Them and Us – A Diaspora Perspective

Posted: May 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImageBy Anne-Funmi Fatusin

There has always been an ostensible competition between Nigerians in the Diaspora and Nigerians back home, particularly due to different ways in which we perceive moral standards, cultural values and good governance.

In recent years, Nigerian legislators storm the Western countries, mainly the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, etc; to inform the Nigerian Diaspora of the need to engage in the development of our great country, Nigeria.

What one finds very disturbing about capacity building of Nigeria is the fact that the word ‘sustainability’ is tacitly considered insignificant by those who are at the helm of affairs. In any advanced and forward thinking nation, within a framework of an undertaking, there is a mechanism in place to ensure its continuance.

However, if for some unforeseen contingency, it is deemed to change direction; focus will be on how to ensure that the overall vision is achieved.

With this preamble, I relate it to the event held at Chatham House (an independent policy-focused and Research International Affairs organisation, based in the UK) on 27 February 2013. The topic was the Review of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution: Diaspora Consultation.

As usual, it appeared to be one of those Talk Shops organised by Nigerian Legislators (from Nigeria) which will have no positive impact because the so-called ‘consultation’ of the Nigerian Diaspora is baseless! The fundamental reason is because to date, the Nigerian Diaspora is yet to have a voting right.

Perhaps one should revisit the issue of Diaspora Voting which was an item on the Agenda of the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in February 2006. At the time, series of events were organised by various Diaspora organisations in the United Kingdom which campaigned for the right of every Nigerian to vote, irrespective of residence or abode.

Little did we all know that it was yet another time-wasting exercise! Seven years later, we are still debating Voting in the Diaspora! One cannot but fathom what necessitated another consultation with a group of people whose contributions have no relevance to the Constitution of Nigeria!

Amongst the panellists from Nigeria was Rt.Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Deputy Speaker & Co-chair, Joint Committee on Review of the Constitution & a member of the House of Representatives – who delivered the Keynote address.

Also, were Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa – Chairman, Diaspora Committee, House of Representatives; Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan – elected Senator for Yobe State and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee; Hon. Garba Datti Muhammad – Deputy Minority Whip and Mr Clement Nwankwo – a Nigerian Lawyer and Executive Director of Policy & Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC). The Moderator was Dr Titilola Banjoko – who has contributed immensely to the Nigerian Diaspora community in the United Kingdom by establishing international development programmes such as Africa Recruit and FindAjobinAfrica.

The 43 key issues for review subsumed Section 77(2) of the Constitution (Diaspora Voting Rights), reservation of certain percentage of Elective Offices for Women, Creation of additional States, Immunity from Prosecution, Tenure of Local Government Councillors and Chairmen, Provision for people with Disability, amongst others.

For the purpose of this article, my main focus is on Diaspora Voting Rights and Women’s Representation in Nigerian Politics. Rt. Hon. Ihedioha, an ebullient and eloquent speaker did not mince his words when asked by a member of the audience if he felt that the Constitution would be amended in time so as to accommodate voting in the Diaspora by the year 2015.

He unequivocally explained the stages involved in the enactment of Diaspora Voting, consequently, declaring that it was very doubtful prior to 2015. I could not believe that for once, I would hear a Nigerian lawmaker tell the truth!

He did not believe he had to mislead the audience even though it was obvious that majority, if not all the Nigerian Diaspora, wanted to hear that by 2015, we would have the right to vote.

From my personal view, the legislator had taken time to evaluate the current state of affairs in the country, what had been (or not) done to amend the Constitution and the stages involved before the enactment in the House.

Furthermore, crucial consideration had to be given to the logistics – where and how the elections would be conducted and the need to devise a relevant watertight strategy in order to avoid or at least minimise election malpractices to which we have been so accustomed in Nigeria. Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa spoke passionately about engaging the Nigerian Diaspora and how she facilitated freedom for some Nigerians in Diaspora who had suffered injustice in other countries.

She also gave an insight to other nations’ Constitutions which had made provisions to accommodate the rights of their citizens based outside the shores of their home countries and how Nigeria could replicate their model. In addition, she mentioned that it was very crucial to create a database for the Nigerian Diaspora in order to ascertain the actual number of people living outside the shores of Nigeria. How admirable and commendable of this lady.

