The Edo National Association World Wide (ENAW) an umbrella body of Edo groups and indigenes based in the US have just concluded their 24th Annual Convention which was held in Los Angeles, California. The convention which is always held on Labour Day is the largest gathering of Edo indigenes in the US and Edo State government officials are always there in large numbers ostensibly to interact with their people in the Diaspora, although many of them spend only few minutes at the convention hall. This year has proved no exemption and despite the economic downturn, the State governor as usual, personally led an array of government officials to attend the event. We congratulate the organisers for a successful convention and appreciate their effort at providing a platform for Edos in the USA to get together and interact with those elected to govern their home State. I did not attend the event but my friends in the Diaspora who did, expressed misgivings that they were not allowed to ask the governor questions on the speech he delivered or on the affairs of their State.
Most State governments are good at engaging various Diaspora groups but such engagements centre mainly on attending association’s yearly events abroad. No further steps are taken beyond this two to five days foreign jamboree in which governors are brought in to deliver key note addresses. The structures are not there and there is no formal Diaspora engagement strategy. Effectively, intellectual and financial resources from the Diaspora are not being successfully tapped beyond just the remittances. Everywhere in the developing world, governments at different levels are putting processes in place to better engage and utilise Diaspora resources. Edo State will be clearly better off if government can provide the platform for effective engagement with those in Diaspora. Edo is the destination of the second highest single remittance to a state in Nigeria next to Lagos and Edo Diaspora is awash with the reservoir of talent that can profoundly change the destiny of the State if properly channeled and harnessed. Edo can become one of the economic hubs of West African sub region if adequate steps are taken to attract private equity businesses and Edo Diaspora have the resources to make this happen.
There are an estimated 400,000 Edo sons and daughters living outside the country. That’s over 10% of the population of Edo State and a larger group than most of the 18 local government areas. Diaspora have the potentials to make many contributions. Apart from remittances which were more than $450 billion in 2012 (of which an estimated $375 billion went to developing countries), Diasporas are also major direct investors in critical and emerging industries, Known patrons of nascent tourism industries and generous philanthropists. Edo in the Diaspora can contribute to the development of their state through various means. It can be through the use of their technical expertise and/or investing in businesses, industries and other activities. According to the IDEA analysis of remittance, in some countries, it reduces the poverty head count as well as the depth of poverty and some portions go to education, health care, housing and improved nutrition. Examples of areas where Diasporas can directly contribute are technology transfer, enterprise development, Public Private Partnership (PPP) programmes, conservation and eco tourism, funds and public finances mobilization, rural engineering, agriculture and social science, medical science and well being programmes, opportunity identification etc.
The list is endless but if you ask the Diasporas themselves what the challenges are in contributing meaningfully, most will cite risk of insecurity, instability, weak judicial institutions, expensive credit options as well as corruption and difficulty in finding a trust worthy financial intermediary as serious deterrents to investing at home or elsewhere in Nigeria. To break the jinx of the unknown, a proper framework can be laid out for constructive engagement and collaboration platforms. Government for example must improve the security architecture of the State if our people in the Diaspora; technocrats, investors and tourists are to come home. Similarly government must make land acquisition relatively easy, safe and reasonable in cost for those in the Diaspora. Government must also provide better support and encouragement for those who want to invest at home.
Some of the common ways of building the bridge between Diaspora resources and the needs from home have been effectively tried and tested in the Philippines, Thailand, China, India, Chile, Haiti and of recent some Africa countries like Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania. Some examples of such engagement projects that have worked are: Kenya Diaspora Infrastructure Bond, USAID Diaspora Volunteer Corps and Diaspora Direct Investment (ODDI) and African Diaspora Market place. There is need to set up a Diaspora desk at the governor’s office for effective coordination and monitoring. The State government should establish an overseas investment desk at Nigeria’s missions abroad to coordinate Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and PPP inflows; one in North America, one in Europe and one in Asia and they must work seamlessly together. The State must have a data base and skills inventory, mapping of Diaspora organisations and conduct “listening exercises”–high profile events like organising a Diaspora week in Edo State where Diasporas can be integrated into government development planning and policy implementation, funds can be mobilised through crowd sourcing for targeted projects and programmes and models developed for volunteering. Such Diaspora week can be utilised for Sport clinic for young talents, Exchange programs, Role modeling, Trade fairs, Enterprise clinics, Development beyond remittance, Networking, Attracting investors, Investment fund forum, Volunteerism for medical outreach, Intellectual investment and Knowledge transfer etc.
The State government must have a more robust and constructive engagement with Edo Diaspora in the twin areas of Intellectual and Financial Investment. Under intellectual investment, meetings can be encouraged with Diaspora groups and opinion Interlocutors to discuss engagement opportunities and overall strategy development. Forums should be created with technocrats from Edo Diaspora to train and retrain government officials with the objective of transferring skills in Information Communication Technology (ICT), waste management, agriculture and other hard and soft skill areas. Medical missions can also be supported for volunteer work to our hospitals especially in the rural areas where health care is seriously lacking. In the area of financial investment, government must facilitate credible channels for Diaspora Investment into viable and worthwhile businesses. Encourage more intervention projects from Diaspora by way of direct investment in local businesses or Public Private Partnership. Put a Diaspora investment fund in place that can be done through the issue of “Diaspora Bond” and used for economically viable projects. Governments can certainly do more with Edos in Diaspora than the present unfruitful talk shows. #TheFutureIsNow!
By Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu