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‘FG has no welfare policy for Nigerians living abroad’

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Akinterinwa


Professor Bola Akinterinwa is the former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. In this interview with KIKELOLA OYEBOLA and GBENGA SALAU, he explained that government policies are mostly responsible for the reluctance of Nigerians in the Diaspora to step up their engagement in the task of national development. He, however, said the situation could be turned around with the necessary steps.

Many Nigerians in the Diaspora are doing well in their various fields of endeavour in foreign countries. How can government tap from their wealth of experience for the nation’s growth and development?
Government can do this in many ways. First is by deliberate search for those that are in the disciplines of sciences, ICT, and particularly in the areas of the country’s urgent manpower needs. The second step is to extend invitation to them to partner the government of Nigeria through development projects, as well as through research and development.

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Second is possible establishment of an institution for them. Government can reserve two or three ministerial positions in the area of research and technology development specifically to be offered to leading Nigerians in Diaspora and with specific mandate. The current approach of organising annual summit of Nigerians in Diaspora, adopted by Abike Dabiri-Erewa is perfectly in order. The yearly summit enables a review of efforts and identification of needs and challenges in the previous year. The summit also enables the identification of new areas of support from Nigerians in the Diaspora. So, the summit should be sustained and better organised.

Third, the various Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) and other umbrella bodies for associations of Nigerians abroad should be re-united under one framework and institutionalised in Nigeria. As such, direct communications between the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in Nigeria and the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) can be facilitated.

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Fourth, and perhaps more important, NiDCOM can be elevated into a full Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, with its current Chief Executive Officer, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, as the Minister-in-charge. The beauty of this is that it will help to remove the misunderstandings between Nigerians at home and those abroad.

As at today, government’s policies have always been major sources of misunderstanding between government and the various NIDOs abroad, thus preventing Nigerians abroad from wanting to return home for patriotic contributions. With a Ministry of Diaspora Affairs put in place, there cannot but be better coordination, better planning, and better focus. In fact, being a member of the Nigerian Diaspora will be made beautiful and more attractive. It will also be an opportunity for promotion of national cohesion at home and abroad.

Diaspora Nigerians’ contribution to the nation’s economy and other sectors is well acclaimed. In your view, are they doing enough? What more can be done?
The notion of “enough” can be ambiguous. On whether Nigerians in the Diaspora are “doing enough” or not enough, it should be said that the notion of “enough” is largely determined by several factors: environmental conditionings, such as the extent of conduciveness of the political system; political will of the power that be, capacity and capability of the Nigerians in Diaspora to do more and their solvency, among others. Consequently, in answering the question as to whether the Nigerians in the Diaspora are doing enough, I will say yes and no.

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Yes, it is enough, because the governance of Nigeria makes patriotism very difficult. Political governance condones corruption. It is predicated on preaching the sermon of anti-corruption at the level of government while government agents swim in pools of corruption, giving the impression that the anti-corruption fight is only for the ordinary people. The most recent, and in fact, the politics of the on-going probe into the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) explains it all.

Nigerians in the Diaspora cannot but be frightened to commit more resources to Nigeria’s growth and development with this type of development and fantastic corruption. In other words, it is a situation of “enough is enough” or “so far so good.” There is no need to do more.

On another hand, no, it is not enough, because there is no limitation to development aspirations, both at the inter-personal or inter-governmental levels. As developed as India, China, United States, France, and the like, are, they are all still seeking financial resources for more development projects. They are permanently engaged in new researches. In fact, they borrow and still over-borrow.

In essence, I will submit that Nigerians in the Diaspora have not done enough because they have not been enabled to do enough, for no fault of theirs. They have not done enough, because of the inclement political environment of Nigeria. Nigeria cannot be rightly said to be developing. It is more of under-developing than developing. Consequently, Nigerians in the Diaspora will still need to do more.

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Are government policies genuinely framed to arouse the interest of Nigerians in Diaspora to contribute meaningfully to the national development?
As far as my little knowledge can support me, the Government of Nigeria is not on record to have any known welfare policy on Nigerians living abroad. There are different categories of Nigerians abroad. First is the diplomatic category, for which there is not only diplomatic protection, but also welfare package, as provided for in the Public Service Regulations.

There is the category of Nigerians in Diaspora, who have acquired the nationality or citizenship of their host countries. In this regard, it is, more often than not, the effective nationality of their host countries that prevail in matters of welfare. Even when there is need for their protection in the context of denial of justice under private international law, their host States cannot but have priority of intervention on the basis of the most effective nationality at the material time of the problem.

Another category of Nigerians abroad is that of Nigerians on vacation or business trips or on temporary visit, but who run into problems while there. The official policy is that every Nigerian who finds himself or herself in a foreign country is required to report to the Diplomatic Mission in his or her host country for information and possible national protection, if need be.

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Most unfortunately, Nigerians travelling abroad have little regard for this policy. They hardly identify with the Embassy of Nigeria, when they travel abroad. Besides, the Embassy is always poorly funded. There is nothing like welfare allocation in their budget. The welfare actions undertaken by the Government of Nigeria, have at best, been reactive and largely prompted by the people’s outcry.

Should government be content with the present level of the contributions of Nigerians in Diaspora? What efforts should be made to attract those willing among them, for enhanced involvement in the country’s growth?
There is no good reason for the Government of Nigeria to be content with the present level of contributions by Nigerians in the Diaspora. First, how is the present level of contributions determined? In comparison to which other Diaspora associations? Most unfortunately, States are typologised in international economic relations into developed, under-developed, before they are re-categorised into developing. Some other observers prefer the usage of First, Second and Third, if not Fourth, World.

Most unfortunately again, I repeat, there cannot be more than one category of States when discussing national or international development, because there is no country of the world that is not developing. Every country is making efforts to improve on its situation, so all the countries of the world are developing. It is the pace and extent of development that is different. Nigeria, like France, Russia, United States, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, among others, is developing. It is when political discrimination is at stake that efforts are made to suggest that one country is more developed than the other.

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The basic truth remains that everyone is developing, especially that there is no limit to human development, that the thirst for more development cannot be quenched, and that, by virtue of Nigeria’s current level of development, no reasonable government in Nigeria can be satisfied. Perhaps more disturbingly again, Nigeria cannot be rightly described as having begun her own development. She is still on the continuum of growth. Development is a priori not about provision of infrastructure that most people often talk about, but about development of visions, ideas, sophistication of development thinking. Ability to “panel beat” the body of motor vehicles is not development. Ability to re-assemble Completely Knocked Down (CKD) parts cannot be rightly described as development.

Development is essentially about originality of development ideas. It is about creativity, independent reasoning that can sustain political sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is about self-reliance in industrial and technological productivity. Indeed, Research and Development is at the epicentre of growth and development, but the foundation of it is yet to be well-laid, not to say it is still lacking in Nigeria. This is precisely what government should try as much as possible to make the Nigerians in the Diaspora to do. They should be encouraged to invest in research by funding various research institutions in their development projects. It is also by so doing that there can, first, be economic growth and thereafter, economic development.

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