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Need to secure voting rights of Diaspora Nigerians


By Emmanuel Ogebe

I was concerned to see a statement attributed to the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission NIDCOM warning Nigerian citizens abroad not to sponsor political activities in Nigeria.

While I have the utmost respect for you, Hon. Abike Dabiri for your advocacy and constancy for our constituency over the years, I must caution you that this is wholly unacceptable and dangerously retrogressive.

For the record,
Nigerians in Diaspora have in recent times remitted more money to the national economy than Nigeria’s oil production.
Besides that, the Diaspora’s multi-billion dollar annual remittances have historically been a stabilizing factor that mitigate the capital flight induced by corruption over the years. In short, our forex remittances is the life blood transfusion that has stemmed the financial haemorhagging by lootocrats.
The Nigerian government has borrowed money from the Diaspora by means of the Diaspora Bond.
Similarly the current regime in which you serve introduced a policy to incentivize more forex influx from Diaspora by CBN paying five naira for each dollar sent. This temporary policy was so lucrative that the Central Bank extended it indefinitely and remittances even exceeded oil export revenues. In February 2022, Central Bank of Nigeria claimed that diaspora remittances surged by 1,566.6%, accounting for a sizable portion of the CBN’s daily dollar receipts, from $6 million weekly to $100 million since the launch of the Naira-to-dollar promo Read more: https://www.legit.ng/business-economy/economy/1456043-despite-cbn-claims-n100m-weekly-diaspora-remittance-nigeria-foreign-reserves-depleting-fast/?fbclid=IwAR3peUse5QwiaH27mxz9L9xvWQvLNbFRQyVC9LGdAdROEEQjJike-4ymKWI
While Nigeria is unable to meet its OPEC oil production quota, Nigerians in Diaspora continue to remit funds despite pandemic and war-induced inflation and recession.
The Diaspora accounts exclusively for Nigeria’s tourism dollars. No one else travels to Nigeria for vacation.
Diaspora remittances are the sole saving grace of the naira now which would have crashed to over N1000 to the dollar. It is ironic that while the political kleptocrats single-handedly destroyed the naira through their delegates dollar-bribing spree, it is hardworking Diasporans who continue to shore up the naira in a forex depleted economy.
At a time when NNPC has failed to remit forex to the government, thus exacerbating the forex shortage, Diasporans continue to inject forex into the economy.
At a time of massive investor disinvestment and capital flight, the Diaspora remains a committed investor in Nigeria. In 2021, Nigeria’s foreign direct investment (FDI) was merely about USD4.8 billion while home remittances by the diaspora was estimated at just over USD 20 billion. This means that remittances were about 4 times more than foreign investments.
At a time when airlines are quitting Nigeria due to trapped funds, forex-purchased Diaspora tickets are sustaining international air travel to Nigeria. “The Nigerian Central Bank previously claimed that releasing the funds could crash its travel economy; now, it claims that it has not had sufficient foreign currency to pay the airlines.
Delta Air Lines …cannot afford to continue operating this (Lagos)route without receiving revenue from the return trip to JFK. With operating costs rising, this profitless flight costs the airline more…”
11. Indeed the CBN switched to dollar remittances for international money transfers to make up for the shortfall in petro dollar incomes.

What benefit has the Diaspora received as a powerful economic contributor to the nation?

If anything, getting a Nigerian visa has become the hardest, in over 20 years, under the Buhari administration. General Obasanjo liberalized the visa policy to 48 hours turn around to encourage investors but Buhari has imposed in-person interviews and biometrics even for Nigerians wanting to visit Nigeria. It now takes weeks to get a Nigerian visa and you must travel and incur huge flight and hotel costs just for the agonizing pleasure of visiting Buhari’s Nigeria. Even at that, the embassy has told a team of investors that they had no paper to print the visa stamp.
The agony is the same for Nigerians renewing their passports. Nigerians in California have to fly from there to Washington (the equivalent of flying from Nigeria to Europe) just to apply for a passport and wait weeks to receive it. Nigeria had a consulate in California which it shut down and sold of the properties mysteriously. If anything, Nigeria should even abolish visa fees for its citizens who are traveling on foreign passports. They are the only people insane enough to go to Nigeria on holiday, they bring in much needed forex and additionally support the Nigerian economy with remittances!
We had an unfortunate experience some years ago. Obasanjo allotted land for a Diaspora village and invited us to acquire and build. The terms were to pay 50% down and the rest over five years. Immediately Yar’adua took over, the terms were revoked and everyone asked to pay up 100% pronto. Meanwhile the land was in the bush with no access road or anything. Many people got into financial trouble because they had taken loans to advance the 50%, hoping to build and let out the properties and repay their debt. This was how FGN duped its Diaspora citizens. There was talk of legal action even because it was so arbitrary.
Nigerians in Diaspora were exploited by a Covid-testing regime that required you to prepay $100 for testing before you could board a plane to come to Nigeria and another $100 before departing Nigeria.
Nigerians in Diaspora cannot vote in Nigerian elections but citizens of Niger vote brazenly in Nigerian elections.

Against this sordid and dismal background, any effort by NIDCOM or the Buhari regime to truncate the ability of the Diaspora to support any candidate of their choice is manifestly unjust and will be robustly resisted.

I 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.

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 left in power.

Sensible countries understand the value of their Diaspora as a strategic foreign human capital reserve and woo them accordingly. President Obasanjo’s administration certainly did so and introduced the annual Diaspora day. Indeed when on a VOA interview with one of Obasanjo’s ministers Frank Nweke he said Diaspora was “inconsequential” we immediately took him up as out of tune with his president’s policy priority.

At a time when US President Biden’s administration has appointed more high profile Nigerians than ever in history, including the first black deputy treasury Secretary (equivalent of Minister of State for Finance) it is pathetic that that a prophet is without honor in his own home.

Nigerians abroad are part of the few nationalities in Diaspora who get nothing in return for the economic value they bring. We have been shortchanged by the Nigerian government just like Nigerians at home.

The time has come for us to have a say in national affairs as is our constitutional right.

I therefore urge the NIDCOM to, as a matter of urgency:
Engage with INEC to workout modalities for Diaspora voting before the upcoming 2023 elections. Since embassies abroad have biometric capture facilities for producing passports, it is a very doable task.
Introduce voter registration at embassies abroad. Since FGN has been able to implement BVN registration in Diaspora, this too is feasible.
Confirm the abolition of visa fees for Diasporans as has been proposed.

Please take note that any effort to disenfranchise us further could result in our mobilizing the Diaspora to suspend financial remittances to Nigeria or impose such other measures or sanctions we deem fit until our constitutional rights are fully vested.
Kindly ensure compliance with the above before or by October 1, 2022.

Thank you for your kind cooperation,

Emmanuel Ogebe
US Nigeria Law Group
Washington
US

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