Postted By Godwin Onyemaechi
Chairman/CEO of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, in an interview, spoke on salient issues including why the National Assembly should become a diaspora friendly parliament.
Why is President MuhammaduBuhari not putting pressure on the National Assembly to pass the bill on Diaspora voting?
You know that Mr. President cannot go to Parliament and say, you must do this; you must do that. He has said it severally that he is not against diaspora voting. I think what we need to do is to keep appealing to the National Assembly. I understand their fears and sentiments, which is the fact that maybe our elections are not yet perfect; we’re still experimenting. What I’m saying is we need to sit down again, analyze these fears, and see how we can go about it.
So, I don’t think Mr. President has anything to do with that despite being the most diaspora friendly President. I’m hoping that the National Assembly becomes the most diaspora friendly Assembly and get their own title too. So even for the diaspora themselves, we’ve been telling them that ‘make it your agenda’. Every time you see parliamentarians talk to them and appeal; it’s about lobbying, appealing and explaining. Those fears for instance, they asked me, if the diasporas vote, where do you count them and the answer is simple. Everybody comes from a state. So if a Lagosian votes in London, it goes to Lagos votes. It’s the INEC that will decide, not the National Assembly. Let National Assembly hand them the powers to start the diaspora voting when the infrastructure is ready. So, it doesn’t mean that INEC will do it tomorrow, or even in 2027. INEC can just say: ‘okay I want to do it in one country’; It’s when the infrastructure is ready and they say they can. So, I think it’s just more about lobbying and appealing, which is what we always do in Parliament.
As $20 billion Diaspora remittance peaks at N20 billion annually, what’s the quantum of their investments in Nigeria in the last three years?
In terms of remittances, the $20 billion is for 2021. So, in 2017 we have $17 billion; in 2019, $25 billion and last year, $20 billion. So, it even went better during COVID-19 that we thought was going to go down and it comes out every year; World Bank, IOM, Central Bank, it’s on the website. So that’s for a year. Then in terms of investments, like I said, by the time we do our third, the next Diaspora Investment Summit. It’s that we don’t want to quote wrong figures, we work with Nigerian Disaporan Summit. So by the next Summit, we can be talking about the real actual figures.
How do you intend to stop the migration of Nigerians to those unfriendly countries where they are being killed and how do you hope to get justice for them?
It’s about inter-agency collaboration. It is massive awareness. But I was surprised that somebody said to me last week that they went to somewhere they didn’t know; we have to get all those trying to hide under ‘we didn’t know’; anyone that doesn’t know what to do if you go to all these countries and get into trouble are only pretending not to know. Agents are a problem because some go through agents, and you know, NAPTIP saw my traffic, but some just want to go. Some will tell you that their destiny is abroad and I tell them that if it’s abroad, you have to go legally, not illegally. But we all achieve our destinies properly, because it’s getting tougher. More than half of the people will cry for help you don’t hear about it. So, I push that back to you; how can you help in propagating awareness about the dangers of irregular migration? Immigration has been doing their best, NAPTIP, Refugee Commission. There has to be more intentional decision to put it on the front burner. Honestly speaking, there are really pathetic stories.
How has the reportage of conflicts affected the image of Nigeria and what advise do you have for Nigerian media on this?
When we go out even we ourselves, somebody goes on social media lands another country and rolls on the floor and say ‘I’ve left the zoo’. That person is attacking you; he’s not attacking Buhari; he’s not attacking the government. He’s insulting me and you. You don’t have to like me; but don’t bring down your country. By the time you go out reporting negatively about Nigeria, you’re bringing the whole country down. And ultimately it affects every one of us. Now it’s more difficult for everybody to get visas. Whether you’re going to Canada, whether you’re going to the UAE, whether you’re even going to America, its difficult now as Nigerians. It’s not because of Buhari, it’s because of what you say about yourselves and how we behave. So we need to come together and say bad behavior is not acceptable. You go to UAE, you bring cultism; you bring kidnapping. You go to another man’s country, you are involved in cultism and you are killing each other in broad daylight. An American came to my office yesterday and the children are amazed; the wife is amazed that this is not what we read about Nigeria from Nigerians themselves. A lady wanted to celebrate her birthday in Nigeria, she’s done her DNA, and she is Nigerian and said, I’m doing my 70th birthday in Nigeria. Nigerians told her ‘Don’t go, they will kidnap you. You will not go back alive’. She came, she celebrated and she’s been coming every year. We are having our country if we report the right thing. I’m not saying you don’t report what is happening. But we don’t have to tell lies and exaggerate; and we don’t report the good stories. By the time our online radio station comes on stream, we’ll be doing all we can. And that’s all we do all we can with the media, but we are limited. We’re not funded; it’s goodwill that has ever led us this far with the media. So yes, the bad stories does affect the perception of our country, Nigeria, and I tell you something: I was in the UK when a parliamentarian was murdered in her office. I didn’t even see much of it, though there was a mention of it. Another one: when IRA was terrifying the UK and there was an already policy that no British media should even show the guy talking; they can show his face but they will not track up on him saying rubbish. But here, we’re showing terrorists, Boko Haram, celebrating them and you think those people will not be fueled? They’re enjoying it. They’re watching what you’re showing. And they are clapping for themselves. So, honestly, media, you’re part of development; you’re a part of progress. Present an individual, but bringing your country down, I always go against it. One guy went to Russia and she said they were doing competition and she went to carry Nigeria flag with bloodstained. Why? They don’t represent Nigeria and that was why they extradited her from their country. I’m the proud Nigerian at any time and I always go with my head held up high and anybody that condemns my country, I attack them. Attack me, attack President, attack individuals, but not your country. So, there’s a lot of work for the media. However, I should remember that while we have those bad Nigerians, we have them many good. If you give me one Nigerian fomenting trouble, I’ll give you 10,000 doing great things. And that is why we will continue to celebrate the good ones.