However, I was not impressed for the simple reason that in January 2009, Nigerian Diaspora Database was launched in London and the event was well-attended including the Honourable herself. Since that time, there has not been further development and the population of the Nigerians in Diaspora has always been a guess work.

However, this is not a surprise given that even in Nigeria; there is no viable census of the populace. It is fair to say that Nigerians are natural sceptics, as many people will not want to have their personal details registered on this ‘Diaspora’ database, not because they are illegal immigrants but for the fact that there has never been a full disclosure regarding the custodian of such database, its justification, frequency of updates and monitoring.

There is also the issue of Data Protection. As the interpretation of this legislation (Data Protection) differs from one country to another, how will it be effectively managed especially if the database is held by a government parastatal in the Diaspora (e.g. the Nigeria High Commission in a foreign country) or via a third-party such as a Diaspora organisation?

In the early days of the NNVS (Nigerian National Volunteer Service) Conference – established for the engagement and participation of the Nigerian Diaspora – which was (and still is) held annually in July in Abuja, under the aegis of Ambassador Joe Keshi (at the time); the purpose of having such database by Diaspora organisations was to meticulously select individuals with specific skill-set for suitable projects in Nigeria.

To my knowledge, majority of the Nigerian Diaspora have now lost confidence in the database which is meant to stem the Brain Drain of Nigeria’s resources outside its shores and engage in Brain Gain! The Honourable Chairman ended her address by encouraging the Nigerian Diaspora to attend the imminent Diaspora Conference in July 2013.

As for me and many other Nigerians in Diaspora who have worked assiduously in the past – utilising our personal resources to ensure that the vision of developing our nation and rebuilding its shattered image – will no longer wish to be partakers of such initiative.

Some Nigerians in the Diaspora actually perceive some events organised abroad by Nigerian legislators as nothing more than a ‘holiday package’ – at least they are seen to be doing something worthwhile which unfortunately, have done little to encourage capacity building of Nigerians. Conversely, Nigerians in Diaspora cannot be bothered since the main bone of contention – Diaspora Voting – has not been considered as pivotal in the Constitution of Nigeria.

During Dabiri-Erewa’s address, she advocated for fair gender representation in the Constitution so as to encourage women to be more active in politics. Ihedioha and other panellists acquiesced to her assertion but the Honourable was reminded that at times women were their own worst enemies.

Unfortunately, even though I am a woman, I have to agree with this most especially when Ihedioha informed the audience about the only female (Mrs Sarah Jibril now the Senior Special Assistant on Ethics and Values to the President, Jonathan Goodluck) who contested at the 2011 PDP Presidential Primaries in Nigeria and had only one vote whilst the rest of the contestants had several hundreds!

The appalling single vote was the female contestant’s! I also recall an event organised at the Commonwealth Club in London tagged ‘Women as Agents of Change’ which had the current British Home Secretary, Honourable Theresa May, as the guest speaker. She stated that once a woman has achieved the height of success through the assistance of other women, instead of encouraging others to join her, she would quickly fold the ‘ladder of success’. Subsequently, she would be the only visible success story because of lack of competition.

Ideally, if we women want to be taken seriously, there should not be any competition between us but to focus on working effectively as a cohesive team to make a change that we so desire in our nation.

I am of the opinion that there should be fair representation but selection should be based on hard work, competence, commitment but certainly not because of the need to fulfil the equal opportunity policy (yet to be fully recognised in the Constitution of Nigeria).

I commend all the Nigerian female Legislators but I cannot but ask the question – how many women have these legislators (female) employed to work with them? Perhaps, more importantly, how have the male legislators who are much larger in number, promoting and encouraging the women folk to be part of the legislative process?

How many women have risen to the position of a governor or even a state deputy governor, without having the role being usurped by the First Lady of the State? How many female senators do we have?

Unfortunately, given that type of mindset or myopic perception, every member of that organisation is labelled as ‘desperate’ albeit, there is in some cases, an iota of truth as a result of some misdemeanours of a minority.
Fatusin writes from UK

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