The desire to create an identity for Nigerians living abroad that would encourage their contribution to the social, political and economic development of Nigeria by the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora commenced in earnest with its launch of Database of Nigeria
living abroad in far way U.S.A. and UK.The initiative led by the committee chairperson, Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa took off, with many doubting the possibility of achieving such a Herculean project. But the launch of the Diaspora Nigerian Database in both London and United States of America (USA) has demystified every doubt concerning the realisation of the project. The journey to the launch of the Nigerian Database abroad commenced with an interactive session in London, on February 22, 2009, at the Conference Hall, London Bridge, United Kingdom. The meeting was an interactive session between Nigerians resident in the United Kingdom and members of the House of Representative Committee on Diaspora led by its chairperson Abike, Deputy Chairman; Hon. Keita, Hon. Nimota Suleiman and Hon. Obot. The central focus of the meeting was on Re- engineering Nigerian Foreign Missions and Services background, with a view to fashioning a blue print for Nigeria’s foreign missions that will be proactive to the needs of Nigerians living in the Diaspora, protecting their interests.
The meeting was attended by a broad section of NGOs, including several organisations working in the third sector, business organistaions, professionals and others. The meeting was hosted by Arise Nigeria, a UK-based NGO that champions and promotes the ethos of Good Governance.
The session sought to explore the on going policy and dialogue on the process of re-shaping the image and service delivery capacity of Nigerian foreign missions in view of many issues Nigerians face in foreign lands as well as image crises facing Nigerians all over the world. It also provided an opportunity for Nigerians in the UK to converse with members of the Diaspora Committee on how to generate practicable solutions and harness the enormous potentials of Nigerians in the Diaspora, towards nation building and economic revival of the country.
The meeting is the first time the Nigerian community in the UK is engaging in such a session with elected government officials, with the aim of fashioning out a path for Nigerians in the UK to apply their talents and resources to the development of the country. Prior to this, it had always been the practice of such meetings being organised by the Nigerian High Commission and other government sponsored or backed agencies that did not represent the real aspirations of Nigerians living in the UK.
The Master of Ceremony was Shola Lana of Nexgen Initiatives, who took charge of proceedings of the session with finesse and a tinge of professionalism.
Charles Eze of Arise Nigeria was the first to take the floor, and he made a detailed presentation on the theme of the session. Some of the points he highlighted, included Customer Service, Response Time, Promote Nigerian businesses and Robust Welfare Policy for Nigerians living in the Diaspora.
In his presentation, Eze proposed the following measures for effectiveness in Nigeria’s mission abroad: quarterly training programme for all officers and a monitoring plan to enforce disciplinary measures for complaints. He also recommended that Embassy staff should be at alert and open 24 hours helpline for Nigerians, emergency funds to cover some precarious situations, support and counselling to Nigerians in time of need and monitoring any convicted Nigerian in detention.
Dabiri-Erewa agreed with most of the issues raised at the session but was quick to caution that there should be a distinction between the understanding of the roles of the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stressing that much as there is a point of convergence, there are clear lines of demarcation that should be respected and observed. She also acknowledged that there is a fine line of communication between the two Committees and that they tend to be mutually supportive.
She also advised Nigerians living in the Diaspora not to exaggerate issues of death in custody or during deportation but should be kept in proper perspective and hinted that such issues will be tackled diplomatically and by other means necessary.
She also alluded to the fact that her committee would continue to serve as a bridge between Nigerians in the Diaspora and their homeland. She also used the occasion to advise Nigerians in the Diaspora not to be fond of criticising the government but should join hands with it to move the country forward.
“The new regime is working towards change, and we should welcome it. Are the Nigerian people truly ready for change, or merely demanding for a change as a lip service without commitment? If we are ready for change, we should rally round the regime and actively support its various programmes,” Dabiri-Erewa said.
The deputy chairman of the committee, Hon. Keita, towed the same path with Dabiri-Erewa, adding that Nigerians abroad should not negate their patriotic duty to contribute to national development. “Charity begins at home, so Nigerians overseas should not negate their patriotic or civic duty to contribute to the development of their homeland. This is not the time to attribute blames or point accusing fingers but the time to formulate constructive solutions, and apply them in the process of change. That change historically is initiated by social groups, and for it to happen, we the people need to begin the momentum,” Keita said.
As part of effort geared towards achieving some of the points highlighted at the session, it was agreed that committee called Act Fast should be raised by both parties to work out modalities for the realistaion of the issues raised at the interactive session.
The session also provided an opportunity for the Chairman of Arise Nigeria, Dr. Philip Idaewor, to present an open letter to President Umar Yar’Adua, titled Another Nigerian Killed in Foreign land: Our Foreign Missions must Act, which Hon. Dabiri-Erewa promised to deliver to the president.
However, if the UK launch was successful, the U.S. version was phenomenal, as it turned out a convergence of the leading lights of various Nigerian associations based in the U.S. The launch, tagged Nigerian Town Hall Meeting was held on February 28, at Oakland City Hall, Oakland, California and was hosted by Education Development Opportunities Inc (EDO). The House of Representatives committee was led by its chairperson, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and accompanied by Honourable Aminu Shehu-Shagari.
Leaders of the various Nigerian associations based in the U.S. that attended the meeting included, President of California Oduduwa Heritage Organisation, Kola Thomas; President California Nigeria Forum, Professor Steve Ugbah; President Benin Association of Northern California, Moses Osawe; President Enugu State Association of Northern California, Nick Agbo; Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria Association, USA (SF chapter), Ekom Effien-Ette; President Abia Union of Northern California and President of All Arochukwu, USA, David Iphie; Vice Chancellor, General Services, Peralta Community College, Auchi Community San Francisco Bay Area, Sadiq Ikharo; Former Regional Social Security Administrator, Emmanuel Ogunleye; President Ndokwa Association in Americaa, Sebastian Oduni ‘Commissioner for Small Business, San Jose,’ California, Molly Uzoh; President Ndokwa Association California, Dr. Echinei Oshionwu and Master of Ceremony Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, City of Oakland, California.
The Town Hall meeting highlighted the various contributions of Nigerians and Africans to the economic, stability, cultural diversity as well as the meaningful contributions made collectively by Nigerians in the Diaspora.
The focus of the meeting was on Education, Medical care, Transportation, Power Supply, Housing, and Construction, Steel Industry, Social Services, Information Technology, Film Industry, Tourism, Law and Order, and Conducive business environment.
Founder of EDO, Osagie Enabulele was first to highlight the essence of the gathering, stating that Nigeria could only move forward if Nigerians eschew tribalism. He also made a case to make the Town Hall meeting an annual event.
“It is also our hope and belief that there is a great strength in numbers; the issue of tribalism has no place in our nation if we truly have to move forward as a people. Events like this and several more will be encouraged. We intend to continue having this Town Hall Meeting once every year, moving forward. The country needs the expertise of us all in respective of all our ethnic origins.
“It is also in our future plan to help mobilise so that we can have our own Nigerian Building – Community Center somewhere in the San Francisco Bay area where our children and those coming behind can foster and have closer bonds. Let’s not allow massive ego to hinder our progress and unify ourselves for the betterment of our country and motherland,” said Enabulele.
But Hon, Dabiri-Erewa was more forthcoming in her speech, where she called for closer ties between Nigerians in both the Diaspora and at home as the way forward to move Nigeria forward.
“To better the social economic factors, eradicate poverty, bring down the infant mortality rate, encourage tourism trade, and develop and improve the infrastructures in Nigeria, we must work together. Let us begin in earnest today, through this system database to reach some of these goals,” she said.
The Database of Nigerians Abroad (DNA) is a new concept initiated by the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs. It is the first of such launch in the USA and expected to yield more targeted results and synchronise Nigerians abroad for greater participation in national development.
At the end of the meeting, certificates of recognitions were issued to Dabiri-Erewa and Shagari by Californian State Assembly 16th District member, Sander Swanson and Mayor Ron V Dellums, Mayor of the city of Oakland. Enabulele also received recognition from both Swanson and Dellums for hosting the Nigerian Town Hall meeting.