Xenophobia: Will Diaspora commission make a difference?

The passage of the Bill establishing the Nigerian Citizens in Diaspora Commission into law in 2017 was greeted with cheers given the rising cases of xenophobia against Nigerians living in foreign countries, especially in Africa, and the recent appointment of Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa as first chairman/chief executive officer has given teeth to the commission. How far will it go in protecting Nigerians in Diaspora? ELEOJO IDACHABA asks.

Nigerians, at home and abroad, heaved a sigh of relief following the passage of the Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of the Nigerian Citizens in Diaspora Commission to ensure the protection of Nigerians in Diaspora, promote and facilitate their effective participation in economic, political and social development of the nation and for related matters into law.

The Bill sponsored by Senator Annie Okonkwo was signed into law by the then acting President Yemi Osibanjo in July 2017, a development that was widely welcomed as giving teeth to the government’s self-professed desire to partner its citizens abroad.

However, the commission may have just got its teeth following President Muhammadu Buhari appointment of his Special Assistant on Diaspora Matters, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, as the first chairman/chief executive officer.

In confirming her nomination recently, the Senate, through its Committee on Diaspora and Non-Governmental Organisations chaired by Senator Rose Oko, said after a critical scrutiny of the curriculum vitae and other accompanying documents of the nominee and having been satisfied about her integrity, exposure, suitability, competence and experience in politics and public service, found her fit for appointment as chairman/chief executive officer of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission.

This development, according to analysts, was long overdue considering the hassles many Nigerians have been going through in foreign countries they are domiciled. Over time, following the misconduct of some Nigerians involved in criminal activities including drug trafficking and smuggling of arms, ammunition and other banned products, trafficking in persons, as well as cases of Nigerians absconding during pilgrimage, among others, earned the country negative image thereby robbing off on innocent and patriotic and law abiding citizens.

Nigerians have been known to suffer hardship including rigorous immigration processes and screening as a result of stigmatisation, even as some have been implicated in crimes they did not commit. A case in point is the arrest of a student of Maitama Sule University, Kano, Ms Zainab Aliyu, who travelled with her mother to the Saudi Arabia, on December 26, 2018. Her travel bag was found to have been stuffed with substances suspected to be tramadol, a medication used to treat pain but abused among young people, allegedly by some fraudulent officials at the Aminu Kano International Airport.

It took the intervention of the Nigerian government through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation to secure her release and safe return to Nigeria.

Her case is one among many in several countries abroad, a spill-over effect of erroneous impression against few Nigerians.

Also, Nigerians in the Republic of South Africa have recorded several deaths as a result of xenophobic attacks, same case with Nigerians in Cyprus, Turkey and Ghana.

Speaking on the situation in South Africa, President, Nigerian Citizens Association in South Africa, Ben Okoli said the lives of Nigerians are so cheap in that country and it does not matter to the South Africans that Nigerians are being killed. According to him, while some Nigerians resident in South Africa are killed through mob attacks, others are shot dead under the guise that they involved in one criminal activity or another.

He maintained that recent case of Ebuka Udugbo, who was allegedly killed by South African Police, called for concern, pointing out that Udugbo was arrested by the South African Police over a quarrel with his girlfriend, one Miss Linda, on April 28, 2019, and was later pronounced dead by the police.

“The information we got initially was that he committed suicide while in the South African Police custody in Cape Town. We conducted our own preliminary investigation over the circumstances surrounding his death. What we discovered was that the late Udugbo had a quarrel with his girlfriend and left the house at about 9am on April 28, to avoid further altercation.”

According to him, the girlfriend later called in the police and Udugbo arrested while driving in the town. “Mr Udugbo’s vehicle was stopped and he was arrested and handcuffed. The police took his car keys, left the car by the way and drove with him back to his house in the police car along with the girlfriend.

“There, he was severely beaten and he fainted. At this point, the landlord’s son was afraid and told the police to take him to the hospital.

“They, however, refused and instead they took him to the police station where they claimed that he had allegedly committed suicide.”

Also, lamenting over the difficulties Nigerians in the Diaspora face, Folashade Titilope, a Nigerian living in Ghana, said: “This past week, my morning radio habit led me to a convoluted talk show on a Ghanaian radio station, 91.3FM, that could have easily been mistaken for a call to arms against Nigerians in Ghana.

“A guest on the programme suggested that Nigerians are responsible for the significant proportion of crimes committed in Ghana. In response, the host, following a feeble attempt to dissociate himself from this xenophobic sentiment, asked if the government ought not to monitor Nigerians in Ghana more closely, given our implied criminal tendencies.”

