• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Mass Emigration: Nigeria needs multi agency collaboration on awareness – Dabiri-Erewa

Dabiri-Erewa advocates diaspora investment for economic recovery

ABIKE DABIRI-EREWA, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), in this interview with GBEMI FAMINU, talks about the activities of the commission, rising emigration and how investments from the diaspora can aid economic growth.

How has it been managing this role as head of Diaspora Commission in the last seven years?

As a new organization, it has been challenging but we give God the glory, having had very amazing people to work with, we have been able to set the issue of diaspora on the front burner, although there is a lot more to do especially regarding diaspora voting which I hope the next parliament will put on the front burner.

So far we have instituted a lot of programs and initiatives such as the Nigerian Diaspora Investment Trust (NDIT), data portal, diaspora housing, but I am glad that the diaspora has shown more interest in their country.

It has not been a bed of roses and there have been challenges but the key thing is that we cannot ignore the diaspora and we appreciate that the president meets with them every time he travels, that arm is always part of his agenda because no nation can grow without its diaspora and we will continue to strengthen the engagements with them.

How concerned are you about the level of emigration that we see today, considering that we are really losing needed skilled manpower?

The truth is that we cannot stop emigration either legal or illegal, but my advice to people leaving is that they should go legally and orderly. There is no point leaving Nigeria because you do not have a job and when you travel abroad you still do not have a job.

We should not bring down the country because some countries are even worse off, a lot of people who come here do not believe what they see and then they become ambassadors

There is also a program we are working on with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) where you can actually match jobs and very soon I hope we can have a labor policy that will target this.

In other words, we can work and liaise with countries to manage migration so if you are going there is employment, there is a school admission waiting for you, etc. This is something countries are doing, for example, the Philippines is doing it and they are making billions from it.

Gone are the days you just carry your bags to travel and hope for the best, it doesn’t happen like that anymore, the world is a tougher place now. Things must be done in Nigeria especially on security, creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and create employment, there should also be multi-agency collaboration on the awareness that asks questions like where an individual is emigrating to. What are they going to do there? Etc.

For instance, we had issues in Northern Cyprus and I was even abused but today I got a mail that there are 800 Nigerians in prison there that have not been attended to and I told them that we do not have diplomatic relations with northern Cyprus, and it’s not just Nigeria, no country does and I have said it severally. Again, President Buhari has brought back over ten thousand people from Libya but you find out people are still going there.

We just let people know that it is okay to go when it is done legally and properly because it is tough there and at the same time we want to ensure that the right things are in place so we can retain our citizens.

Recently the President lauded you for several initiatives to connect Nigerians living abroad with home such as Diaspora Registration Portal, the Diaspora Mortgage Scheme and the Nigerian Diaspora Investment Trust (NDIT). Talk us through these initiatives.

One of the initiatives focuses on investments because a lot of people in the diaspora have been sending money which sometimes disappears and nothing happens but through the initiative we guide them. We have a regular forum whereby they come together and Nigerians abroad are putting a lot of investments in the healthcare sector, agriculture, food business, education, ICT and we put all the figures together.

We are having the next summit in November and the president also approved the diaspora investment trust fund, we want to ensure that loose ends are tidied up and it is not going to be run by the government, rather it is going to be private sector driven and headed by a diaspora.

This will help us see how we can encourage the diaspora to invest, you can invest $1,000, get your returns on investment and also help foster growth and development in the economy.

For example when Ireland was in recession, a thousand Irish worked together to save their country and the diaspora we have is very large, in Sudan alone we already have like five million people, in addition to that the richest person in Sudan is a Nigerian but they don’t make noise.

Now in America, we have Nigerians among the top ten immigrants so the key thing is how we are engaging with them and I am glad we have all these policies in place.

Now we have a desk at the airport and we want to populate the desk such that there is someone to talk to our diasporans when they return and we hope to sort out the logistics aspect of that soon because a lot of them will land and they have questions to ask, there will be a way to go online and let us know

Our legal department has dealt with thousands of petitions, some we are able to resolve and some others we cannot resolve but we do our best to see what we can do.

