The Deputy Speaker of the House Representatives, Rt. Hon Ahmed Idris Wase came under fire on March 10, 2021 for refusing to consider a petition which was forwarded by the Mutual Union of Tiv in America (MUTA) through Mark Gbillah, a member representing Gwer East Federal Constituency of Benue State in the House of Representatives. The petition had to do with Tiv people who were dislodged from their ancestral homes due to the lingering herdsmen crises in Benue State and other states within the Middle Belt. Hon. Wase had responded that: “If they are in America could they really be an interested party here? Do they really know what is exactly going on?”
In a Swift reaction, a concerned group, Middle Belt Journalist’s Forum resident in the United States of America from Benue State issued a statement which was jointly signed by the group’s President, Jonathan IPAA, JP and the National Secretary Mrs. Oikeke Igado Kure to condemn the action. They stressed that “the lawmaker from Benue, Rt. Hon. Mark Terseer Gbillah and the IDPs deserves an apology for the manner in which their petition was treated and so also the Internally Displaced Persons littered all over the land and those whose land have been forcefully taken over by these armed herders.”
The statement added that the issues at stake are clearly within the purview of violation of fundamental human rights. Freedom of speech or expression is a constitutional right of every Nigerian. Section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right. Most importantly, the National Assembly (House of Representatives or Assembly) is purposely designed for fertilization of ideas. Therefore, there is no better place to ventilate issues than the hallowed Chambers. This is why honorable members enjoy immunity therein.
In a similar reaction, one Emmanuel Ogebe of US Nigeria Law Group disclosed that he “was appalled to hear of the disgraceful statements attributed to Nigeria’s Deputy Speaker that Nigerians abroad have no right to speak about insecurity at home.” While describing the remarks as “part of the logical consequences of brain drain that dim wits will fill the power vacuum'” he maintained that “At a time that Nigeria is exporting global leaders like Ngozi Iweala, Akin Adesina and Amina Mohamed to the headship of multilateral institutions, it is the likes of Idris Wase [who are] left in power.”
For the records, Nigerians abroad remitted more than $25B to the country in three years (Financial Times, 2021). Amidst the COVID-19 global health crisis the Federal Government got huge donations from Nigerians abroad to curb the menace. Besides, most citizens got financial support from their relations abroad to caution the effects of the pandemic at a time that various state governors and politicians were shamelessly hoarding palliatives meant for the vulnerable. In many countries of the world, Nigerian doctors and nurses are helping out with Coronavirus patients.
The Diaspora community is “a strategic foreign human capital reserve” that any sensitive government should woo to bring in investments. There is a huge value chain they bring since they often return home or invest here while living abroad. A cordial government-diaspora relationship would in the long run discourage brain-drain. That would be perfected if government secures the nation by providing the enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
I align with Ogebe that “The time has come for us to consider having a member of the National Assembly representing the Diaspora.” As is the practice elsewhere, the Diaspora Community has representatives in the National Assembly back in their countries of origin. This helps them to get first hand information about government policies. On the part of government, it enables it to keep an eye on the activities of their citizens as they go about their lawful businesses in a foreign land. This reduces tension and gives them a sense of belonging even though they are far from home.
This leads us to the issue or Diaspora-voting. The new electoral bill should capture electronic voting by Nigerians at home and abroad including those who have dual citizenship – A Nigerian is a Nigerian anywhere, anytime and he or she must enjoy full rights and privileges notwithstanding place of domicile. Me thinks that politicians in Nigeria are afraid of those who are abroad because “their eyes are open” to use the banal language. Some it is unlikely to bribe or use and dump them, it is safe to keep them away from voting. This must change!
Nigerians abroad contribute significantly to the education sector. According to 2017 data from the Migration Policy Institute, Nigerians in the US “are the most highly educated of all groups, with 61 per cent holding at least a bachelors degree compared with 31 per cent of the total foreign-born population and 32 per cent of the US-born population.” More than half of them (54 per cent) occupy top management positions compared to 32 per cent of the total foreign-born population and 39 per cent of the US-born population. Nigerians in the UK reflect the same success story with “a highly-educated diaspora work in financial services, IT, and the legal and medical professions” (Financial Times, 2020).
Despite the seeming green grass on the other side, many Nigerians abroad prefer to come back home. This is because, they what their children to learn the language and custom as against Western values. What is more, many of them are battling with racism, immigration issues and cold weather. What we expect from Lawmakers like Wase is to encourage the Diaspora Community and not spike them. Thank God that on Tuesday 23rd March, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, finally accepted the petition from Benue at the resumption of plenary. In conclusion, the Diaspora community deserves respect. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.