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The Nigerian Diaspora

By Collins Nweke

The impending Bill on Nigerian Diaspora Commission is second to the last leg of the race to equip Nigeria with the requisite tool to mine, in a strategically impactful manner, the abundant human and financial capital of its citizens resident abroad. If care is not taken, the Bill can also mean an abrupt end to a genuinely promising journey that began about a decade ago. To avert this, Nigeria needs to address some looming dangers that portend negative change for sustainable Nigerian Diaspora politics. That is why the Nigerian Diaspora Bill should not be passed in its present construction. It is a construction that clearly kills rather than consolidates budding institutional structures. It is a construction that feeds the menace of powerful Diaspora lobby as opposed to entrenching sound democratic ideals. Responsible politics presupposes that a lawmaker with conscience, assuming this word exists in Nigerian political lexicon, can always look back at the laws he favoured and rejoice, rather than regret.

The absence of politics of conscience is why the politics of Nigeria comes across as incoherent, sometimes! The curious paradox is that sometimes too, this same politics, or an aspect of it, offers isolated case study for policy researchers of good practices in development politics. One of such isolated instances was in September 2007 when the African Union in a Consultative Conference in Paris, France, placed the shine on Nigeria’s model of engagement with its Diaspora. The meeting was called on behalf of the African Union by the Government of South Africa as a platform in the run-up to instituting the African Diaspora as a bona fide Region of the Union. They took active interest in the model implored by the Government of Nigeria in galvanizing its global Diaspora network towards national development under an umbrella called Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO). Another instance followed a year later at the European Parliament in a session to examine the relationship between African Nations and their Diaspora. Now in its fourth edition, the Europarliament parley futures in 2010, the Nigerian Diaspora model in supporting the education of a Nigerian Child within the African context.

In both instances - and there are few more to fill up this page - Nigeria’s politics around recognizing and investing in its Diaspora for the good of the nation was hailed as exemplary for Africa. Not because it is the only African economy with romance with its Diaspora; no! Nor was it a forerunner. Indeed countries like Republic of Benin, Lebanon, Mali, Somalia, Ethiopia and Tunisia have full Ministries for their Diaspora in varying shapes and forms.  Nigeria was being studied as a result of the ingenuity of its model, which was mooted in the year 2000 under the Obasanjo administration and supported by successive administrations. It is a model based on the principles of collectivity and consensus in decision-making with strong emphasis on stakeholdership and organic network development. It takes into account, not the overriding interests of a few and favoured Nigerian Diaspora oligarchs. Rather, it attempts to plough the playing field level, so that all that are willing and able can assume positions and play along under a common rule. Of course the elites, constituted in pockets of lobby apparatuses, won’t and didn’t like it. And they have remained actively committed to tearing down the walls of this building called NIDO even before the sun could dry the bricklayers’ tools.

Oladimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House, has since taken the Diaspora engagement vision a level higher by establishing the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs. That was even before Senator Jubril Aminu in the July 2009 Nigerian Diaspora Day called for Diaspora Content in all affairs of the nation, a call that he stepped up in July 2010 when he identified with the Diaspora Commission Bill as long as it does not stifle NIDO as an existing structure. This was long before Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President, met in The Netherlands, with Diaspora leaders in Europe, called on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to activate close working relations with the Diaspora. Since becoming Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan has used every foreign outing to indicate his interest in the Nigerian Diaspora Bill; to the extent that what was initially a private Bill is now being converted to an Executive Bill by Mr. President.

The establishment of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, itself a product of initial agitation by Nigerians in Diaspora Organization but sponsored by the House Committee on Diaspora, is to be the near-climax of visionary politics of Diaspora mobilization. It will herald an era of change. But change can be negative where there is manifest lack of provision to consolidate rather than allow shortsightedness or selfish tendencies, or both, to becloud the common good. This must bother those whose responsibility it is to avert this faith from befalling a politics that has the ingredients of goodness in it.

The initial draft Establishment Bill of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission as put forth by the House Committee on Diaspora recognized the place of NIDO in providing policy coherence in the Diaspora for the work of the proposed Commission. The pre-NIDO era lacked coherence. It was characterized by thousands of community, professional, religious, ethnic and cultural organizations of Nigerians in Diaspora, fighting, like children in a disjointed polygamous family, to dominate the space. As can be expected, the law of the jungle applied.

Two core issues are the enemies here. One relates to the buildup of powerful lobby in the Diaspora, largely undermining the draft Establishment Bill and skillfully manipulating its seemingly naïve authors. Its purpose? To kill NIDO. Why? Because NIDO stands on its way in exerting control over Diaspora affairs. The other issue, closely complimentary to the first, relates to illegal disproportionate representation of Nigerian Diaspora on the Board of the proposed Commission.

* Collins Nweke is Founder / CEO of Global Village Consult Belgium, brand owners of Nigeria Human Capital. He was Executive Secretary and later the General Secretary of the Board of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Europe. He writes from Brussels.

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