Mobilising diaspora Nigerians for national development
Reviving Nigeria’s ailing economy will require multi-faceted approaches involving well-meaning Nigerians, home and abroad. This realisation becomes imperative, given the country’s dwindling fortunes, which have been further battered by the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. In this wise, while government has the duty to formulate brilliant policies capable of moving the country to the next level, it is equally important that these ideas are driven by steady, skilled hands for effective materialisation. Not only that, there is also the critical financial aspect, without which nothing much can be achieved.
As a critical component of the Nigerian state, Nigerians in the Diaspora are known to possess resources – skills and funds for the demanding task of consolidating Nigeria’s profile as a developing country.
Currently, it is estimated that about 15 million Nigerians are in the Diaspora. An appreciable percentage of these figure are qualified professionals, plying their trades in Europe, the Americas and other parts of the world. Some of them have distinguished themselves in their various fields of endeavour, as they occupy top positions in big corporations all over the world.
Lately, there has been an increase in the appeal to Diaspora Nigerians to get more involved in the efforts to rebuild Nigeria. They are being urged to return home to invest in their fatherland. Apparently, this is in acknowledgement of the potential and the fundamental role they can play in the quest to move the country to greater heights.
This development is also informed by the fact that this set of Nigerians have shown interest in the country’s welfare, which is reflected in the increasing amount of home remittances and sundry humanitarian services they have been rendering to the country and fellow compatriots over the years.
From medical tourism to education and technology transfer, among others, the Diaspora Nigerians have proven to be resourceful and patriotic. They have been pulling their weight and positively impacting the country.
While commemorating this year’s Diaspora Day, observed every July 25, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “Over the past three years, Nigerians in the Diaspora have brought in over $25b yearly as home remittances to the Nigerian economy through official and non-formal channels. This is about 6.0 per cent of our annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and upwards of 80 per cent of our annual budget.
“This has impacted on livelihoods of Nigerians in terms of education, health, housing and estate development, industry, trade and investments, agriculture and technology/skills transfer. In terms of diaspora home remittances, Nigeria is rated number one in sub-Saharan Africa and this is still growing, especially with the advocacy and mobilisation programmes of the newly established Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM)…”
The President’s disclosure on the yearly remittances by Nigerians in the Diaspora was based on the 2019 figures announced by the World Bank. President Buhari had gone ahead to list the areas Diaspora Nigerians are actively engaged to include “skill transfer in ICT and industry, as well as lecturing in Nigerian universities and undertaking medical missions, among others.”
Value To Nation
INDEED, Nigerians in the Diaspora have become a force to be reckoned with, when it comes to possessing the financial muscle and technical know-how to tackle the many problems bedeviling the country. And what is more? They have demonstrated willingness and commitment to intervene, provided suitable conditions and encouragement in the form of sincerity and purposefulness on the part of relevant stakeholders are guaranteed. One event vividly encapsulates the various underlying factors pertinent to the issue.
In March this year, at Tampa, Florida in the United States, the National America Business Forum (NABF), a group of accomplished and influential Nigerian professionals, held its annual conference and had invited some prominent Nigerians to deliver speeches on the occasion.
The invited Nigerian speakers included Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim and Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO of NiDCOM.
One common theme that ran through the speakers’ inspiring narratives was that great countries were built by patriotic citizens with vision, usually the Diasporas. They urged Diaspora Nigerians to step up their investments in the noble mission of rebuilding the country.
Setting the compelling note for the other well-presented discourses that followed, Obi, a keynote speaker on the theme: ‘Improving Nigeria’s Economy: Opportunity and Challenges,’ was quite frank and objective, as he made a clarion call for all Nigerians in the United States to translate their skills and know-how to building Nigeria like the Jews, Indians and Chinese did. “There is an opportunity in Nigeria, when it comes to investment that is not anywhere in the world,” he said.
And though he was fervent in his appeal to NABF to focus on Nigeria and help turn around the economy, he was, however, quick to point out that the onus is on Nigerian government to create the right environment that supports businesses to thrive.
“You can make money everywhere in Nigeria, but the system and processes must be right. Come, return and run your business, but you can’t come back unless the right environment is created,” he said.
Similarly, Anyim admonished the Diaspora investment group to partner government to formulate and implement policies that would attract and protect their investments. On her part, Dabiri-Erewa invited the Diaspora Nigerians to “join in building the Nigeria of our dreams.”
Makinde dwelled on how his administration was changing the governance landscape of Oyo State. He underscored the investment opportunities in the areas of agriculture, tourism, housing and education.
Buttressing the need for Diaspora Nigerians to do more in the efforts to build a better and greater Nigeria, Jane Castor, the Mayor of the City of Tampa, Florida, said Nigeria was in a position to recreate itself. She pointed out that there should be a strategic plan to revamp the economy and rebuild the country.
