NIDCOM Director Discusses Harnessing Nigerian Diaspora Potential and Overcoming Challenges

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Abdur-Rahman Balogun, Director of the Media Public Relations & Protocols Unit at NIDCOM (Nigerians in Diaspora Commission), we delve into the commission’s efforts to leverage the substantial contributions of the Nigerian diaspora for national development.

From innovative programs like the National Diaspora Day to addressing challenges such as paucity of funds, Balogun provides insights into NIDCOM’s mission, accomplishments, and the critical role it plays in fostering collaboration between Nigerians abroad and their home country.

The Nigerian diaspora contributes significantly to the development of both Nigeria and its host countries. How does NIDCOM work to harness this potential and strengthen these connections?

Okay, thank you for this interview. We have a lot of programmes that we are doing to harness these potentials. Of course, these our programmes are derived from our mandate, from our vison and mission statement, which is to harness the potentials of Nigeria in the Diapora for national development. And we are being driven by this policy, that is our vision and it has enhanced our performance thus far on what we are doing to harness the potential Nigerians in Diaspora.

One of the things we have designed was to have a national diaspora team. July 25th of every year has been declared by the federal government of Nigeria, for the celebration of National diaspora day. During the celebration of National diaspora day, the diasporans are registered to come back home, gather together and discuss the way out to so many issues. And then when they come like that, we have various topics, issues and programmes that we do that makes it interesting. And then this year, we added an award to it, to recognize some of our diasporans who are doing great things in the Diaspora and we gave them awards. I think about 28 of them were given award this year 2526. These are some of the things we are doing. We just finished 48 hours ago, another major programme we normally do, which is ‘The day of Return,’ our Badagary day of return. This is a programme aimed at bringing our diaspora whose forefathers went through the slave trade routes in Badagary. And then they are now coming back as kings and queens. We have that in Badagary, we just finished that yesterday, it normally hold on October. By this time next month, we will be having another one called National diaspora investments summit. Diasporans will come back and select area of investment of their choice be it agriculture, education, health and Technology, oil and gas, housing, and many more. We bring in some experts and they interact and eventually, we will pick them and eventually you will see showing interest in a particular sector, you know Nigeria is blessed with all kinds of natural resources and abundant human resources. So the interwoven of these will definitely lead to something beneficial not only to them, but even to the country at large. And closely related to diaspora investments summit, as at December last year, we discovered that the World Bank rated Nigeria, from diaspora remittances worth $22 billion. That’s a huge mongos money in terms of remittances, these are official remittances that pass through the system through the banking system to the CBN and that, its different from money that you and I just go on a visit to London and your friend says okay, take this hundred pounds, help me give my mother, take this five hundred pounds, give my uncle at home, those one are not captured, they are not recorded. The ones recorded are the ones that pass through transfer, and its about $22 billion and that is the highest in Africa, and I think the third or fourth in the world. So Nigeria is really doing great to harness this potential.

And don’t forget that I told you that our mission is to effectively promote and harness the capacity or resources of Nigerians in the diaspora, for the growth and development of the nation. And we are working towards this by seeing that some of them have been coming back home to have hospitals, standard hospital, they have been coming back to have standard University, an educational institutions, they have been coming back home to provide housing, they have been coming back home to set up an IT firm, they have been coming back home to do agricultural products in dairy and so many other agricultural products. We have some who are back home in the area of automobile, Jelani Aliyu who designed the Pontiac G6 for the America, he is back to Nigeria, are doing electrical cars for us in Nigeria and cars powered by GNG gas. So, we have been harnessing the potentials of this diasporans back home to soar up the national development does and that is all what we have been doing so far.

What have been the most significant challenges NIDCOM has experienced in facilitating collaboration between Nigerians abroad and their home country?

Yes, thank you very much for that question. The major challenges we are facing is paucity of fund. As we are speaking with you now, we don’t have a permanent office, we are littered all over, my chairman’s office is somewhere there, executive office is somewhere here, and the head of media is somewhere here and others. So, that alone can hamper coordination.

