|Dabiri-Erewa (m) receiving a commemorative plaque at the event.|
Assalaamu’alaykum, Warahamatullahi, Wabarakatuhu. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. May His Blessing and Peace be upon His Messenger Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and all other Prophets and messengers.
In the name of almighty Allah, the most Benevolent, the most Merciful, I salute you all and welcome you to this occasion. May He continue to show us the way and lead us to the right way. Aamin.
It is a delight and indeed, a special privilege for me to be invited to deliver this year’s National Reunion Lecture of our great association. I was here too as an undergraduate many years ago, so it is really a home coming for me to be here after a long time. May Allah continue to guide you and grant you the means to continue to move Islam and our alma mata forward. I thank you for the honour. I pray that Almighty Allah (SWT) accept all your efforts individually and collectively as an act of Ibaadah.
Your choice of the topic for 2018 national reunion: “Leveraging the Diaspora: Opportunities for the Nigeria Ummah’’ is timely. A topic like this will remain forever relevant in Nigeria considering the immense contribution that the Nigerian Diaspora could bring to Nigeria.
What is Diaspora?
The term Diaspora comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “to scatter about.” The term has evolved in its usage to describe a community of people who live outside their shared country of origin or ancestry but maintain active connections with it. A Diaspora includes both emigrants and their descendants. While some people lose their attachment to their ancestral homeland, others maintain a strong connection to a place which their ancestors may have left generations ago. The term had traditionally been used exclusively to describe the dispersion of the Jewish people following their expulsion from the Holy Land (Alpers, 2001).
To Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), diaspora is now commonly used in a generic sense for communities of migrants living or settled permanently in other countries, aware of their origins and identity and maintaining various degrees of contact with their motherland. Worldwide, Diaspora numbers are large, estimated at about 215 million people living in a country other than the one they were born in. Undoubtedly, Nigerians are widely travelled and globally dispersed people with over 12 million scattered all over the globe. There is also a growing realization that the Nigerians in Diaspora are intensely and constantly connected with their home country and constitute one of the most skilled and educated diasporeans in the world.
A second reason for the broader use of the word Diaspora is because more people are Diaspora members.
With the rise of globalisation, an increasing number of people are moving from their countries of birth to pursue opportunities elsewhere. This I learnt is equally Islamic as Hijrah, migration of the Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah where He later settled down was Diaspora in nature.
EVOLUTION OF DIASPORA
Alterations and reinterpretation of these roles among citizens in certain spaces, especially those resident abroad, constituted as the Diaspora, help them put in colossal efforts to tell their own stories with the means available to them and not necessarily wait to pass through diplomatic channels to get their messages across. They engage in people to people diplomacy which entails using culture, arts, entertainment, informal and formal interactions including business meetings to advance the image of their home country.
On the other hand, some citizens domiciled abroad now decide, on their own, to contribute to the welfare of the people at home even as they try to build blameless reputations in order to project acceptable pictures of their countries and continents.
Independent of the government of their home countries or places of living, they often establish cultural organizations, media outfits to create more awareness for their homelands. For instance, countries such as India, Israel, China, Philippines, amongst others, have benefited immensely from their diaspora community.
Diaspora communities are doing a lot to drive development to their respective countries.
In the year 2010 alone, Africans living in the Diaspora remitted $21.5 billion with Nigeria topping the list with $10 billion, almost half of the whole remittances. The figure eventually rose to $10.6 billion in 2011. The figure made available by the World Bank, which cited the Migration and Remittances Fact book 2011, as a positive revelation of the financial activity of Nigerians living abroad towards their home country. The remittances are usually sent to support the loved ones and many other developmental projects in their homeland. The impact of this monetary movement is invaluable as Dilip Raha, who manages Remittances Unit at the World Bank noted. According to him, the fact that remittances are so large, come in foreign currency and go directly to households means they have a significant impact on poverty reduction, funding for housing and education, basic essential needs, and even business investments.
