This is an article that holds a double edged sword for me and writing it will perhaps bring me as much opposition as it will bring supporters. However, at the end of the day, it is my duty and obligation to bring what has been brought to my attention to the awareness of my public.
My concern is about the ways and manners that the Nigerian diasporans are continuously being used as channels to milk funds and resources from the Federal government and other well meaning, or not so well meaning establishments and institutions in Nigeria – possibly with the cooperation of officials in these same establishments.
I have often found the so called office of the Minister for Diaspora Matters a big joke and a highly unnecessary white elephant.
With all due respect to the current Minister who holds that portfolio and the persons that created that office/ministry, I would however ask “Just what exactly does the Minister for Diaspora Matters do?”
Pose the question to an average Nigerian diasporan in London – as close as it is to Abuja or Lagos and maybe just 1 out of 10 will have a clue. In my “limited” understanding, shouldn’t the Minister of Diasporan matters be a direct link between Diasporans and the Federal Government back home? An office responsible for ensuring the welfare or plights of Diasporans reach the ears of the Presidency who must in turn find ways and avenues of caring for Nigerians outside the country? But then, many will assume that is the duty of the High Commission or Consulate…….
I met the Minister in charge of this ministry a couple of times over the past few years – but these were at high profile events and functions. But not once, have I come across them or have they been reported to have attended a grass root diasporan event – and this is in spite of the numerous visits they makes to the UK and the US.
In 2014, a group of community members and leaders in the UK came together to organise the Nigerian Centenary Awards to mark the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Nigeria. Although a ticketed event, each member was levied £100 each towards the organisation of the event and all other logistics that went into it. At an event attended by at least 450 guests, 100 outstanding Nigerians of different ages, fields and occupations were honoured and awarded and this event was graced by officials from the High Commission. However, not a single grain of support either financially or otherwise, came from any official Nigerian quaters towards the initiative. Yet, a multi million naira event was held in Abuja – and funded by public funds.
Many Nigerians living abroad will tell you they have never sought the help of the Consulate in the country they live in and this is mostly because they never knew they could; or are unaware of the help available to them from their embassies. Here in the UK, until Baba Tafida, the former High Commissioner started his regional Town Hall visits, not many Nigerians had an idea of who he was and never thought they could step foot in the High Commission. As a matter of fact, venturing into the passport office often turned into highly traumatising experiences for many who needed to have their Nigerian passports renewed. The staff were extremely rude and unnecessarily arrogant with very little customer service skills and saw their jobs as doing the customer a favour rather that providing a service. Although, I have been made aware that things are a bit better now even if you have to add a £20 postal order for postage on top of the renewal cost!
Over the past decades, certain bodies and organisations have been set up and established to act as links between the High Commission in London and Nigerians living in the UK.
Now, you would expect that with the great and laudable task set before these bodies, at least 50% of Nigerians would at least have heard about them. Instead, the organisations have become exclusive clubs for only a few inner caucus members and only a select few actually see and enjoy fringe benefits from these organisations.
They leaderships of these bodies have reduced themselves to party gracing celebs and their leadership will take themselves in a convoy to events and occupy the highest tables without as much as leaving a token contribution or gift towards the organisation of the events they attend.
Many of the events organised by these organisations are planned simply, it would seem, for the benefits of their own inner caucus members. Attend any one of them and you will hardly find 100 guests. The events are hushed up and given very little publicity therefore, very few get to hear or know about them. Yet, the executives of these groups will maintain that they are working for the community. There is very little transparency – if any – in the operations and even objectives of these organisations.
As for the Diaspora Ministry back home: a few weeks back, again a select few Nigerians attended the high profile Diaspora day celebrations in Nigeria. Now I only came to hear about this important event simply because of my position as a news person. But many others didn’t. I am still baffled as to why the Federal Government held a Diaspora day – not in the diaspora – but in the country where the diasporans came from. My limited common sense tells me that a day celebrating diasporans should be held where the diasporans live – after all, it is about them…. But a handful of the UK diasporan “representatives” attended the hallowed event which also included a dinner at Aso Rock – with all expenses, I would assume, paid by the Federal Government either through the High Commission or through these “representative” organisations. Meanwhile, since the return of these reps, nothing regarding the thoughts or plans of the administration for diasporans has been heard except of course, the reiteration that diasporans are again being denied voting rights in Nigerian elections. Which means that our so called representatives simply went all the way to Abuja to bring back nothing of use to us. However, we do hear from time to time that the Government wants diasporans to keep plunging our hard earned and in some cases, meagre finances as investments into the country. Even though, we will have no say in who runs the country in which we are being asked to invest in….
But haven said that, it won’t be entirely true to say these reps come back with nothing. Reliable sources tell me that some of these reps” travel often to Nigeria and “make presentations” to the government on behalf of their fellow diasporans. Many meet with high officials and politicians in Abuja and place endless proposals for diaspora community initiatives and programmes before them. A number of these initiatives it would seem, would meet with the approval and acceptance of those officials who it is claimed, would put millions of naira towards the so called initiatives. Also contributing towards such initiatives are state governments, banks and big companies and other such establishments. But on returning to the UK, the nairas end up in someone’s personal account and into someone’s personal projects. Sometimes, some poorly planned and cheaply organised community event is put on just as a smokescreen and for records purposes – but as an experienced event organiser, I know for a fact that the cost of putting on these shows are tiny, compared to the actual funds that have been donated towards them.
Many of us in the diaspora cry out loud against corruption in Nigeria. But the fact of the matter is that some of these crooks we have in power used to live in the diaspora and many of them perhaps started their training from being diasporans representatives, scamming the same people they were meant to be representing.
I would at great risk to myself, ask us in the UK diaspora, to look a little closer to home and focus on our own leaders living among us in the diaspora. seeing as the folks back home really don’t have our interest at heart or have very little clue about what is going on in the diaspora.