Cutting Close to the Workers’ Bones

The combined impact of excessive fiscal and wage austerity of current Federal Government of Belgium is hurting the most vulnerable. The dual negative impact will be prolonged depression, low inflation and indeed outright deflation.

The Leopold Park Ostend was packed full on Monday, 15 December 2014 with friends from the social sector, the civil society, labour movements and ordinary non-associated workers. The occasion was a national strike. Corporate Belgium was paralyzed as workers downed tools, took to the streets and sent a strong message to government. The nucleus of the message was that it is unfair and therefore unacceptable for workers to be paying the bills while corporate Belgium is getting a free lunch. I happily joined the strike in solidarity with the workers because I have a problem with government taking undue advantage of an elevated level of public debt to institute massively disproportionate income redistribution. In an illuminating short analysis, Ronald Janssen, an economic adviser at the trade union movement in Brussels, opines that the current ultra-conservative Belgian government obsession with wage competitiveness is resulting in a policy mix that is seriously misguided. He discusses alternative measures that are less hurting to ordinary citizens… Read more: Wage cuts and austerity in Belgium

Human Capital Imperatives of Africa Social Policy Reform

That African countries have their unique brand of social welfare and policy systems is undoubtable. The question of whether the systems and policies in place are not missing their targets has continued to linger in the thoughts of a good number of key actors in and outside Africa. What is required to reform Africa social policy such that it becomes fit for purpose is now the key question. In addition to that, an assessment of the human capital imperatives of Africa social welfare reform is of cardinal importance. These were the focus points of the inaugural session of a summit on Africa Social Policy Reform which was held at the European Parliament on 10 November 2014. Supported by the Greens European Free Alliance and convened by Hon. Collins Nweke, the Summit was opened by Bart Staes, Member European Parliament.

Global Village (Belgium), partnering with the African Social Workers Association (United Kingdom) and Skills for Africa Coalition (United States of America) in collaboration with several African Embassies in Europe as well as some UK Government Agencies and Local Authorities, could count on the expertise of a target number of practitioners from the public and private sector.  The theme of the summit is: Human Capital Imperatives of Africa Social Welfare Reform. The summit focuses on not only the reforms needed to make (ASWS) fit for purpose but also on the human capital required to successfully drive the reforms. During the summit the Human Capital requirement for achieving a robust Africa Social Welfare System (ASWS) received copious attention. Keynote Speakers included: Bart Staes, Member European Parliament, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, Chief of Staff, Africa, Caribbean & Pacific (ACP) Countries, Dr Diodorus B. Kamala, Ambassador of the United Republic of Tanzania to Belgium, Luxembourg & the Mission to the European Union, Collins Nweke, Councillor Social Policy, Economy, Int’L Dev. Ostend City Council and Megan Clement, President Association of African Social Workers UK.

In a closing remark, the convener surmised that ‘there is an emerging dominant thought that the low impact of social policy in Africa is not for lack of legislation or international conventions. The ratification of these international conventions and implementation of national legislation seem to be the major challenge. Process reform is therefore an area that Africa needs the requisite human capital to turn things around’ he concluded.

Click on the link for video of the interventions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbRitMPFEQQ&feature=youtu.be

The UK Single Story of EU Migration

It is argued that EU workers undermine the existing terms and conditions in Britain, by working longer hours or for less than the minimum wage. Instead of scapegoating EU migrant workers, dealing with unlawful practices by UK employers would seem more reasonable

Over the past six months I have watched British Prime Minister David Cameron get more and more desperate as he argues and loses the debates on EU migration and EU integration. I do not want to be in the man’s shoes especially as a general election looms. The points of his arguments on both matters have been largely incoherent, sometimes simplistic and populist yet he has not managed to sway the massive number of conservative voters in their exodus to the nationalist party, UKIP.

Let me tell you what I know about the Prime Minister’s arguments that appear credible. I know a very good number of Anglophone sub-Saharan African migrants in mainland Europe, who relocate to the United Kingdom as soon as they naturalize and hold the EU citizenship. The pull factor for these migrants is not the UK social security. It is the language, English and the ease it offers them to retrain or further their studies and go ahead to secure gainful employment. So when I watch David Cameron and his agents on tele telling the world that the migrants are there to drain the social security purse, I node in disagreement because I know it is untrue.

