nigerians in Diaspora (NIDO), through which the commission operates.

The journalist is correct – ordinary Nigerians in the Diaspora are unaware of NIDO, ignorant of the Diaspora Day and oblivious of the Commission’s activities.

NIDO is, by its impact and reach, just a social club for those with connections to government officials. I have never been aware of an event organised by the organisation.

An associate, who devoted time to political advocacy in the US before returning to Nigeria, spent months trying to talk to then Congresswoman Abike Dabiri-Arewa, the head of NIDCOM, on behalf of the Citizens for Nigeria organization, and failed.

The “Lady Diaspora” did not respond. It was just the kind of mentality and attitude that the Diaspora abhors.

The commission she leads would benefit from the leadership of someone with practical diaspora experience, sensibility and wide-ranging network.

As someone who has lived in the Diaspora for 23 years and connects far and wide in the Nigerian community, I daresay that NIDO and NIDCOM are ineffectual, if not inept.

They are having no impact nor influence on the people they purportedly represent.

There is a need for imagination and creativity to reach the diaspora, understand their desires and tap into their potential for national development.

Without making this connection, any talk about a diaspora day is premature and meaningless.

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