This figure has proven to be nothing but a conservative estimate, considering the fact that a large number of estimated 22 million Sub-Saharan Africans who left the continent often channel their resources back home through informal means. In some cases, some send goods home to be sold for the money to be utilized for several commitments that add to poverty reduction. The World Bank then projected that by 2012, following recovery from global financial crisis, remittances would reach 424 billion US Dollars as critical lifeline for families and entire communities across Africa in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
The remittances by Nigerians alone as at 2014 are put at $21billion dollars by International Office of Migration (IOM). As at December 2016, remittances from Nigerians abroad alone increased from $21 billion in the year 2015 to over $22 billion in 2017.
According to the Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) Report of the National Bureau of Statistics of 2016, which relied on records obtained from the Joint Tax Board and States’ Boards of Internal Revenue, the 36 states of Nigeria generated internally a total of N682.67 billion in 2015. Thus, Nigeria’s Diaspora injected into the country almost ten folds the amount of money all 36 states of the country generated within the same period.
In spite of the promise our Diaspora holds towards our national development, the community faces a series of challenges that stand in the way of realizing the potential. The challenges also often hinder Government’s efforts at responding more effectively to Diaspora needs.
One of the challenges is the lack of reliable database on our Diaspora. Figures often quoted about the number of Nigerians abroad remain at best speculative. The inadequacy continues to stand in the way of planning and proper engagement.
Secondly, Nigerians in Diaspora often cite bureaucratic bottlenecks as challenges in their engagement with Nigeria, which can be discouraging. Government is continually streamlining process to ensure ease of operation for all citizens.
There is also the issue of insecurity. Security touches on virtually all aspects of the national life and where it is not established, stands as a serious challenge to Diaspora engagement.
Also, Nigerians abroad are often faced with the difficulty of sending remittances back home. The formal channels of transfer are mostly expensive. The situation accounts for why Diaspora members often resort to informal channels of remittances that prevent Government from having accurate information on how best to plan and harness Diaspora resources for national development.
Another challenge is the issue of Double Taxation.
Having to be doubly taxed can be a source of discouragement and has stood in the way of how the Diaspora respond to tax regimes affecting them both in Diaspora and the Nigerian homeland.
The inability of our Diaspora to exercise their right as Nigerian citizens to external voting and participation in the electoral process is another challenge for the community. The challenges stem from the unavailability of a template for external voting and other similar provisions that can grant members of the Diaspora the full exercise of their franchise, considering that their contribution to national development cannot be denied.
Furthermore, our Diaspora organizations need to settle all their disputes, internally and externally. Government cannot meaningfully recognize and engage disjointed Organizations where disputes and infighting are rife. Surely, Nigeria cannot effectively leverage on its Diaspora without proper structures in place.
To this end, Government continues to appeal to all to be selfless and patriotic. Our Diaspora cannot afford to dissipate energy on wasteful and unproductive matters. Nigerians in Diaspora Organizations must focus on how to be genuinely relevant and contribute positively to the growth and development of Nigeria.
As part of the effort to leverage on this increasingly important community and establish an institutional framework for furthering the involvement of the Diaspora in the affairs of the country, the current Administration created the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora. The Office has the responsibility to coordinate Diaspora matters and facilitate engagement for actualizing mutual development back home in Nigeria and within your local communities.
Let me remind us that my tenure as Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs saw a surge in the wider discussion of the Diaspora and its relevance to the nation, promoting a spirit of patriotism, networking, and cooperation. During that time, we founded the Diaspora magazine which chronicles the life and experiences of many Nigerian achievers in the Diaspora, and how the House Committee under my leadership sought justice for many Nigerians who were deprived of it in the Diaspora.