This morning, I read a new study by the Oxford Institute of Social Policy which in very few words has debunked the Cameron public purse drain myth. The study tells us that it is “plausible that the contributions by EU migrant citizens outweigh the cost, as they tend to be younger than the average British citizen. Moreover, the NHS has directly benefited from intra-EU migration, as the significant domestic skill shortage was partially compensated for by EU immigration. British pensioners in receipt of a state pension abroad, posted workers, and temporary visitors to other Member States who hold an European Health Insurance Card receive healthcare on the same terms as nationals from the “host” Member State, which can then seek reimbursement…” Read the report here

 

Minute Silence for Nigeria at Ostend City Council

As Democrats, we must be ever ready to firmly denounce similar terror anywhere it occurs even outside Europe. More than the timing of the attacks, there is more that connects terror victims in Paris with the radical Muslim terror Boko Haram in Nigeria. People, our humanity, are at the core of the attacks: 12 dead in Paris, 2000 in Baga (Nigeria) thousands in Kivu (DR Congo), hundreds in Peshawar (Pakistan) not to mention the many other forgotten wars.

Cllr. Collins Nweke in a statement calling for a serene moment at Ostend City Council for victims of terrorism

Thank you Mr Chairman, for allowing a minute of silence for the victims of the terrorist attack in Paris. I must also congratulate the party chairmen, led by Jean Surmont (open VLD) for the symbolic initiative they took in decorating the windows of the town hall with large pencils. By their action, the party leaders have sent a strong signal that there can be no place in our society for intimidation and terror.

As Democrats, we must be ever ready to firmly denounce similar terror anywhere it occurs even outside Europe. More than the timing of the attacks, there is more that connects terror victims in Paris with the radical Muslim terror Boko Haram in Nigeria. People, our humanity are at the core of the attacks: 12 dead in Paris, 2000 in Baga (Nigeria) thousands in Kivu (DRC), hundreds in Peshawar (Pakistan) not to mention the many other forgotten wars.

This municipal council includes an Ostender of Nigerian descent, two Ostenders of Pakistani origin, a councilor whose mother was born and bred in the DR Congo, not to mention the thousands of residents of this City-On-Sea from over 130 different nationalities. It would be a mark of great courage to symbolically disapprove ALL forms of religious violence. Mr Chairman, valued colleagues, I hope you share my outrage. Through our actions, we must be able to demonstrate that a Western dead is as bad as a non-Western. May I propose Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen that this short and serene moment of remembrance also be held for the victims of Muslim terror in Nigeria, ethnic violence in Kivu (Congo) Taliban school attack in Peshawar (Pakistan) and all other victims of senseless wars.

Greece under radical left: a start for EU reform?

greece in eurozone

At breakfast on Sunday, 25 January 2015, I made a remark to the effect that it is the big day for the Greeks. My son made a passing response about his distaste for political extremism, be it on the left, or on the right of the political divide. He is 20 years old, a bachelor’s student of Social Work, passively but maybe inevitably interested in politics. Inevitably perhaps because he and his brother couldn’t possibly escape my constant political jabbing and therefore have to deal or contend with me. His comment reminded me of several Brookings Institute analyses that I have been reading in the last several weeks on the Greek elections. Following his comment, my boy and I had quite a chat, with his mum more or less as the perfect umpire. Shortly I shall let you into the outcome of the debate with him but allow me in the time being to let you into the thoughts that preoccupied the guys at Brookings.

I am unsure if this is representative of a broad U.S. perspective, but the key question at Brookings seemed to be whether a radical left victory in Greece will reignite the euro crisis, producing recession in Europe and some level of financial instability and slower growth in the U.S. While they thought this is unlikely, they felt it is a possibility. They played with a number of scenarios but settled for the view that a Syriza (Greek radical left party) victory would be the worst possible outcome from the point of view of the rest of Europe. They added a prediction that there will be considerable turmoil in the months to come,  though terrible outcomes will likely be avoided, ultimately. These thoughts and more shaped my mind as I set the Sunday breakfast table, invited my folks, took a place on the table and thought aloud by way of the remark I made that prompted the debate.

I didn’t think that a Student Social Worker would be moved by the economic arguments surrounding Greece. I thought I might just demonstrate my point if I built my case around the wrong economic choices made, misplaced policy decisions taken, among others. These had resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Greece. I illustrated the crisis with two examples: over 40% of young Greek graduates can’t find jobs. Those who were initially under-employed eventually joined the joblessness. The zeal to undertake higher education was very low amongst the teenage Greek sons and daughters. Those who managed to stay in school had to study, not with their reading table alight with electricity but with candles because a serious austerity measure meant that electricity supply became a luxury rather than a necessity. I thought I managed to make the case that the situation at present is exceptional and extraordinary. Mainstream, everyday solution and policies won’t do it. This I argued was the basis of my Sunday prayers that the radical left not only wins, but wins big. I smiled when my boy finally said he was convinced by my arguments.

