The inauguration last year of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) under the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari was a material culmination of decades-long advocacy within a reinstituted democratic dispensation for the appropriate formal recognition of the Nigerian Diaspora as a vital component of the Nigerian state. The effort in itself was logical, considering that Diaspora in history and myth across the world is always associated with abundance in relation to the homeland. The raison raison d’être for the establishment of NIDCOM on the 9th of May, 2019 by the Nigerian government was informed by a deep sense of mutuality.
Therefore, the Commission mediates relations with Nigerians in Diaspora for mutual developmental benefits for the diasporans and the Nigerian homeland.
Another milestone in the journey to the establishment of NIDCOM was exogenously achieved when through an amendment to the constitutive Act on February 3, 2003, the African Union (AU) declared the Diaspora as Africa’s Sixth Region. Continentally the declaration served to reinforce the place of the African Diaspora in the development of the continent, ditto for the African states. Indeed, no other individual intervention galvanised the creation of NIDCOM better than that of Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the famous broadcast journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority-turned parliamentarian at the National Assembly between 2003 and 2015.
She represented the Ikorodu Federal Constituency in the lower chamber of the National Assembly and facilitated the cascading of the AU declaration down to the national level when she served as the Chair of the Committee on Diaspora Affairs at the House of Representatives throughout her last two tenures.
From this stage on, Dabiri-Erewa proposed and pushed at the National Assembly for the passing of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission Bill, which was passed at the 7th National Assembly before the expiration of the Jonathan administration in 2015. Even after she had stepped down from further representation at the National Assembly, Dabiri-Erewa’s performance and legacy ensured that the bill was revisited and revalidated, leading to its final passing into law as the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission Act, 2017 by the 8th National Assembly.
As part of the recognition of her sterling performance and pedigree on Diaspora matters, it was not surprising the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Dabiri-Erewa as the Senior Special Adviser on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora (SSA, FAD), a position she meritoriously held until last year when she was named the pioneer Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission.
Given her outstanding pedigree, it was altogether fitting that Dabiri-Erewa should be appointed the foundation Chairman/CEO of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission on the 9th of May, 2019, about two decades after the inauguration of the administration that was the first to call the attention of the Nigerian state to the corporate developmental potential of the Nigerian Diaspora for homeland development. Setting about her duty at NIDCOM was with typical alacrity, as she applied scrupulous attention with élan and brio to the issues demanding utmost care and recording within the space of one-year achievements that parallel those of a decade.
The first such feat of implementation by NIDCOM under the leadership Dabiri-Erewa was the final validation of the National Diaspora Policy in Abuja by stakeholders and other partners drawn from across a wide range of national and international interests. Another significant achievement was its various interventions in response to hostilities against Nigerians at their destination countries. At other times, the interventions ramified facilitating rescue and safe return of Nigerians trafficked to some destination countries for oppressive and obnoxious activities like slavery and sexual abuse. The cases of the women rescued from Lebanon and the collaborative role of NIDCOM with other agencies are illustrative of the consciousness with which the agency has operated in its first year.
The interventions– it must be added– partly obtained from an earlier report this writer had submitted to the office of the SSAFAD upon his return from Lebanon where he had delivered an Independence Day anniversary lecture at the Nigerian Embassy in Beirut in 2018 and during which he had received a first-hand account of the maltreatment of Nigerians in that country.
Confronted and inundated by disturbing news of trumped-up charges and xenophobic attacks in certain countries against Nigerians, NIDCOM took it upon itself to ensure the safety of Nigerians in those countries. A case in point was the rescue of Zainab Aliyu from the hangman’s noose, having been able to convince the Saudi authorities on the improbity of the charges against her for drug trafficking. South Africa posed a considerable challenge to the lives and property of Nigerians living in that country last year on account of extreme xenophobic attacks during which several lives of African immigrants were terminated, and their property destroyed and looted. As the agitation for their return rose, NIDCOM assumed a frontline position in collaboration with other agencies to ensure the evacuation of Nigerians whose safety could no longer be guaranteed.
The rescue operations have continued to the present despite Covid-19. NIDCOM has offered intervention assistance to the returnees, especially those from Libya, Kenya and South Africa to enhance their resettlement into the Nigerian homeland. The Commission has performed such interventions through generous donations from some patriotic citizens and groups to assist the less-privileged Diasporans, especially the returnees.
As part of its determination to ensure the cascading down of the Diaspora consciousness to the state level, NIDCOM hosted a summit of State Diaspora Focal Persons on the 4th of February this year. It was a gathering of commissioners and special advisers on diaspora affairs from all over the 36 states in Nigeria. As much as possible, the Commission also ensured there were representatives from Diaspora and academia as stakeholders. It was in this way that NIDCOM formally inaugurated a conversation between the national and the state agencies for Diaspora as a way of maximising the realisation of the developmental potential that Diaspora holds. The agency has also inaugurated and sustained a conversation with stakeholders towards further actualisation of its goals. This is so even in the era of Covid-19, as Webinar meetings have held with NIDO United Kingdom and NIDO Americas.
The Commission has similarly participated in international fora from Europe to America and South Africa. It has also collaborated with international agencies like the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Bank and the AU at various levels. Within Nigeria, the Commission has also collaborated with some MDAs to mainstream and project the intersection of Diaspora with their activities. It has also continued to interface with the relevant committees at the National Assembly for improved performance. The collaboration effort of NIDCOM also resulted in participation in the annual Diaspora Festival Badagry held in October 2019. The role of the agency in drawing participants mainly from among members of the Historic African Diaspora was particularly significant. NIDCOM assumed responsibility for organising the celebration of National Diaspora Day and successfully held a memorable meeting while planning for much more successful editions of subsequent celebrations. In a similar vein, the agency held within the first year two editions of the Diaspora Investment Summit.
The Commission has continued to receive petitions daily from all over the world from members of the Nigerian Diaspora. It has within the space of its first year attained a reputation for treating the requests with urgency, in all senses. NIDCOM has also sponsored the training of her staff for capacity building both at local and international meetings. Above all, the Commission has had robust media engagements to update all Nigerians both within and in the Diaspora on the activities of the Commission.
While all the above underscores the excellent performance of NIDCOM in its first year of existence, the Commission has nevertheless been hamstrung in certain critical areas that have hindered the exhibition of even much better performance and require urgent attention. It is important to note that finance was a significant challenge for NIDCOM in its first year of existence, considering that the agency was inaugurated after appropriation for the 2019 fiscal year. On this account, there were things that the Commission would have achieved but for the financial challenge.
Another major challenge the Commission has been battling is access to befitting office accommodation for its operations.
Finally, as the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission turns one, and marches forward in consolidating its efforts to harness Diaspora resources for mutual development in the Nigerian homeland and the Diaspora, activating the celebratory mode is worth the while.
The introspection on the long journey to the inauguration of the Commission is proof that as we celebrate with President Muhammadu Buhari for his commitment to continuity of governance and the Chairman/CEO Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa for her stunning performance at NIDCOM within its first year, the celebration is for all Nigerians as it is for the whole of the Nigerian Diaspora.
•Dr Senayon Olaoluwa is the Head, Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan