Buhari Is About To Harness Nigerians In Diaspora For National Devt By Mike Abiola
We may only have to wait until the end of September to know the ministers to represent each ministry in Nigeria, but it may take longer to know who takes charge at the various embassies. One thing is clear though, the new ambassadors will resume with a directive to engage the Diaspora more than ever before.
In the current global economic downturn occasioned by low oil revenue, human capital can become a much needed asset. It is at a time like this that Nigeria must seriously harness its army of professionals across the world; thereby turning its brain drain into a brain gain.
Fortunately, visionary leaders like former President Olusegun Obasanjo have been providing the necessary impetus since 2005 with the inauguration of professional bodies like the Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation in Europe and America. In its determination to rebuild the nation through its Change Economic Agenda, the current administration must not lose sight of the enormous talent of its citizens abroad.
The gathering of Nigerians in Diaspora, held annually in Abuja, is yet to produce the desired result. The full resolution of this year’s Diaspora Day conference, held in Abuja on 25th August 2015, is yet to be made public. A clear takeaway for me is in the directive from President Muhammadu Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Oshibajo. The President directed Nigeria’s embassies to set up a ‘Diaspora database’ with which they may interact regularly. Some may say this is already an ongoing exercise that has not produced the desired results. The actualisation of the much expected Diaspora Commission would have made this year’s Diaspora Day a fait-accompli. The Diaspora bill passed by the seventh National Assembly is still awaiting presidential assent. Keen observers believe this will open up a new vista.
Role of Nigeria Embassies
The various Nigeria embassies around the world can be a motive force for this new directive from the Buhari administration. The embassies can provide fresh vigour, propelled by the new message for change, by organising and supporting regular conferences/events in partnership with different professional bodies to address the national development agenda. This will go a long way towards encouraging much needed interaction with the Diaspora community.
The Nigeria embassies should each have a Diaspora Liaison Section tasked with the role of actively identifying and compiling lists of Nigerian experts in various countries and matching them with relevant government departments. Through the Diaspora Section, government departments like the Nigerian Export Promotion Council can deploy staff with a mandate to assist exporters of non-oil products from Nigeria and also partner with Nigerian professionals on initiatives that will generate revenue for the country.
Importers of non-oil commodities from Africa into the EU and particularly the UK – especially food importers – experience a catalogue of difficulties that Chinese and Indian importers are not experiencing. A number of this issues can easily be settled under government trade agreements, but they require carefully negotiated bilateral agreements. Where such issues are not given dedicated attention, citizens abroad feel the absence of home government protection and it is a drain on what could amount to substantial foreign exchange earnings.
The Nigerian Diaspora, especially those in the UK & US, are not just growing in statistical terms, they are excelling in education and growing a ready market for Nigerian foods and other exports made with pride in Nigeria.
Recently released official data shows that, in 2013, a total of 8 million people in the UK were foreign-born with about half of this figure from outside the EU. The increasing numbers of new generation Nigerians is pushing the number of people of Nigerian heritage in the UK beyond previous estimates of 2 million. Surely exceptional opportunities must exist for Nigeria’s economy to be linked to the fastest growing ethnic population in Britain.
At a reunion party this summer attended by a large gathering of families spanning three or four generations, including old and new settlers in the US, UK and Europe, it was amazing to note that the taste for spicy Ayamase stew on boiled rice, moi moi, puff puff, suya, jollof rice, dried fish, plantain and drinks such as Guinness and Fanta were a unifying factor.
Many of the 5 – 17 year-olds that had never been to Nigeria enjoyed the food and confessed to preferring it to High Street fare, such as that served up by fast food chains. So it is disappointing to discover that dried fish, melon and red-eye beans – a popular Nigeria-grown bean and the main ingredient of moi moi – are all becoming rare commodities in the UK due to import restrictions. This should be an ample demonstration, if it were needed, of why the Diaspora cannot be excluded from the Government’s economic agenda.
Nigeria High Commission UK & Diaspora interaction
Nigeria’s UK Mission has distinguished itself by rallying the Diaspora community effectively. The UK Mission was responsible for sustaining the Nigeria In Diaspora Organisation Europe (NIDOE), especially during its formative years, and gave credibility to the election of its principal officers. Especially during the tenure of Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, aided by the diplomats that served with him in London between 2008 and 2012.