Now the results are in and my prayers, not the vision I saw in a dream, as some New Age Pastors will claim, have been answered.  The radical left took 149 seats, just shy of the 151 they needed for an absolute majority. Within hours, they announced a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a right wing anti-austerity party, giving their government a clear majority.  The question is how founded is the fear of the guys at Brookings Institute? Is the radical left victory a threat or opportunity for Greece and for Europe? My friend, Bart Staes, a three-term Member European Parliament, with whom I stood on the list in the May 2014 European Parliamentary elections, had released an unequivocal statement: ‘Syriza victory is an opportunity for robust Greek and European reforms’. I was also keen to know what my friend, an English Sociologist, based in Athens, whom I haven’t had contacts with in a while, thought about the situation in her adopted second home. She revealed that she reluctantly voted for the radical left. Reluctant because populism is not her cup of tea and she is curious to see if they can deliver. She, like many others were sick and tired of the old political ways. She’s reasonably confident about some able people with some experience who have joined the Syriza-led government. They do have the problem of the high expectations raised and pressures from supporters. She concluded that obviously the old system could not go further.  She also struck a note between caution and optimism ‘maybe they will play poker very well with the other Europeans and win a large gamble that some politicians realise  that the current system is not working for many in the EU especially in the Eurozone.

My English sociologist friend in Athens wasn’t particularly bouncing up and down with joy but I am! I am because like Bart Staes, I see this as a new start for Greece by getting rid of the old school.  Rather than the doomsday scenarios that some commentators have been painting, the victory of Syriza provides energy and optimism. Domestically one will hope that this wave of change will be the start of durable and robust reforms and greater social justice in Greece.  The incontestable fact of the Greek election result is that the vast majority of Greek citizens want progress, are impatient in their desire for genuine political reform and therefore want to break with an outdated, crippled political system where the oligarchs have basically ran the country aground.  Besides dismantling the ugly, capitalist fiscal and economic constructions of the oligarchy, that country has urgent need of fresh political ideas in the area of ​​sustainable economic development. Greece has enormous potential in terms of the generation of sustainable, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and tourism.

I guess that the yardstick with which the radical left success will be measured is their ability to end the current humanitarian crisis in Greece. This will unavoidably go hand-in-hand with renegotiating economic policies with the governments of other Eurozone countries, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and any other external forces whose conditionalities have meant that Greek men, women and children have lost human dignity and are dropping dead bit by bit. This is certainly an Herculean task but not an impossible one. I contested the European parliamentary seat in May 2014 under a strong reformist agenda. Little wonder that rather than calling a halt to the radical change as started on Sunday, 25 January 2015 in Athens, I can only hope that similar wind of electoral revolution also blows into Madrid as well as in Rome. This appears to be the surest way to get the core Eurozone countries to get serious about renegotiating the terms of the EU social and economic policies.

Like I told my son at the Sunday breakfast table as the good people of Greece were going to the polls, the choice is between the far left and the far right. I hope that the established mainstream parties in Europe realise that the failure of Syriza through sabotage or other unholy means,  is tantamount to handing victory to the far right. I know it is a dilemma, the prospect is unpleasant but it is also about making a choice. The Greeks made their choice on Sunday. Hopefully Europe will make theirs too because this is about reorganising for a better and fairer Europe.

 

Collins NWEKE | Green Party Councillor at Ostend City Council Belgium

28 January 2015

Issues & Views

People come first

People First

Politics and elections should be about people. It shouldn’t be just about State structures or budgets. The new Green that I align with sees a twin issue, not a single issue. Yes, the climate is changing. But the social climate is also changing. I do not want to save the planet earth with nobody to live in it. Thus, I am concerned about the incredibly fast pace at which planet earth is depleting. In equal measure, I am deeply worried about the growing inequality between people within Europe, but also between European citizens and people from other countries. The traditional parties would like to make you believe that high unemployment and the poor economy is as a result of massive migration. That does not add up. They won’t tell you that their neo-liberal and conservative social and economic policy path since the 1980s is the direct cause of the financial crisis of 2008, the euro crisis of 2010 and rising poverty  (25% or 121 million poor Europeans) especially youths and infant poor. I believe in a people-centered economic and social policy driven by fair and equitable policies with a win-win for all.