We have a lot of departments such as media, planning & statistics, admin, diaspora relations, we also have immigration and Interpol officers here with us and they all work together to resolve issues that come up.

There is a lot more and we have funding challenges but we are thinking outside the box to see how we can achieve our goals and aims without having to beg so we need to be creative about that and so far it has not been too bad.

We have seen some countries deny Nigerians visas as well as entrance into their country, what is the commission doing to address this?

Firstly, information is key and these countries have stronger rules and regulations guiding them which can even be found online. For instance in Dubai from a certain age range especially for men, the rules are very stringent. Also if you apply for a family visa and go without a family, you will be turned back.

In addition, before they can let you into their country, you need to tender your six months bank statement which will validate your financial independence and you must provide details of where you will be during the course of your stay. All the information being asked for must also be genuine so they do not turn you back.

What we can also do is to approach the UAE authorities to give us their regulations so we disseminate it properly here, but I am appealing to everyone that they should follow the rules to avoid being turned back or detained.

Read also: Migration of Nigerian lecturers, other professionals raises concerns

Other than the refusals, there have also been cases of Nigerians murdered and victimized in other countries, what is the situation now? and how have you been able to tackle these issues?

Because there are different countries involved, we cannot generalize and we treat the cases as they come. We have a legal department and we work very closely with the consular department in the ministry of foreign affairs, so we do not do it alone.

What happens is that when there are consular issues, the legal director engages with Ambassador Ella to see how it can be resolved.

Nigeria was able to record $19.2 billion in diaspora remittance in 2021, and in the first quarter of 2022 Nigeria achieved $5.16 billion, so what is your outlook for diaspora remittances this year?

First, the government and even the CBN has come up with policies to improve remittances so it can only get better. Beyond remittances, we really want to do a lot more because remittances are to take care of families, we want a way that they can make investments and get returns on the investments.

We look for platforms where they can make profitable investments in the country and we are here to guide them, most importantly, this is home for them and they will return at some point. We have a program where we target the younger generation of Nigerians abroad, they walk into this office with so much passion about their country, looking at what can be done to make improvements.

You were quoted recently to have assured that the level of insecurity in the country will not affect anticipated investments into the country, what gives you this level of assurance?

Basically, it is the issue of insecurity in some parts of the country. For example, when people come to Nigeria there are some parts that have security issues but that should not be the yardstick for the whole country especially as the government is doing everything it can to combat it.

And it is not only in Nigeria, but even developed countries also suffer from insecurity, I just got back from the USA and I was conscious of my movement, same in the UK and even Canada.

The thing is we should not bring down the country because some countries are even worse off, a lot of people who come here do not believe what they see and then they become ambassadors. You may not like me or the president but do not bring your country down.

What progress has been made concerning diaspora voting for Nigerians abroad?

We have Nigerians everywhere and I am talking about Nigerians with legal status abroad who work, pay taxes and are doing very well. Although the diaspora cannot vote now, but one of the major things to put on the front burner for the parliament is to ensure that the law is amended to allow diaspora voting.

What’s the update on repatriated students from Ukraine?

Many of them are doing well now, for example in Canada there is a university that gave admission to 62 of them and they cut down the fees for them, also the Netherlands was fantastic as they gave a lot of our people support. Some of them have returned home and are trying to get into schools.

There is a place set up by the ministry of foreign affairs that partners with both private and government institutions to place them where they should be in their academics.

In your role as chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, what are the major challenges you have encountered?

Funding is the biggest challenge but it has not deterred us and that is one of the many reasons I am proud of our staff who have just been putting the best work into the commission. However, I do not complain about money because if you do, you will not get anything done but as we are growing at the commission, we need to be creative and we are already doing that.

Also, we need a better space where we can actually function properly but I do not dwell on challenges rather I look for solutions. For example, we do not need to be physically present to solve problems because technology has made that easy for us with various platforms.