Tell us more about how your Commission get funded and what you’re doing to get more funds in order to be self sustaining
It’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs actually that funds us; it’s whatever they give us that we have to spend. And I think our budget this year, total capital is N160 million. Recurrent/Overhead is N8 million a month. That’s all we have; that’s not enough for one trip. But we think outside the box and get things done and we are, as a team, looking at other ways of ensuring that we get funded.
For some of these programs we have to reach out to corporate bodies to support. But we don’t put a funding as a major priority. Money is never enough. We’ll be doing a lot more but we’re hoping that we get more. But most importantly is that we should be able to see how we can just increase funding. If you generate funds, it goes to the federation account. Well, it’s something that we keep thinking about and see how we can avoid or minimize what we even spend as a Commission. So you find that honestly speaking, we try to be very strict with whatever kobo we have to spend and all the staff know, they are not smiling most of the time, but I think they know that. At least they are learning a lot on the job. We still even don’t have a proper office space; it’s the place we’re managing at the Federal Secretariat. So no funding, no office, but we’re still engaging our people.
How do you intend to inspire the diaspora for sustainable investment in Nigeria considering the prevailing security situation?
Definitely, we can’t pretend that everything is perfect. This insecurity, by the grace of God, is a temporary thing with everything being put in place by the government. I posted something yesterday that this one that NAF is bombarding, nobody’s talking about it; this is not trending. So there’s insecurity. We have issue of terrorism. We have kidnapping, banditry, but the government is doing everything to resolve it. Everybody have their own issues one way or the other. It may discourage you; you may feel so for a while. They come.
I’m encouraged more by those who say ‘I know I’ve been home. I know, I went to my village, this is what I’m doing. That’s what I’m doing.’ I’m encouraged more by them than those who will say, oh, let’s discourage. Look, we have one or two guys who came home. Look there was a case in one of the South-west states, the guy was killed but it turned out that again some family person was the one that was after him. We already told the police that the key thing is let’s know… we are in touch with the family. I think the fact that we have one-on-one engagement with them is encouraging.
There are many who don’t even want any persuasion. They are coming on their own. They are Nigerians, they know their country. So, I don’t have to persuade, but I will tell you, this is the truth I advise them; there are places, maybe you shouldn’t go here. But you can do ABCD, then we can help in ABCDE. So there are some that don’t want any persuasion.
What’s the update on Disapora Trust Fund launched recently by the President and how much was spent by the government to evacuate stranded Nigerians outside the country?
On Diaspora Investment Trust Fund, yes we’ve made tremendous progress. We’re seeing the Minister of Finance again. Don’t forget, that it’s a new company; but we’re not doing it alone. The Ministry of Finance is fully involved. So, the next step now is the final takeoff. We’re seeing the Minister of Finance because there’s been a presidential directive on it. So we’re happy with the progress and I believe that very soon we’re ready to launch it again. People are already waiting anyway. Just on the part of the government, if you’re asking people to invest, what is government also putting in, and she’s come up with fantastic ideas that will be carried out on that.
What’s the update on repatriated students from Ukraine? How have they been integrated to further their studies in Nigeria?
Ukraine, which also will answer the question in terms of how much spent on evacuation. I really can’t answer the question, because I don’t deal with money. All I know is that we didn’t receive one Kobo for evacuation whether it’s Ukraine, whether it’s South Africa, or Libya. NIDCOM, as an organization, did not get one kobo. I know, $8.5 million was received for Ukraine, but we are not to ask questions on money; but we did not get one Kobo. Our staff were at the airport, we handled the information effectively. So, a lot of times it’s about information dissemination, we assured that we let you know we were there at the airport; we’re connected directly with those people as they were there wherever they want to go to. The diasporas were actively involved but we didn’t receive one Kobo. A lot of them spent their money. Everybody you saw here was actively involved but as a Commission, we didn’t get one kobo.
For South Africa, Air Peace brought them in; we approached NGOs, private organizations that these people cannot come back and we just say bye bye. So we got MTN, Lagos State, Multichoice who gave some form of funding or the other. Well, this time we were able to be on ground; everybody got money, got food, got recharge cards, so that they could go home. Libya the same thing I did. I worked with SDGs and we told them, what do you want to do when you come back? They filled forms. Some said they’re not interested in any small business. We gave them SIM cards, and then those who wanted to be trained, were sent to MDGs for training but a whole lot of them really just wanted to go home but we gave transport fares. We do the work but we don’t get any extra fees.
Ukraine, there is a department in Foreign Affairs that was actually set up strictly for Ukraine. We did our own bit, which is in terms of our role in the evacuation. So there’s a website as a portal, that if you want to continue your education, again, it’s a matter of choice, go to the portal and enroll. And I think as of the last time I spoke to the director in charge, he said 420 had actually enrolled. But a lot of them are trying the private universities.
Some universities are saying we can give you scholarships, if you qualify. Caleb University offered them scholarships; AfeBabalola University also said it’s ongoing. But the key thing, again, is that some institutions, particularly, the medical ones, discovered that when they put them through some examinations, they actually didn’t pass the level that they felt they should. So, if I own an institution, you do an exam, say, on your final year, then you cannot pass my exams for final year I say go to year three. Of course, the students would not want to go. So there were some issues with that and I think it’s been resolved. And then the issue of can you be a doctor and be doing your practicals online? So some wanted to be doing their practicals online and the medical schools, said, ‘No, that cannot be acceptable’. But there’s an ongoing conversation. And I believe, as of the last time I spoke to those involved, they’re having to agree on one thing or the other.