Mensen eerst

Politiek en verkiezingen gaan over mensen, niet over staatsstructuren of begrotingen. Ik sluit mij aan bij het nieuwe Groen dat een dubbele uitdaging voor ogen heeft: het klimaat verandert, maar het sociale klimaat is ook aan het veranderen. Ik wil geen planeet redden waar er geen mensen meer zijn om in te wonen. Ik ben dus bezorgd over de ongelooflijke snelle tempo waarmee planeet aarde aan het uitgeputten is. In gelijke mate, ben ik diep bezorgd over de groeiende ongelijkheid tussen mensen binnen Europa, maar ook de ongelijkheid tussen de Europese burgers en mensen uit andere landen. De traditionele partijen willen ons doen geloven dat de hoge werkloosheid en de slechte economie een gevolg is van de massale migratie. Dat klopt niet. Ze zullen je niet vertellen dat hun neo- liberale en conservatieve sociaal-economisch beleidspad sinds de jaren 1980 de directe oorzaak is van de financiële crisis van 2008, de eurocrisis van 2010 en de stijgende armoede ( 25 % of 121 miljoen mensen), (jeugd)werkloosheid en kinderarmoede. Ik geloof in een mensgerichte economisch en sociaal beleid gedreven door een eerlijke en rechtvaardige beleid met een win-win situatie voor iedereen.

 

Lobbyists come last

 Lobbyists last

The influence of lobbyists in European politics should be put to check by a clearer arrangement. A   compulsory registration registry is the minimum. This will facilitate a more transparent, fairer Europe with respect for individual freedoms. We can’t rescue the euro but lose the Europeans. The activities of the lobbyists help to put too much emphasis on economic growth and too little on democratic and social growth, transparency in decision making and the deontology of the representatives of the people. A fairer Europe that I represent will de-emphasize too many economic interests and place the emphasis on the rights of the human person, his privacy and personal freedom.

 

Neen aan lobbyisten

De invloed van lobbyisten in de Europese politiek moet worden aangepakt door een duidelijkere regeling. We redden de euro maar verliezen de Europeanen. Teveel nadruk ligt op economie, te weinig op democratie, transparantie in de besluitvorming en de deontologie van de volksvertegenwoordigers. Teveel economische belangen krijgen voorrang op de rechten van de mens, diens privacy en persoonlijke vrijheid.

 

Cooperate rather than compete

Cooperate not compete

Cooperation rather than competition is the winning formula for a purposeful Europe. This guarantees that Europe protects rather than threatens its citizens. The Green political family in the European Parliament will advocate for decent jobs and equal standards such as an equal income for equal work. We want a basic income for everyone so that more self-determination and flexibility is achieved. We strive for quality education and guarantees on jobs for young people. We want a social Europol and strong cooperation between the national social inspection services to ensure that abuse on salary, housing and undermining of social security systems is made impossible. We will propose laws that will sharpen existing solidarity mechanisms, reward those that collaborate and penalize those that undertake unfair competition practices.

 

Samenwerken in plaats van concurreren

Wij willen dat Europa vertrekt vanuit solidariteit in plaats van concurrentie, dat Europa haar burgers beschermt, niet bedreigt. We pleiten voor degelijke jobs en gelijke standaarden zoals een gelijk inkomen voor gelijk werk. We willen een basisinkomen voor iedereen zodat meer zelfbeschikking en flexibiliteit mogelijk zijn. We streven naar kwaliteitsvol onderwijs en garanties op jobs voor jongeren. We willen een sociale Europol en dus sterke samenwerking tussen de nationale sociale inspectiediensten om misbruiken inzake verloning, huisvesting en ondermijning van de sociale zekerheidsstelsels onmogelijk te maken.

 

Green Economy & Fair Taxation

Green Economy

I advocate for green tax regime based on the principle that the polluter should pay, but also that the strongest shoulders bear the heaviest burden as long as we do not break their backs. There must be an absolute halt to tax havens, fiscal amnesty and tax evasion. Europe must strive for greater transparency in the use of funds and not unilaterally a fair financial policy that focuses on savings but creates opportunities for future generations by smart investments in green jobs.