So many trips that we would have lot to embark on to be able to participate in some of the activities of the diaspora, because of paucity of funds, some of you will not be able to go, in fact if not for partnership and collaboration with international agencies that come to our rescue, it could have hampered our operation. There are means or occasion that the Commission will need to deploy official or staff to go on the field to do one or two things. This limitation is just there. We are undaunted with these challenges, we keep on moving. And if I don’t tell you now you will not believe it. Even some people we are paid in dollars, which is not true. We don’t allow these challenges to weigh us down, we keep on moving to meet up with our targets, our vision. And so we really don’t talk much about these challenges. We know thet are always there and we know that they are surmountable, and with the new government in place now and knowing the value of the diaspora, knowing what other countries are doing with our diaspora, I mean, we really want to improve on that, and we have been seeing changes since President Bola Tinubu came on the saddle, diaspora, we have participated in three national events. President Tinubu was in Paris, he was in India, and he was in Hungary, United States of America and it is my chairman who organized a town hall meeting where Nigerians interacted with the president live and direct, so we’ve been doing this, for the last three months, we’ve done about four of such event and still doing more.

NIDCOM has been involved in various cases of Nigerians abroad facing challenges, such as legal issues or medical emergencies. Could you share some notable examples and how NIDCOM provided assistance?

Yes, like I told you, one of our mission statements is to see to the welfare of Nigerians wherever they might find themselves. In fact, this morning, I just issued a statement as directed by my chairman on a Nigerian who was allegedly murdered by Chinese in the Philippines. So I just issued a statement this morning and we are still investigating that particular matter to know the outcome of it. There was one Zainab Aliu, who went on Lesser Hajj with her parents, and siblings and on getting there, it was alleged that they found tdrugs in her bag in Saudi Arabia, and then she was slated to be killed. Because in those countries, once you are found guilty of carrying drugs, definitely, you will be killed and we got rid of this matter, and we intervened with the collaboration of Minister of Justice, and other sizable number of ministries and we got her released and then she’s now a free woman working with NAFDAC, because she was implicated, she was innocent. There are cases of Nigerians trapped in Libya, Lebanon, South Africa, Dubai, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the rest and we were able to facilitate them back with the collaboration of all these stakeholders I have mentioned before and through the support of the federal government of Nigeria. Of course, recently, Sudan and don’t forget Ukraine, and all these operations successfully done free of charge on behalf of the Federal Government without collecting money. Those of them who are stranded there, those of them who were abducted, those of them who were trafficked so, we work in collaboration with NAPTIP too. These are some of the cases, so many to mention but since you said I should give you one or two that why I’m giving you these examples.

Could you tell us more about the upcoming 4th Edition of the Badagry Door of Return festival, what inspired the concept and what it signifies historically and emotionally? 

Mr Gabriel Odu: Yes. The idea about the ‘Badagry Door of Return’ started in 2017 by the chairman, Chief Executive Officer of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, he is the initiator and he also has a co-initiator, Dr. Babatunde Mesawaku. So, this is fourth edition. and the idea behind the diaspora dawn of return is that it is a way of reconnecting with historic African diasporas all over the world, especially those whose ancestors were taken away forcefully from Africa to the other world, through the Trans Atlantic slave trade.

But for us in Nigeria, if you check the Slave Coast of West Africa, If you go to state that bound across the West Coast, you will see that you have in Calabar, you have the slave Museum but what we experienced in Badagry is more much harrowing. That was my first time in Badagary and we had a 27-member historic African diaspora that came from the United States, from the Caribbeans, all of them came, and they wanted to reconnect with their homeland. And it will interest you to know that many of the blacks down, they do their DNA to trace their origins. Many have done that, some have trace their origin to Ghana, somehow traced our origin to Nigeria, even to specific states, in Nigeria. Like Bishop TD Jakes, he has traced his origin to South East, Imo state and others. Now, what might interests you is that we went through the slave roots in Badagary and we got wher we call ‘a point of no return’. And when you get there, you are not coming back, you are gone forever. And before we go to that point, we got to a well, where when you drink that water you, lose consciousness, you lose your memory and you are gone, we got to the Atlantic coast, when you step there, look at the ocean, boundless! there’s no end and our forefathers, our ancestors pass through that to West Indies, to America as slaves. Some died and were thrown into there. That is why the culture the flora and fauna you find Nigeria, go to Brazil is there, you want to see bitterleaf, casava, you want to see coconut, there was one leaf I saw one in Brazil, all these products were all carried by slaves to these islands and countries, you will find them there. So, the idea about the Fouth Diaspora Door of Return is to reconnect and African Diasporas are becoming more interested because in the in the United States for instance, they will address you a black man as an African American. So, if you are African American that means you are a visitor there, no matter what, even when you are a citizen, you are still a visitor because you are not addressed as American, they will say you are African America. You have American citizenship, and all that but you have your specify as African American. So, you must trace where you come from.