According to her, this is the general perception held by many about Nigerians.

Nigerians react

As the attacks continued seemingly unabated, many Nigerians had reacted angrily to the development, including the chairman of the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay.

He said the trend had continued because South African authorities never took any concrete step to punish those who perpetuated those acts and urged the Nigerian government to react by closing down South African firms in the country or out rightly nationalise some of them in retaliation.

“The Nigerian government should close down some South African establishments or nationalise them. That may be the only resort to self-help that the South African government would appreciate. Right now, they are taking us for granted; even when we complain, they pretend that they are not aware. It is just envy killing against the success of Nigerians. Nigeria was the head of the United Nations anti-apartheid committee until South Africa got her independence but they have forgotten all of that,” he stated.

Also speaking, Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), however, took a swipe at the Nigerian authorities over their lukewarm attitude of towards the treatment many Nigerians get from other countries, especially South Africa.

In a recent interview, the fiery lawyer said, “President Muhammadu Buhari should pick his phone and call his South African counterpart to tell him that if they do not want diplomatic row South Africans should put a stop to the killing of Nigerians. The call should be followed by a letter that should be discussed in the South African parliament.”

He noted however, that a government that does not have the capacity to protect her citizens at home does not have what it takes to shield them from attacks abroad.

In the wake of these attacks and subsequent killings in 2017, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, reacted stating that the federal government needed to do more to ensure that every Nigerian life matters.

He said, “If one white person gets killed in France, our president sends a condolence message. It is disappointing that our president does not take it seriously when Nigerians are killed. Rather, we get condolence messages being sent out to the rest of the world when their own people are killed. If all the Nigerians that are being killed don’t matter and one white person killed matters to our president, that tells that you we have a lot of work to do.

“I know that there is no perfect human rights situation anywhere because everywhere it is work-in-progress and Nigeria is the same but we don’t have a choice; we have to make progress. Nigerian lives must matter.’’

Odinkalu said that though he was not against condoling with the rest of the world, Nigerians also deserved condolence and protection. He said that this was because Nigerian lives were just as important as European and American lives.

Nigerians Diaspora lauds commission

The Nigerian Diaspora Commission is the best thing to have happened to Nigerians abroad according to Nigerians living in America. Reacting to the signing into law of the Act, Nigerians in the Diaspora in America (NIDOA), through its image maker, Bukola Shonuga, stated: “The enactment of the bill is further testament of the recognition of the critical role of Nigerians in Diaspora in Nigeria’s development.

“Over 15 million Nigerians reside in the Diaspora and Nigerians have been cited as the most educated immigrant group in the West and they are represented in every professional field.

“The average Nigerian professional holds at least a Bachelor’s degree and the annual median income is about $65,000. The World Bank recently noted that Nigerians in Diaspora remit $23bn a year, a significant fuel to their country’s economy.”

Also speaking on the development, a London based Nigerian publisher, Mr Dotun Israel, told Blueprint Weekend that what is happening to Nigeria is the long-year spill over effect of the bad image the country had gained especially in the area of corruption and crime.

Many Nigerians he noted had given a dubious image to the country in times past due to their involvements in crimes. He however noted that with the creation of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, it is one step ahead in government’s effort towards boosting the image of the country abroad.

“It was a good thing that the government has finally come up with this idea of setting up a Diaspora commission. Its assignment may be synonymous with foreign affairs but it will deal with the specific issues of manhandling many Nigerians go through in foreign countries. I believe Abike would use her experiences as a former aide to the president in that capacity to give Nigerians a fresh breath. It requires a lot of diplomacy but I know she can bring about a change of attitude on the part of foreigners against Nigerians.”

Chairman/COE of the commission, Mrs Dabiri-Erewa, during a recent meeting with the Ghana High Commissioner, Mr Rasheed Bawa, expressed deep concerns over the attacks on the businesses of Nigerians Ghana by some Ghanaians who were protesting the involvement of some Nigerians in the abduction of two Canadians and other criminalities in that country.

She, therefore, demanded assurances from the Ghanaian government on the safety of Nigerians living in that country, insisting that their investments should also be protected. “We have come to demand the protection of Nigerians in Ghana and to ensure that the xenophobic attacks against them don’t re-occur again. The whole nation should not be maligned and attacked for the crimes of a few. We want assurances that the attacks on Nigerians and their businesses will not occur again,” she said.

Responding, Bawa assured that henceforth, his home government would not allow her relationship with Nigeria to be destroyed by anyone.

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