 

Groene Economie & Faire Belastingen

Ik pleit voor groene belastingregime gebaseerd op het principe dat de vervuiler betaalt, maar ook dat de sterkste schouders de zwaarste lasten moeten dragen. Er moet een absolute einde komen aan belastingparadijzen, fiscale amnestie en belastingontduiking. Europa moet naar meer transparantie streven in het gebruik van haar middelen. Eenzijdig financieële beleidsvormingen diezich enkel op besparing richt mogen niet meer. Een faire, sociaal Europa creëert het best mogelijkheden voor de toekomstige generaties door slimme investeringen in groene banen en de groene economie.

 

 Diaspora Professional Integration

Diaspora Integration

It is sad that a teacher who trained in Africa or Asia before migrating to Europe is unable to find a job as a cleaner in a school where he or she should be teaching. It is also intolerable that a migrant who qualified as a Medical Doctor in his or her homeland cannot work even as a nurse in an hospital without going back to school for some three years. It is even more depressing to note that in the UK for instance, a Diaspora Medical Doctor is simply required to take a professional entry exam and is admitted to practice the medical profession if successful in the exam. Why is this possible in the UK and not in Belgium for example? This is a loss for both the individuals involved and Europe as well. The European Parliament has a role in professional policy harmonization.

 

Diaspora professionele integratie

Het is triestig dat een leraar die in Afrika of Azië opgeleid werd vóór de migratie naar Europa kan geen job vinden zelfs als schoonmaker in een school waar hij of zij normaalgezien moet werken als lesgever. Het is ook onaanvaardbaar dat een migrant die in zijn of haar thuisland als arts gekwalificeerd is geen job kan vinden, zelfs als verpleegkundige in een ziekenhuis, zonder bijkomende opleinding van drie jaar. Het is zelfs meer deprimerend om op te merken dat in het Verenigd Koninkrijk bijvoorbeeld, een dokter van een buitenlandse afkomst gewoon een ​​professionele toelatingsexamen kan afleggen. Slaagt hij voor het examen, wordt hij zonder verdere formaliteiten toegelaten tot het uitoefenen van het medische beroep. Waarom is dit mogelijk in het Verenigd Koninkrijk en niet in België bijvoorbeeld? Dit is een verlies voor zowel de betrokken personen als voor Europa of de betrokken land. Het Europees Parlement heeft een rol in de professionele harmonisatie van diploma behaald buiten de Europees Unie.

 

 Inclusive Europe

Inclusive Europe

An inclusive and welcoming Europe sees no one as illegal. Europe must regulate migratory flows so that refugees – temporarily or otherwise – can get a safe haven. Europe has unmet and mismatched labour needs. While retraining and adaptation of training and education curriculum is required to serve the labour market better, studies and recent experiences in the care sector have shown that migration can be tuned to the needs of the labour market. We must be tough on human traffickers and employers who exploit undocumented migrants but Europe must enact more effective laws. The absence of such laws creates incentives for the bad guys. The message should be: tackle crime but don’t forget to tackle along the causes of crime. Europe must compel member states to comply better with European conventions on asylum policy and human rights.

 

Inclusief Europa

Een inclusief en gastvrij Europa ziet niemand als illegaal. Europa moet migratiestromen  reguleren, zodat vluchtelingen – al dan niet tijdelijk – een veilige haven krijgen. Europa heeft onvervulde en niet passende arbeid behoeften. Er is nood aan het aanpassen van het onderwijssyteem met nadruk op arbeidsmarktgerichte opleidingen en herschooling. Tergelijketijd hebben recente arbeidsmarktstudies en specifieke ervaringen in de zorgsector hebben aangetoond dat migratie afgestemd kan worden op de behoeften van de arbeidsmarkt. We willen hard optreden tegen mensensmokkelaars en werkgevers die mensen zonder papieren uitbuiten. Het niet van toepassing dergelijke wetten te creëeren als stimulans voor de slechteriken. De boodschap moet zijn: misdaad aanpakken, maar  niet vergeten de oorzaken van criminaliteit ook aan te pakken. Europa moet lidstaten dwingen om beter te voldoen aan de Europese verdragen inzake asielbeleid en mensenrechten.

 

Africa – Europe Trade Policy

Africa -Europe Trade Relations

Trade between Europe and Africa is as old as mankind. Trade, not aid, must define the new Europe – Africa relations. Work is needed on both sides to accomplish this laudable ideal. Fair trade policies are at the heart of this new, equitable relationship. On the face of it, any move in the direction of equitable Africa – Europe Trade Policy will ring a bell of disadvantage for Europe and a win only for Africa. I do not think so because I’m convinced that fair trade is a deciding component of a fairer Europe. This will ultimately translate into a win-win for all. I want to see a European Parliament that encourages Europe to trade fairly with Africa in the expectation that proceeds from such trade relations will surpass aids financed by the European tax payers. It will also break the unhealthy culture of Africa dependence on Europe, albeit in a gradual, phased out and durable process.

 

Afrika – Europa handelsbeleid

De handel tussen Europa en Afrika is zo oud al eeuwen oud. Handel en niet ontwikkelingshulp moet de nieuwe Europa – Afrikarelatie definiëren. Er is werk nodig aan beide kanten om dit lovenswaardige ideaal te bereiken. Fair tradebeleid moet de basis zijn voor deze nieuwe, rechtvaardige relatie. Op het eerste gezicht, zal elke stap in de richting van een billijke Afrika-Europa handelsbeleid gezien worden als nadelig voor Europa en een overwinning voor Afrika. Daar ga ik niet me akkoord, want ik ben ervan overtuigd dat eerlijke handel een beslissende onderdeel is van een rechtvaardiger Europa. Dit zal uiteindelijk leiden tot een win-win situatie voor iedereen. Ik wil een Europees Parlement dat Europa stimuleert voor een eerlijkere handel met Afrika in de verwachting dat de opbrengsten van dergelijke handelsbetrekkingen de ontwikkelingshulp  gefinancierd door de Europese belastingbetalers zal vervangen. Het zal ook de ongezonde Afrika-Europa economisch afhankelijkheidscultuur geleidelijk afgebouwd worden op een duurzame manier.

Diaspora as Nigeria Foreign Policy Tool

In this interview with the Diplomatic Suite of Fortune Magazine and in the capacity of Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Europe, I outlined some of the activities of the Nigerian Diaspora that point to a passive role as agents of bilateral relations.

“Policy as we know is dynamic rather than static but one thing has characterized our foreign policy is a focus on Africa as regional power and as active player in international organisations like the United Nations” – Collins Nweke

The full interview is available here: Interview with NIDOE for Fortune Diplomatic Suite

Diaspora Bill: The Joy and Regrets of Lawmaking

The impending Bill on Nigerian Diaspora Commission is second to the last leg of the race to equip Nigeria with the requisite tool to mine, in a strategically impactful manner, the abundant human and financial capital of its citizens resident abroad. If care is not taken, the Bill can also mean an abrupt end to a genuinely promising journey began about a decade ago. To avert this, Nigeria needs to address some looming dangers that portend negative change for sustainable Nigerian Diaspora politics. That is why the Nigerian Diaspora Bill should not be passed in its present construction. It is a construction that clearly kills, rather than consolidates budding institutional structures. It is a construction that feeds the menace of powerful Diaspora lobby as opposed to entrenching sound democratic ideals. Responsible politics presupposes that a lawmaker with conscience, assuming this word exists in Nigerian political lexicon, can always look back at the laws he favoured and rejoice, rather than regret.

The absence of politics of conscience is why the politics of Nigeria comes across as incoherent, sometimes! The curious paradox is that sometimes too, this same politics, or an aspect of it, offers isolated case study for policy researchers of good practices in development politics. One of such isolated instances was in September 2007 when the African Union in a Consultative Conference in Paris, France, placed the shine on Nigeria’s model of engagement with its Diaspora. The meeting was called on behalf of the African Union by the Government of South Africa as a platform in the run-up to instituting the African Diaspora as a bona fide Region of the Union. They took active interest in the model implored by the Government of Nigeria in galvanizing its global Diaspora network towards national development under an umbrella called Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO). Another instance followed a year later at the European Parliament in a session to examine the relationship between African Nations and their Diaspora. Now in its fourth edition, the Europarliament parley futures in 2010, the Nigerian Diaspora model in supporting the education of the Nigerian Child within the African context.

In both instances – and there are a few more to fill up this page – Nigeria’s politics around recognizing and investing in its Diaspora for the good of the nation was hailed as exemplary for Africa. Not because it is the only African economy with romance with its Diaspora; no! Nor was it a forerunner. Indeed countries like Republic of Benin, Lebanon, Mali, Somalia, Ethiopia and Tunisia have full Ministries for the Diaspora in varying shapes and forms.  Nigeria was being studied as a result of the ingenuity of its model, which was mooted in the year 2000 under the Obasanjo administration and supported by successive administrations. It is a model based on the principles of collectivity and consensus in decision-making with strong emphasis on stakeholdership and organic network development. It takes into account, not the overriding interests of a few and favoured Nigerian Diaspora oligarchs. Rather, it attempts to plough the playing field level, so that all that are willing and able can assume positions and play along under a common rule. Of course the elites, constituted in pockets of lobby apparatuses, won’t and didn’t like it. And they have remained actively committed to tearing down the walls of this building called NIDO even before the sun could dry the bricklayers’ tools.

