Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why embassies can’t help distraught Nigerians abroad

‘Hi-tech means drug pushers will be caught’,
July 25 Diaspora Day should be observed in Nigeria – Dabiri-Erewa
Dr. Olugbenga Ashiru MFR, Minister of Foreign Affairs.  PHOTO: Courtesy Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Nigerians have been advised to shun drug trafficking and other acts that could land them in trouble overseas because due to inadequate funding, their embassies are hamstrung when it comes to assisting such distressed compatriots.

This cash-strapped situation of Nigeria’s embassies came to light during a recent visit by members of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Abuja.

The Reps’ delegation was led by Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign and Diaspora Affairs. Hon. Innocent Joseph (Plateau), Bimbo Daramola (Ekiti), Nasir Ahmed (Kano), Danama Tsiga (Adamawa), Ajibola Famuyiwa (Osun) and Nosa Osahon (Edo), were among federal legislators that accompanied Hon. Dabiri-Erewa to the meeting with Foreign Minister, Dr. Olugbenga Ashiru.

Permanent Secretary, MFA; Dr. Martins Uhomoibhi, some of the ministry’s directors and special aides to the minister; were among those that accompanied Dr. Ashiru in receiving the federal lawmakers. Speaking inside the Conference Room of the MFA during the legislators’ call, the Director of Consular Services, Ambassador MaiKano had lamented: “As of now, there is no dime voted for Consular Services”.

While explaining that impecuniosities is the primary reason many distressed Nigerians cannot find succour from their embassy, MaiKano added that, there is no vote dedicated to assisting any distraught Nigerian in some foreign land. According to this diplomat, there is a need to change the perception among Nigerians that their embassy is loaded because “There is no money kept at any embassy for distressed Nigerians”.

As to how the embassies’ consular departments have been funding their activities, Mai Kano disclosed: “Usually, the mission squeezes out something from their lean votes to assist the consular section”. Aside issuance of visas to prospective visitors to Nigeria and processing of passports, the Consular Section of Nigeria’s foreign missions are also saddled with the general welfare of Nigerian nationals. The Consular Section is also responsible for issuing Notes Verbale and letters of Introduction to Government functionaries, verify the authenticity or otherwise of Certificates and Documents for use within and outside Nigeria as well as attend to the needs of Nigerian citizens in distress; and, within the laws of the receiving state, mediate disputes between Nigerians and non-Nigerians within and outside Nigeria and assist Nigerians in Diaspora to pursue their lawful and legitimate activities.

Evidently, going by Mai Kano’s submission, crushing lack of cash means that this arm of the embassy often cannot fulfill its obligations to Nigerians abroad.

Apart from difficulties engendered by paucity of funds regarding the extent to which any embassy could help distressed Nigerians abroad, Mai Kano also revealed that Nigerian drug pushers posed serious challenges to staffers of their embassies overseas.

“The biggest challenge we have is drug trafficking”, rued Mai Kano, who went on to urge sustained awareness campaign so that Nigerians would realise that life could be harsh outside one’s country. While observing that, perhaps out of desperation, many Nigerians have been lured into drug trafficking, Mai Kano warned that due to the current levels of technology, it has become practically impossible for any courier to go undetected. “Technology is now so advanced that, anyone with drugs will be caught”, he stressed.

In her address, Hon. Dabiri-Erewa explained that the visit was part of the reps’ oversight functions and went on to advise the executive arm of government to do more with regard to issues of Nigerians in Diaspora. From her speech, it came to light that a 72-year-old Nigerian woman was doing time in a prison in Brazil and that 40 Nigerians jailed in Iran were guilty only by association.

Dabiri-Erewa, who also drew attention to the predicament of Nigerians in Austria, China, Lebanon, Singapore, Spain and Togo; urged the foreign ministry to do more to know what was going on in these and other countries, where maltreatment of Nigerians had been recorded. She subsequently urged Dr. Ashiru “to intervene, to change a life or two”, while demanding the adoption of the Migration Policy by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the observance of Diaspora Day (July 25) in Nigeria.