Describing Nigerians in her city as “amazing people,” who are contributing their best to the city, Castor said: “It is not good for just a few people to prosper in a country. Those who are prosperous should be able to uplift others.”
While unveiling some of the plans NABF has for Nigeria in the immediate future, and how the body is going about implementing them, NABF Chairman, Afolabi Andu, explained that the Forum, in ensuring realisation of its billion-dollar project in Nigeria, had established the American Nigerian (AMNI) Bank to fund any investments being undertaken by any Diaspora in Nigeria to the tune of $3b and at a low-interest rate.
He said: “Nigerians in the Diaspora represented the largest contributors to the country’s economy. NABF resolve to build Nigeria is not wishful thinking, but an affirmation of our unshaken commitment towards the realisation of a dream for a formidable Nigeria. We are here gathered to chart a pathway for the realisation of this vision…”
Leo Egunjobi, Chairman of AMNI Bank, said the bank had a vantage position to leverage the huge liquidity the Diaspora Nigerians move to Nigeria, so as to solve the problems of funding that many Diasporas usually faced.
Enabling Environment, Policies Required To Maximise Diaspora Investments
DESPITE their enthusiasm and willingness to contribute meaningfully to the country’s development, however, Diaspora Nigerians have always expressed reservations about government’s readiness to also fulfill its part of the bargain, by doing what is required.
But it is not only Diaspora Nigerians that are worried about certain policies and conditions in the country, which are preventing patriotic contributions. Other well-meaning Nigerians have highlighted these same issues and proffered pertinent solutions.
Some of the challenges requiring urgent government attention include unfriendly business environment, lack of infrastructure and basic amenities, archaic policies that need to be reviewed and lately, the worsening insecurity in the country, among others.
For instance, until very recently, when some efforts are being made to rescue and bring back home some distressed Nigerians, there was no known solid government policy on Nigerians living abroad. The Diaspora Nigerians have been mostly left to fend for themselves wherever they might be in the world, with no support or aid whatsoever from government.
This vacuum apparently led to the formation of the Nigerians In Diaspora Organisations (NIDO) in virtually every country Nigerians live abroad. These platforms not only help these Nigerians to connect and associate, they equally serve as means for cultural bonding, protection and mutual concern on welfare.
The Way Forward
STAKEHOLDERS have lauded the birth of the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), which was inaugurated last year. The Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission Act was passed by the 8th National Assembly. The Act empowers NiDCOM to provide for the engagement of Nigerians in Diaspora in the policies, projects and participation in the development of Nigeria. It also enables the organisation to utilise the human capital and material resources of Nigerians in Diaspora towards the overall socio-economic, cultural and political development of Nigeria and for related matters.
And though the establishment of NiDCOM has been described as a step in the right direction in the efforts to coordinate activities of the Diaspora Nigerians, as well as encouraging them to strive to do more for their fatherland, the general opinion is that government needs to do even much more.
Citing other countries that have successfully leveraged the Diaspora contributions to become great, experts said the Commission should be empowered through necessary funding and support to realise its goal.
To some experts, however, the two parties, that is, government and Diaspora Nigerians, need to do more to realise the lofty goal. Analysing some of the issues that are preventing Diaspora Nigerians from going the whole hog, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), said:
“… 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 in committing more resources to the growth and development of Nigeria 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.
“… But, there is no limitation to development aspirations, both at the inter-personal or inter-governmental levels. As developed as India, China, United States and France, among others, are, they are all still seeking financial resources for more development projects. They are permanently engaged in new researches…
“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…”
But to Dabiri-Erewa, these challenges should not deter Nigerians in the Diaspora from coming forward to invest and join in the efforts to develop the country, as there can never be a perfect situation.
She said: “If we are waiting for Eldorado, nothing will be achieved. What I usually ask Diaspora Nigerians that put forward this line of argument is: How come many people, foreigners are investing in Nigeria? What do they see that you are not seeing? I don’t think it is the challenges really. So, the first thing we do is to encourage them. We are not saying they should pack their bags and return home, but wherever they are, they can be part of the country’s development and growth.
“And this is why we have the Nigeria Content Act, which ensures that Nigerians are contacted first before giving it out. Through our website and app, we pass on the information to let Diaspora Nigerians know of available opportunities. They should key into that.”
With NiDCOM serving as a mediator between the Nigerian Government and Nigerians in the Diaspora, she explained that the organisation is putting in place measures that will yield the desired result.