Oladimeji Bankole, Speaker of the House, has since taken the Diaspora engagement vision a level higher by establishing the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs. That was even before Senator Jubril Aminu in the July 2009 Nigerian Diaspora Day called for Diaspora Content in all affairs of the nation, a call that he stepped up in July 2010 when he identified with the Diaspora Commission Bill as long as it does not stifle NIDO as an existing structure. This was long before Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President, meeting in The Netherlands, with Diaspora leaders in Europe, called on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to activate close working relations with the Diaspora. Since becoming Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan has used every foreign outing to indicate his interest in the Nigerian Diaspora Bill; to the extent that what was initially a private Bill is now being converted to an Executive Bill by Mr President.

The establishment of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, itself a product of initial agitation by Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation but sponsored by the House Committee on Diaspora, is to be the near-climax of visionary politics of Diaspora mobilization. It will herald an era of change. But change can be negative where there is manifest lack of provision to consolidate rather than allow shortsightedness or selfish tendencies, or both, to becloud the common good. This must bother those whose responsibility it is to avert this faith from befalling a politics that has the ingredients of goodness in it.

The initial draft Establishment Bill of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission as put forth by the House Committee on Diaspora recognized the place of NIDO in providing policy coherence in the Diaspora for the work of the proposed Commission. The pre-NIDO era lacked coherence. It was characterized by thousands of community, professional, religious, ethnic and cultural organisations of Nigerians in Diaspora, fighting, like children in a disjointed polygamous family, to dominate the space. As can be expected, the law of the jungle applied.

Two core issues are the enemies here. One relates to the buildup of powerful lobby in the Diaspora, largely undermining the draft Establishment Bill and skillfully manipulating its seemingly naïve authors. Its purpose? To kill NIDO. Why? Because NIDO stands on its way in exerting control over Diaspora affairs. The other issue, closely complimentary to the first, relates to illegal disproportionate representation of Nigerian Diaspora on the Board of the proposed Commission.

To illustrate the scenario, a brief paintbrush of the Nigerian Diaspora political landscape is important. With thousands of Nigerian Diaspora community, cultural, religious, professional, ethnic organisations, Government had no partner to speak with on Diaspora affairs prior to the establishment of NIDO. Dubious Government functionaries of course liked the situation because the chaotic situation afforded them the justification to say that the communities are unorganized or disjointed while they went about “their own things”. Other sets of dubious officers who find themselves in an organized Diaspora setting with well functioning Nigerian Community organisations, would rather employ the divide and rule strategy to enable them have their ways. They sow seeds of discord among brethrens and sat back doing “their own things” while the Diaspora kept busy slogging it out with one another.

Opponents of a more decisive, coordinating role for NIDO in the Nigerian Diaspora Commission pathetically argue that NIDO is one of the numerous Nigerian Diaspora organisations and should not take upper hand against the rest. This argument is highly porous. NIDO came into being in the first place to provide the coherence that is lacking amongst the diverse Nigerian Diaspora organisations. A more adult argument should be that NIDO must be organized, such that the numerous Nigerian Diaspora organisations have a stake in it, as that appears not to be the case the last time I checked.

It is responsible governance for Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) to provide coordination as envisaged in the original draft of the Diaspora Commission Bill, for the plethora -indeed thousands – of Nigerian community, religious, professional, social and cultural organisations, in the Diaspora. It was visionary leadership that brought about the creation of NIDO and Government support that it has continued to enjoy since its creation. The idea behind the creation was, and still remains, to provide the coherence which is now so urgently needed by the proposed Commission, in galvanizing Nigerians in Diaspora. There is no doubt that NIDO needs to be restructured to enable it play its role as envisaged, in a more efficient and decisive manner. However, the beauty and sense of the idea behind its creation is never in question. NIDO must be obliged to work out veritable tools of active engagement with the thousands of Nigerian community, religious, professional, social and cultural organisations, in the Diaspora; such that there is a stake for all in the body.

