SONALA’S DIASPORA DAY NO SENSE

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The article, Nigeria’s ‘Diaspora Day’ Nonsense, by Sonala Olumhense is most unfortunate, coming as it was, from a journalist who should ordinarily be well informed and respected.

The resort to insults and name-calling as well as a patent disregard for the truth seemed to indicate more a very personal vendetta rather than a desire for objective critical analysis as a contribution to our nation’s quest for development.

Prof. Andrew Nevin’s observations as quoted in the said article are not only on point and relevant, but are also an affirmation of the reason for Nigerian Government’s desire to engaging its Diaspora.  This was what led to the 25th of July being declared the National Diaspora Day in 2005 by the Obasanjo Administration and has so been celebrated ever since that year under the auspices of the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, with other stakeholders, including the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO), which is the umbrella body for the Nigerian Diaspora.  It is therefore surprising for Sonala to feign ignorance of this annual celebration since 2005, and assert that it was declared this year.

This year’s celebration is the first to be organized by the newly established Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) and had the stated aim of recognizing the contributions of Nigerians in the Diaspora to national development and to celebrate the Diaspora who have achieved feats in various fields of endeavor.  It also aimed at reviewing areas requiring improvement, encourage interaction and dialogue on matters relating to the Diaspora. This is the focus of the celebration and one which NiDCOM is striving to reposition the Diaspora Day to achieve.  It is difficult to see what is patronizing with such a vision and objective.

He further referred to “speeches in which the Nigerian Diaspora was very likely praised and patronized by people who hate Nigerians in the Diaspora”, which was a clear indication that he had not even bothered to peruse the programme.  If he had taken the least effort to do so, he would have observed that the majority of the presentations were by the Diaspora themselves; and this included the Chairmen of the Continental Nigerians in Diaspora Organizations, and distinguished Nigerian Diaspora personalities such as the renowned Mr. Jelani Aliyu, Prof. Manny Aniebonam, Prof. Tijani Hakeem with the keynote address by Dr. Kayode Fayemi.  These, among other invited speakers, have distinguished themselves in their various fields in the Diaspora and one therefore wonders if they are the people who hate the Diaspora.

Again, without any due reference to the composition of the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari, Sonala lambasted the administration for failing to include the Diaspora in his cabinet. It will be of interest to question where he places people like Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Mr. Okechukwu Enelamah and Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, who were all from the Diaspora in the outgone cabinet, with some of them returned in the incoming cabinet.  This is besides a number of other Diasporans appointed to head government agencies such as at National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHDA), among others, which forms part of the active policy of this Administration in engaging qualified Nigerians in the Diaspora in all fields, as affirmed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha.  Perhaps, unless he is personally included in the list, Mr. Olumhense will not recognize that the Diaspora is part of the country’s administration.

This however raises the more pertinent question of the exact role of the Diaspora in the country’s development process. Not everyone in the Diaspora can expect that they must come into the government before they can contribute to the nation’s development process.  The Diaspora phenomenon worldwide is a giving-back process and it is therefore incumbent on each and every person desirous and willing to do so, to identify areas where they can make such contributions.  There are quite a number of Nigerians in the Diaspora who are quietly, yet massively, making an impact in the country with neither fuss nor recognition. It is the aim of NiDCOM that such individuals and organizations be recognized, acknowledged and celebrated nationally.   It is the role of government to provide an enabling environment for their active participation and this is an ongoing process.  That there are enormous challenges is without a doubt and this is not limited to Nigeria alone.  However, the government is firmly determined to tackle these challenges and while there may be divergence of opinion on the modus operandi, it does not detract from the fact that there is ongoing effort in this regard. The desire for improved interaction and engagement with the Diaspora is what has led to the establishment of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission under the leadership of someone acknowledged worldwide for her demonstrated long-standing passion, interest and desire for the Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, but on whom for some incomprehensible reason, Mr. Sonala took the liberty of heaping insults in his write-up.

That the remittances are rising year on year is without any doubt, and Sonala himself affirms this, yet in a curious twist, accuses Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa of being a liar in saying government is desirous of attracting increased investment.  He therefore fails to acknowledge the initiative on Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, the Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit (which is private sector driven, with government support) and such other efforts at attracting Diaspora investment in the country.  He has focused only on the well-known negatives in respect of which all hands are on deck to address these evident challenges, while still exploring new innovations and initiatives to promote investment in the country.  Also asserting that he has heard noting of the initiative by Nigerians in the United States to set up a Diaspora Investment Fund indicates the need for an understanding by him of the intricacies involved in setting up such a fund, which is not an overnight initiative, and more still the fact that he has refused or failed to be part of the process of engagement by the Diaspora in the nation’s development process.

Mr. Sonala Olumhense chose to issue an article suffuse with vituperation and incorrect facts as his contribution to the nation’s development in his desire for dubious fame.  It is also an insult to the over three hundred Nigerian Diaspora who travelled to participate in what he has maliciously termed nonsense, most unbecoming of a senior journalist of his status. That may be his choice, unfortunate as it is.  It however enables the true position to be appropriately placed in the public domain and to assure real and genuine Nigerian Diaspora of the willingness of NiDCOM to not only productively engage with them but to also ensure their safety, well-being and progress in their legal pursuits in their countries of residence.

That Mr. Olumhense, is neither politics nor rhetoric, not games or lip service, but the mandate and commitment of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), which is barely two months old and already making impactful interventions affecting Nigerians abroad, under the able leadership of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

Dr. Abdullahi Dauda,
Co-Chair (NIDO America),
Local Organizing Committee
2019 National Diaspora Day.

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