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.
Over two decades ago, the establishment of the Commission became imperative as a result of the massive exodus of Nigerian professionals out of Nigeria, labelled the ‘brain drain’ and various initiatives were suggested to stem the tide including persuasion through the media, stringent visa requirements and others.
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 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 President Muhammadu Buhari government.
Since the establishment of NIDCOM, a lot of activities have been embarked upon to fulfill its mandates. 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. The second National Diaspora Day under the Commission with the theme “Leveraging Diaspora Resources for National Development in a Covid-19 Era,” was held 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 5 and 6, 2019, the Commission organised the second Nigeria Diaspora Investment Summit (NDIS) in Abuja with other stakeholders witnessing over 600 people from different parts of the world while the third edition is being planned for November through webinar due to COVID-19 pandemic.
As a follow-up to the Summit, on December 18 and 19, 2019, two young Nigerians resident in Saudi Arabia, organised the first Saudi Arabia/Nigeria Investment Forum, an offshoot of the Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit.
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 believed that they deserve to vote. So, the Commission already working with the National Assembly and other stakeholders to hopefully make this a reality in Nigeria through amendment to the country’s Electoral Act. The list of the activities is inexhaustible.
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.
Interface with stakeholders: The Commission, at various times, has had cause to 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 others to see how collaboration with the Commission will enhance better opportunities for the Nigerians abroad.
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 September 11, 2019 and September 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 designed 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.
Engagement with National Assembly Committees: NIDCOM Management team from time to time does 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.
Diaspora Town Hall Meetings: NIDCOM boss in entourage of Mr. President on state visit does organise town hall meetings for Nigerians living abroad to meet and interact with Mr. President and discuss issues affecting their welfare as well as brief Nigerians in Diaspora on efforts being made at the home front.
Petitions: 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 they affect their welfare and get them resolved as soon as possible.
NIDCOM and COVID-19: Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the Commission has been 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, over 50 Nigerians died due to COVID-19 pandemic abroad. May their gentle souls rest in perfect peace.
Undoubtedly, within 12 months of its existence, the Commission has really lived up to expectations and even surpassed it, though not yet uhuru, as Nigerians in the Diaspora are assured that their interest and welfare will continue to be adequately protected.
In addition, 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.
Also, the Commission will work with National Assembly relevant committees to ensure DIASPORA VOTING for Nigerians living abroad through amendments to some electoral laws.
Challenges: Despite two major challenges facing the Commission — lack of office accommodation and paucity of funds, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa has vowed not to be cowed by these challenges but to forge ahead and ensure that Nigerians in the Diaspora are not shortchanged in the scheme of things.
• Abdur-Rahman Balogun (email@example.com) is Head, Media, Public Relations and Protocols Unit of NIDCOM, Abuja.