I also sponsored the Diaspora Commission bill, which was passed and sent to the then President Goodluck Jonathan but was not assented to. Under the Eight Assembly, the bill was represented by Honourable Joan in the House of Representatives and Sen. Rose Ukoh in the Senate. The bill has now been passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by the Present Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2017, which now makes it possible for Nigeria to have a one-stop agency where all the activities of millions of Nigerians abroad would be coordinated and organized for the development of Nigeria. To kick start the Commission, it is expected that all appointments be made by the President subject to confirmation by the Senate. The Commission is expected to go a long way in institutionalizing Government engagement with the Diaspora. State governments of the Federation are also granting increased attention to the potential of their diaspora to bring development to their respective States.
MY ACTIVITIES AS THE SSA DIASPORA AFFAIRS
While quick to conveying congratulatory messages to Nigerians who exiled abroad, we also admonish them to be of good behavior wherever they find themselves. In 2017 alone, some of the Nigerians that were given commendation letters for flying the Nigerian flag high are as follows:
Seven Nigerians that won parliamentary seats in the UK election.
Anthony Joshua equally won the WBA lightweight boxing championship in London and proudly attributed his victory to his Nigerian heritage and rich cuisines.
Ms Sandie Okoro, who was appointed as the Senior Vice President and General Counsel, World Bank Group.
Ms Nnemkadi Ogwunike on her record breaking achievements in the United States Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) League.
US-based Nigerian Surgeon, Dr Oluyinka Olutoye, on a successful surgical feat in carrying out a successful operation on an unborn baby with tumour in her mother’s womb.
Mr Woyin Karowei Dorgu, for appointment as the 13th Bishop of Woolwich, by the Church of England as gladdening and reassuring.
Prof. Wale Adebanwi of University of California, Davis, United States of America, got the presidential recognition on his appointment to the prestigious Rhodes Professorship in Race Relations in the School of African and Interdisciplinary Area Studies at Oxford University.
A Nigerian pilot, Ademola Odujinrin, performed a record-breaking feat of being the first African solo pilot to fly around the world.
We have, in conjunction with agencies like NEMA, NAPTIP and National Refugees Commission, facilitated the return of several Nigerians who were stranded in Libya, Angola and Turkey. We have also intervened into the cases of maltreatment and Killing of Nigerians abroad including UK, South Africa, India, amongst others.
The extra-judicial killings of Nigerians abroad especially in South Africa, which have gruesomely led to the death of over 116 Nigerians within two years before February 2017 and over 10 Nigerian youths stabbed to death in UK alone in the last three months have always received condemnation of the office as it is worrisome and unacceptable.
Similarly, my office in conjunction Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Nigerian National Volunteer Services (NNVS) and other stakeholders for the first time had a national conference geared towards having a Diaspora Policy for the country. The document is currently at its final stage at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. This document takes into account the aforementioned challenges, among others, that have adversely affected the community’s involvement in Nigeria’s development and proffers specific solutions through a structured framework for implementation.
The participation of the Nigerian Diaspora in elections in Nigeria will further deepen their stake in nation building and further confer some measure of credibility on our electoral process. We are convinced that it is their fundamental political right to exercise such constitutional privileges as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution. Enfranchising Nigerians in the diaspora was a long shot, years back, but it is fast becoming a reality and my commitment is unshaken. Therefore, we are also working with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to grant Nigerians in the Diaspora the right to vote.
When on the 23rd of January 2017, the office together with officials of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in a Press Statement appealed to Nigerians to avoid Libya because it was dangerous and deadly, some commentators found it unnecessary. A seasoned commentator, Prof. Pius Adesanmi, said “Maybe the next travel advisory from a spokesperson of the Presidency would be to advise Nigerians to seek economic asylum in Chad or Cameroon. Just avoid Libya.”Yet another commentator Babajide Alabi re-echoed what Prof. Pius Adesanmi had said he wondered why the SSA would issue such a statement. He said “So is it okay for Nigerians to try illegal immigration elsewhere as long as it’s not Libya?”