“We don’t even know, if Diaspora Day will be celebrated in Nigeria, this year; whereas India comes to a stand-still every July 25”, she rued; adding that Indians in the Diaspora send home $60billion US dollars annually, and in South Africa the issue is also given proper attention.

Pointing out the need to treat Diaspora issues with the seriousness it deserves, Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa added; “We need to tap into the enormous resources offered by Nigerians in Diaspora because 70 per cent of all the remittances by Africans in the Diaspora come from Nigerians. The ministry of foreign affairs should document them, so we can tap into the resourcefulness of Nigerians in Diaspora”.

The visiting law-makers expressed their reservation about the current situation, where the Office of Diaspora Affairs is within the purview of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). In their view, this is anomalous; because that office should be part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa as well as other lawmakers, who spoke subsequently, lauded Dr. Ashiru for the positive strides recorded by Nigeria’s foreign ministry in recent times. The legislators observed that Dr. Ashiru could be likened to a perfect coin having seen both sides of Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry; first, as a top-flight technocrat and distinguished diplomat and; now, as chief political officer of the same ministry. This should prove an advantage, they intoned.

“We commend you for how you have been running our foreign policy. This has led to a change in how Nigerians are now treated”, observed Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa, who added that the efforts of the Ashiru-led ministry have consequently spawned improvements in the nation’s image as well as how foreigners and their missions now treated our compatriots.

The legislators also pledged to work with the ministry to achieve more, such as helping to ensure that the proposed World Bank Remittance Institute is sited in Nigeria, whose foreign-based indigenes account for 70 per cent of remittances to the African continent.

In his response, Ashiru; who thanked the federal law-makers, thus; “We are delighted that the efforts we are making are being appreciated”, went on to remark: “I agree with the observance of Diaspora Day on July 25. Our embassies abroad will be directed to observe Diaspora Day. May be the mission could also hold dinner on that day, too. Even if it’s one event that they can do in a year, it should be done to encourage Nigerians, who are doing well abroad”.

In an apparent attempt to reassure the visiting legislators that their suggestions would be treated with seriousness, the foreign minister reminded that Nigerians formerly resident abroad account for 25 per cent of President Goodluck Jonathan’s cabinet. Ashiru then went on to reveal that the encounter between foreign affairs top-brasses and members of the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs was being recorded and would be transmitted to all of the nation’s missions abroad.

He further disclosed that “every Nigerian embassy has been directed to establish a Diaspora Desk” because Nigerians in Diaspora constitute huge resources. “We are sitting on huge capital, which; if properly handled, can be harnessed for national development”, he observed. On the proposed remittance institute, Dr. Ashiru declared: “Nigeria is very much interested in hosting the World Bank Remittance Fund Office”.

With regard to Nigerians in foreign jailhouse, Ashiru said; “Our aim is to broaden prisoner-exchange agreements’ implementation”. This pact allows Nigerians in foreign prisons to opt to be repatriated home to serve out their terms. However, the agreement can only be effected with the convict’s consent. But, most “Nigerians refuse to take this offer because of social stigma back home”, Ashiru revealed.

“We need to enlighten our people. We need to educate Nigerians about what obtains abroad”, said the minister in connection with the misconception that the streets of foreign lands are paved with gold. The foreign minister later revealed that Nigerian “embassies have been directed to carry out visits to our compatriots in distress” abroad.

In an attempt to counter widely-held belief that staffers of Nigerian embassies were often hostile to our compatriots, Ashiru went on to declare that, “We now have friendly missions abroad”. He said that the message to the recently appointed ambassadors-designate is to “always open the embassies’ doors to Nigerians. A circular has been sent to all the embassies to open their doors to Nigerians. They (the envoys) must recognise them (Nigerians in Diaspora) and partner with them because the first responsibility of any foreign affairs staff is to protect the interest of their national”, Ashiru declared.

It must be pointed out that Nigeria’s foreign minister is not a stranger to Diaspora issues. It could be recalled that, barely two weeks after assuming duty as Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa, Dr. Ashiru succeeded in getting his compatriots resident in that austral land to inaugurate Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), there.

No comments:

Post a Comment