The period witnessed a robust interaction with UK-based Nigerians and recorded a new high during the Nigeria at 50 independence anniversary celebrations. Ambassador Sola Enikanolaye and Ambassador Ahmed Umar are some of the key officers at the Mission and will forever be remembered for the roles they played in assembling outstanding Nigerians for the Golden Jubilee.
In October 2014, some of these UK Nigerians were recognised and honoured for their meritorious service by His Excellency, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, former High Commissioner to the UK.
Current officers at the Mission have given assurances in a swift written response to a related article in this column. Prince Adeniyi, Minister/Special Assistant to the High Commissioner said, “May I seize this medium to reassure the Nigerian community and indeed the general public that the Mission will continue to engage and strengthen our relationship with our partners even while carrying out our duties in a professional manner.”
Diaspora Economic Change Agenda
Aside from the over $20billion remittances to Nigeria, the Diaspora can contribute greater human capital with its skill-set gained working in developed countries and exposure to state of the art technology in advance fields. The new government has to take steps to ensure that some proportion of these remittances are channelled towards development; and to encourage and support those willing to take a sabbatical to return home to contribute their particular skill.
One critical area where Nigerians in Diaspora can add value to the Change Economic Agenda is in the health sector, given its obvious distressing state. The government searchlight on the Diaspora must begin with the health sector with a view to kick starting a partnership with Nigerian medical professionals and uplifting healthcare delivery. An overhaul of this sector would boost the economy and create millions of jobs for the teeming population.
There are thousands of Nigerian medical professionals such as consultants, gynaecologist, lead surgeons, oncologists and specialists in other medical fields working in teaching hospitals and in various other areas of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Many of these professionals are willing to serve their motherland. Some have embarked on medical missions with little or no support from Nigeria’s government in the past. Each state of the Federation can partner with these Nigerian doctors in Diaspora on areas of desperate need.
One of these numerous talents is Professor Stanley Okolo, Medical Director of North Middlesex NHS Trust. He was recently listed by the London Evening Standard as among the top 16 UK health professionals with huge responsibilities and earnings higher than the UK Prime Minister.
Prof. Okolo, addressing a conference on the non-oil sector under the auspices of the Engineers Forum of Nigerians UK, confirmed that Nigeria’s development can be fast-tracked by a conscious effort to turn around the present state of the health sector in the country. Prof. Okolo said, “the global trade in health tourism is over $100billion per year. Of this, Nigerian health tourism contributed $500 million in 2013 and half of this was spent travelling to India. Contrasting this, numbers of Nigerian doctors in USA and UK are over 3500 and 4250 respectively, while there are over 1600 Nigerian nurses and midwives working in the UK’s NHS”. Prof. Okolo highlighted that the drivers for health tourism are: availability; low cost and quality and expertise abroad.
Dubai in the UAE has invested greatly in preparing for medical tourism by creating a Dubai Clinic Services Capacity Plan 2020 through Public-Private Partnership. With these facilities they are able to attract over 2 million medical tourists to UAE from 150 countries. These also generate income in the areas of transport, hospitality, banking, shopping and sightseeing.
There is little to gain in saying that Nigeria can be the hub of medical tourism for at least the entire West Africa sub region. Other Nigerian medical experts of note in the UK include breast cancer specialist Arikoge Ogedegbe, Consultant and Lead Surgeon at King George Hospital, Barking, Havering and Redbridge and Dr. Peter Ozua, a Consultant Histopathologist at the Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital NHS Trust – Dr. Ozua was on a delegation to Nigeria with the Medical Association of Nigerian Specialists and General Practitioners. In addition, Prof. Dilly Anumba is a full Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology infertility expert at the University of Sheffield; Dr. Henry Okosun is Medical Director at the Regency International Clinic, a top British Fertility & Virility Centre – Dr. Okosun is experienced in the management of infertile couples (test tube babies); and Prof. Rotimi Jaiyesimi, Deputy Medical Director, Health & Safety, Basildon Hospital, Basildon.
An injection of the Diaspora may just contain the tonic to bring about the change we are clamouring for.