“Even though NiDCOM is just a year old, we have a dedicated team of staff that is working out programmes and partnership with local and international agencies to achieve the objective,” she explained. “The Diaspora Nigerians have also been supportive. We are hoping to have a Diaspora policy to be approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), as soon as possible. We are putting together the Nigeria Diaspora Trust Fund. Nigerians in the Diaspora can invest in this fund and manage it. It will be a private sector-led affair, but supervised by government.
“There is also the Diaspora Mortgage Scheme, which we are working out with the Federal Mortgage Bank, so that as a Diaspora Nigerian, you can buy your own house in the comfort of your home. For instance, with $200 in the mortgage, they can pay gradually to buy a home.”She listed other incentives to include a Medical City that is being offered by the FCT Minister, which is to be a joint venture between government and the Diaspora Nigerians. There is also the Diaspora Focal Person, which has been adopted by 28 states.
“The idea is to develop diaspora at the sub-national level, and I am impressed with what is going on at the state level. For instance, Anambra has a Commissioner for Diaspora, Gombe has a Director General for Diaspora. They have SAs and SSAs. This is because we have realised that people invest in the state and not in Abuja. So, if someone wants to invest in agriculture, for instance, we link you with the right person in the state. We also have the Diaspora Day to celebrate Diaspora Nigerians, and it is going to be bigger and better, as we move on. It will be like a national day for the Diasporans,” she said.
To enable Diaspora Nigerians participate in the decision-making processes, she said NiDCOM is arranging quarterly dialogue with Nigerians in Diaspora, where they will have the opportunity to discuss with key government officials to iron out issues. The outfit is also working on the idea of Diaspora voting with the Parliament.
“The Chairman, House committee on Diaspora has put the bill forward and it has gone through the first reading. It will be a tough one, but Diaspora Nigerians have to vote. Other countries are doing it,” she said. “The Vice President has come up with a strong document on developing the economy, and we want to share that with them to let them know the areas where they can play a role.”She, however, acknowledged the fact that certain areas need to addressed by the government to encourage Diaspora Nigerians.
“The charges on Diaspora remittances are too high and should be reduced. Nigeria has the highest rate of 9.6 per cent charged on every dollar remitted. Some other countries have just 3 per cent. Why should it be so high? IMTOs are just making money from Diaspora remittances. We believe NiDCOM can also play a role in that regard. BDCs should also get involved in getting Diaspora remittances through. It shouldn’t be monopolised by IMTOs…”
Canada-based Dr. Oladimeji-Johnbrowne, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, explained how Diaspora remittances could have meaningful impact on Nigeria’s development, noting that the huge Diaspora remittances should be a trigger for policy change on Diaspora matters, and a precursor to considering views of how Diaspora remittances can contribute to the growth of Nigerian economy, in the face of dwindling revenue.
He said: “The Diaspora remittance economics is based on the theories of migration, which are well explained in the history of trade and political economy between nations and different nationalities. One of the canons of migration is premised on human welfare, otherwise referred to as economic migration. Nigerians are no exceptions to attractions of economic migration, which formed the bedrock of why many Nigerian ethnic associations all over the world are active, of which Nigerians in Diaspora Organistion (NIDO) is but one.
“What is currently deficient is an evaluation of how migration and Diaspora policy decisions can impact on economic growth. Although good progress has been made with the enabling Act setting up the Nigeria Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM).
“A number of countries have used Diaspora remittance as deliberate economic policy, which encourages their citizens to embark on economic migration. Philippines is reputed to be the world’s third highest net Diaspora remittance recipient country in which remittance is more than 10 per cent of GDP. In 2018 and 2019, Diaspora remittance of Filipinos was $28. 9bn and $30.1bn respectively. Filipino Diaspora has become a major factor in the economic and social life of Philippines, as a country, and Filipino economic migration is a government policy.
“In India, Non-resident Indian (NRI) remittance contributions to the India GDP stood at 3.4 per cent in 2018 and still constitutes a major part of the country’s overall economic development, standing at $79bn in 2019, followed by China and Mexico $67bn and $36bn respectively…”
He suggested that at this period of slow economic growth and dwindling revenue, government reinvents Diaspora remittance strategies, by learning from experience of other countries.
“The activities of NiDCOM can be expanded to include developing projects to harness the potential overseas remittances for poverty reduction and local economic development. This may include mass housing development and small-scale industries project in various states. A pilot project can be initiated in the six geopolitical zones for a start.
“To achieve this, NiDCOM should create a Diaspora Investment Development Division (DIDD), whose focus should be the development of platform for Nigerians overseas to invest their remittances on physical asset development. A special purpose Diaspora Bond can also be issued via the capital market processes. DIDD will also deal with creating an account solution with licensed money managers for a seamless investment account with banks and microfinance institutions for identifiable projects under the Commission’s template…”
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