When CNN released a documentary on modern day slavery in Libya coupled with the graphic tales of woes recounted by Libya returnees, the same Mr Babajide Alabi has seen for himself the wisdom behind the statement issued in January. In his recent article published in a National daily, entitled: “Libya, A Country with No Borders, But Slave Markets’’, Alabi said “Looking back now, I commend the efforts of the Nigerian government trying to sensitize citizens thinking of undertaking the dangerous journey”. He apologized for his wrong perception. The decision then to put out this advice was based on a video clip and pictures of Libyans capturing and ill-treating black migrants.
These were some of the few comments trending in public discourse then until when the news broke again that some 26 girls got drowned on the Mediterranean Sea and were hurriedly buried by the Italian authorities without recourse to Nigerian government. We wrote the Italian Authorities on why the girls were buried before the stipulated date and in their response, the Italian Authorities apologized claiming that there were miscommunications somewhere between the Italian Embassy in Abuja and NAPTIP.
The sad stories in Libya became an international discourse in many fora within a month that it took the attention of the UN on Migration as well as African Union, with a promise to evacuate over 15,000 victims from Libya. In response to the Libyan crises, there was a Presidential directive in Abidjan, Cote-Divoire, where President Muhammadu Buhari was attending AU-EU summit, for the immediate evacuation of Nigerians trapped in the North Africa country. The Office participated actively in a committee set up for the evacuation exercise and about 2, 500 Nigerians were evacuated from Libya.
On many occasions, we try to sensitise citizens thinking of undertaking some dangerous journey or to some unfriendly nations. Nigerians are reputed to travel in their thousands to Libya with the erroneous belief that Europe is just a step away. It is sad and depressing, however, that this is happening in this modern age. It is unbelievable that the new wave of the slave trade that history is recording now is perpetrated, not by outsiders but by “African brothers to other African brothers”.
With over 7000 Nigerians returned to the country during Buhari’s administration through the efforts of International Organization of Migration (IOM), NEMA, NAPTIP, and my office has been on hand at the airport a few times to receive them on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari and joined agencies like NAPTIP, NEMA to co-ordinate their rehabilitation.
It will interest you to note that these dangerous trips being embarked upon by these irregular migrants are not free as they pay as high as $4,000 USD to $6,000 USD to the smugglers or traffickers. Such money, up to N2 million and above can be utilise for a business capable of having a double turn over within six months.
During the fall-out of the coup in Turkey, where some Nigerian students studying there were allegedly sent out of the country on the allegation that they were being sponsored by the proponent of the coup, who has many institutions in Nigeria. My intervention led to the Nigerian Turkish Nile University (NTNU), one of the affected institutions, to reduce its tuition fees by 50 per cent to any Nigerian student affected by the crisis in Turkey.
Out of the 54 students on different foundations’ scholarships in Turkey, 29 of them were back in the country and have been absorbed by the university on full scholarship while the remaining 25 also enjoy a scholarship of monthly token of $5, 000 each. We also intervened in incidences in involving Nigerians in Russia, South Africa, Brazil, China, India.
As the population of Nigerians seeking better education outside the shores of Nigeria continues to be on the rise, I have been consistently sounding a note of warning to intended overseas students to avoid going to areas considered as ‘hostile environments’ and patronise the nation’s tertiary institutions, as they compete favourably with their counterparts abroad.
Also, the much-awaited $300 million Diaspora Bond was successfully rolled out.This is unprecedented in the history of the country. This is besides the introduction of the family home fund, an affordable housing program which Nigerians in Diaspora can benefit from and it is being coordinated by the Ministry of Finance.
On the recovery of Nigerian assets abroad, the partnership of the office with the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) was reassuring as both the asset recovery and asset return is now yielding positive fruits as some of the looted funds are being recovered. We appeal here is that every Nigerian in Diaspora, friends of Nigeria, should join us in demanding that every Nigeria’s stolen fund recovered in any part of the world should be returned to Nigeria.
Disturbed by no accurate data for Nigerians in the Diaspora, we interfaced with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to ensure that the Agency commence immediate registration of Nigerians living abroad.