It must be said that NIDO cannot be given carte blanche on Diaspora matters. Indeed the Commission should consider inclusion of sets of performance benchmark and indicators for NIDO as condition for continuing to provide the Nigerian Diaspora coordination role. It will be chaotic to allow for a system – as it is shortsightedly being proposed  – for the thousands of Nigerian Diaspora organisations and of course non-federated individuals, to be pitched against one another, without the benefit of a coordinating body, for representation on the Board of the Commission. The proposed Commission must be structured such that it enhances NIDO, rather than effectively killing it. We must be conscious of the fact that diminishing the role of NIDO in galvanizing the Diaspora as the Bill proposes – rather than strengthening it – is tantamount to killing the organisation.

The goal of the emerging Diaspora oligarchs is to kill NIDO. These are pockets of established and emerging mini-groups and powerful individuals who are fast constituting major lobby elements.  They have tried unsuccessfully, within the NIDO structures, to assert undemocratic control over the Nigerian Diaspora in the past. Once out of the NIDO scene, they tend to vow to pull the organisation down as it no longer serves their controlling needs. At the same time, NIDO in more ways than one has failed to meet the expectations of its founding fathers. Recent leaders made genuine efforts to bring the organisation closer to its dreams with projects like the Global Database of Nigerians in Diaspora and the Diaspora Investment Fund. These must be consolidated, away from a path of self-destruction.

The other nagging issue in the draft Nigerian Diaspora Bill that requires urgent amends by the Senate is the disproportionate allocation of Commission Board seats. That it was possible in the first place for the balance to be tilted in favour of Nigerians in the Americas, away from the initial equitable seat allocation by the authors of the original draft Bill, attests to the menace being constituted by the emerging Diaspora oligarchs. This is a bad sign that must be nipped at the bud by the Senate.

There must be equal representation between Nigerians in the Americas and Nigerians in Europe on the Board of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission. In setting up the official structure, NIDO, by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, provision was allowed for 4 broad constituencies – the Americas, Europe, Australasia and Africa. It is well known that the constituencies, particularly the Americas and Europe are further broken down into units of manageable Chapters, for Europe, and Zones for the Americas. Australasia – covering the Pacific countries and Asia – and Africa are still developing. The Americas was allocated 5 representatives, Europe 2, Asia 3 and Africa 1. This is an inexcusable aberration in the draft Diaspora Commission Bill for the Americas to be carved up along the lines of USA, Canada, et cetera for the convenient purpose of justifying more seat allocations on the Board of the Commission.

Europe may be tempted to adopt the logic of conveniently carving up its constituency along the line of UK (a separate Island), Mainland Europe and the distinct former Soviet Union, now known as the Commonwealth of Independent States, because of its huge size and other distinctive elements. But Europe resisted that temptation, settling instead for a more equitable structure as has been established. The Americas should do same.  As of today, no reliable data exists, of the population of Nigerians in neither the Americas nor Europe. Not from the National Planning Commission of Nigeria nor from the Embassies and Consulates. There was this claim by a questionably objectionable Technical Committee, that figures of the Nigerian Diaspora population were derived from a staff of the United Nations office in Nigeria during a Technical Committee meeting. This smacks of the 1884 Scramble for and Partition of Africa at the Berlin Conference of European powers. Happening in 2010 makes it striking. This must be strongly resisted.

It is only logical that where doubts exist, as they now do, about the size of the Diaspora, Equal Representation is the fair formula for determining seat allocation. This may differ for Australasia and Africa, if their leadership agrees. This is for the simple reason that Nigerian Diaspora activities have not fully and officially taken off in these constituencies. It should ultimately be one of the early deliverables of the Commission, when it becomes operational, to conduct a census of the Nigerian Diaspora to determine the population. Only when that has happened and reliable data exists, can seat allocation based on population be the subject of any real debate. Anything short of this will be unfair and illegal and therefore legally contestable.

The Senate, particularly its leadership, has a unique chance to ensure that a smart and fair Nigerian Diaspora Bill is passed,   ensuring that the menace of the emerging Diaspora oligarchs is curbed and guaranteeing policy continuity in the Diaspora politics.

By Collins Nweke*

18 October 2010

 

* Collins Nweke was Chief Executive and later General Secretary of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Europe between 2004 and 2009. He was elected Board Chairman in 2011, completing his term of office in 2013.  He writes from Brussels, Belgium where he serves as two-term Municipal Legislator at the Ostend City Council .