So, we see them as catalysts for socio-economic development of Nigeria. Some cried, if you saw what our forefathers passed through, some of these guys, they cried. One woman who said they wanted to work through the boat, they said no, she walked through the river, she removed her shoes, when we got to the coast, they prayed. One of them that was honored, the son of Marcus Garvey came, the man is 90 years old, he came. Dr. Julius Garvey, he walked through, when I asked him, he said, “I don’t know where I got the energy, the strength, my ancestors are with me, they are the ones guiding me. He went through. The other woman, we call her ‘Queen Mother’, she is almost 85 years. She also came, she went through the coast, she walk in the ocean, she came down, wash her feet, she prayed and said her ancestors have brought her here and she’s fulfilled, she has come home. These are very emotional, spiritual and physical connection with your ancestors, you will cry for them. And now when we come back, they were receive at the arena as kings and queens, these our daughters, sisters, fathers and our children hat have come back home. Badagary received them as kings and queens with those queenly caps and kingly regaliars. Yes. So, they are successful ambassadors they came back. There is one aspect that I want to emphasize that government should be serious about tourism. Those historical sites, those monuments should be catered for, should be preserved. The slave route, the coast and all that, should to be modernized, but let the ancient resumane, those ambience will be there, like the boats, trekky and all those stuffs, should be modernized and they should look neat for tourism. Tourism is the next economic frontier. But we need to be serious about tourism. And one of them, David Anderson, who was given the title as Monty of Badagary, has promised to be given like 10 acres of land, he’s going to build a diaspora Plaza and he said he will do it.

As the head of NIDCOM, what vision do you have for the commission’s future, and how do you plan to further enhance its impact on diaspora engagement and collaboration?

Like I told you, let me read the vision again to you, “To effectively promote and harness the capacity and resources of Nigeria’s in the diaspora for the growth and development of the nation” we want to harness their capacity, harness their potential for the growth and development of the nation.

That is our mission, and that is our vision. And that is what we are working towards. All the areas that you can use to get that, through the Diaspora Day, Badagary Door of Return, Nigeria Diaspora Investment Summit, Nigeria Diaspora Housing Fair, Townhall Meetings, attending their functions, empowering them and then, giving them a moral booster and then, through advocacy, talking to them to be of good behavior wherever they find themselves and be a good ambassador of Nigeria and those of them who are doing well, by encouraging them with awards, recognition. We published a compendium about two years ago, talking about Ngerians at 60 and projects at 600, in that compendium, we celebrated over six hundred Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in various fields of human endeavours. These are first-class Nigerians in politics, medicine, nursing, IT, engineering, sports, entertainment, education, scholarship, fashion, and so on, that they have really disagirved themselves. This is just a commission that is about six years old but those who have really done something outstanding in the area of Diaspora, we recognize them, we publish their names for posterity. And then we invited some of them last year when we had our maiden national awards for them. Not only that, every week, we celebrate them twice in a week with a programme on television, on NTA every Tuesday at 2:30 pm and on Sundays, 11:00 am. And we have some repeat editions at night, which we call it “The Diaspora” we equally have collaboration, we have a Diaspora radio programme, which we call “The Diaspora”. These are some of the things we do to celebrate them. We equally have a monthly magazine where we celebrate this our diasporas.

Most of them that are not here, we do things that will connect with them and don’t forget, we have over 17 million Nigerians in the diaspora, we know we have more than that but this is the estimated number.

To really harness these are potentials, you need to get closer to them, we need to bond with them and to attend to their issues. And you know, they have organizations what we call Nigerians in Diapora Organization (NIDO), we also have Sub-organizations. So they have their social cultural, like ‘Egbe omo Oduduwa, Arewa group, Ndi Igbo Group, like Ileya, some have their professional body like APA and the rest. So, these are some of the ways that we use to co-ordinate them and we relate very well with our embassies because they are their father or mother in their regulatory body. Before they get in touch with us, we encourage them to get in touch with the embassy because the embassy lives with them there to be able to resolve any issue. Yes. So, these are some of the things we are doing. We have our social media fully registered and functioning we have one of the best websites you can think about, with wwe.nidcom.org.ng. We have our email; we have our Facebook and Twitter accounts. And we are very efficient in responding to issues, even when you send in your issues, immediately you are responded to. So, these are the things we have been doing to make everybody come along and then, to fulfill the righteousness in line with our mandate.

Thank you. You’re welcome.

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