In the area of health care delivery, my office in conjunction with the Ministry of Health is launching soon the Diaspora Professional Health Care Initiative Programme (DPHCIP) under the Diaspora unit headed by Dr Bola Olowu. This is geared towards having a positive structure with collaboration with the Nigerians in the Diaspora in enhancing the health care delivery in the country. It is hoped that other Ministries and Departmental Agencies will set up same.
Also heartwarming is that Anambra state government now has a Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs just as Edo, Benue, Cross Rivers, Enugu and Abia states have Special Advisers on Diaspora.
And with Nigeria now having a full blown Diaspora Commission, thus joining other countries with full institutions solely dedicated to integrating their Diaspora into policies and programmes, the sky is just the beginning for Diaspora Affairs in Nigeria.
In 2017, we are glad that we are able to successfully put together the first ‘door of return’ ceremony that took place in Badagry. The festival is a doorway to the people in the Diaspora and it is going to bring so many people to the great ancient city of Badagry so they can see and explore its culture. People in the Diaspora want to be part of the country so they are willing to invest in it and this will help in improving the economy.
Nigerians in the Diaspora who had served the country in various capacities before their sojourn abroad will equally have a cause to smile as the Executive Secretary of Pension Transition Arrangement Directorate, PTAD, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, is proposing a programme that will capture Nigerian pensioners who had served their country diligently with their verification starting soon.
On every President Muhammadu Buhari’s travels, he usually meet with the Nigerian Diaspora and he has always encourages them to be of good behaviour and Ambassadors of Nigeria wherever they find themselves.
WAY FORWARD FOR DIASPORA
On many occasions, I had called on Africa to connect with its diaspora in order to move the continent forward. This is important as collaboration is where the world is moving toward now. If China and India are investing in Africa, why can’t Africans in the diaspora. And this is beginning to happen and it is quite encouraging.
There’s a lot in there for Africans in the diaspora to benefit from collaboration as the future of the African continent will get better if Africans at home and the Africans in the diaspora actually work together.
The Federal Government is making sure that infrastructure are put in place in the country so this will also encourage Nigerians in the Diaspora to come back home.
Every year, Nigerians in the Diaspora in their respective state of abode do hold various events towards showcasing Nigeria’s unique culture and promote the positive image of Nigeria to the rest of the world as several other nationals joined in dancing to the Nigerian music and eating of Nigerian food.
In specific terms, the Ummah, which is the focus of this lecture, is supranational organization.
It can effectively use Muslims in the diaspora to:
Lobby for favourable policies that are of concern to Muslims in Nigeria such as what NASFAT, NCNMO in US and other Islamic based organizations are doing abroad.
Raise money for social investments-schools, hospitals, religious centers scholarships etc
Develop trade and other relationships with Muslims in countries where Nigerian Muslims domicile.
Provide platforms for knowledge and skills transfers as well as investment opportunities for Muslims on both sides of the divide.
Affiliate school, hospitals and businesses with successful mentors and support groups abroad.
Shipment of used equipment in containers typically destined for schools, universities, orphanages and hospitals.
As Nigerians, we must rely on our strong spirit of hope and desire to thrive even while facing challenges. While Government is determined to fight corruption, insecurity and fix the battered economy by creating strong Institutions driven by the ideals of national service, there is also the desire to leverage on creative ideas to fast track our progress. There is hope, even from the stories of countries like Ireland, where the Irish economy was in dire straits, and yet rescued by the contribution of just about 1000 Irish Diasporans.
In concluding, I would like to assure that the current Administration of President Muhammdu Buhari will continue to give the adequate support and advocacy required for all Nigerians in Diaspora to engage with Government towards the mutual development of their home country and their local communities.
I thank you all for listening.
HON. KAFAYAT ABIKE DABIRI-EREWA IS THE SENIOR SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DIASPORA. SHE DELIVERED THE LECTURE AT THE NATIONAL REUNION OF OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY MUSLIM GRADUATES ASSOCIATION (UNIFEMGA) ILE-IFE, OSUN STATE ON SATURDAY MAY 5, 2018 AT ODUDUWA HALL.