Kenneth Gbandi was elected the new chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Europe (NIDOE) at the body’s annual general meeting in Athens, Greece, on 11 November. The Germany-based migration expert, communal politician, business consultant and media entrepreneur spoke in an exclusive interview with Femi Awoniyi on the challenges facing NIDOE and how he plans to reposition the organisation. Gbandi, who has been the president of the German chapter of NIDO for the past four years, also talked about the efforts of the Diaspora to contribute to national development.
How does it feel to be the representative of all Nigerians living in Europe?
I am overwhelmed and humbled by the trust and confidence of the Nigerian Diaspora in Europe. I pray to justify this huge confidence and humbly count on their collective support.
The Diaspora has an important role to play in national development. How does NIDO champion this role from your experience in the German chapter of the organisation?
At NIDO Germany, we have held many trade and investment events to bring German business people together with their Nigerian counterparts from home and in the Diaspora. These events were platforms for the potential investors to jointly explore opportunities in Nigeria. I am happy that several German companies that participated in our events are now engaged with Nigeria.
Among our other notable achievements is the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, we signed with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), to join in the fight against corruption.
The MOU provides the opportunity for NIDOE members to contribute to the fight against corruption by providing services such as training in security issues, transfer of Diaspora knowledge such as IT-based solutions and availing the organisation of international best practice models.
We have also signed an MOU with Lead University, Ibadan. The goal is to support scientific and technological research as well as business development at the university. We will begin implementing our plans as soon as the university is approved to do so by the National University Commission. This is planned to be a model for NIDO Europe’s engagement in skills and know-how transfer in various fields. It will also form a base station for NIDO university exchange scheme between Nigerian and European students.
In the areas of business, under my leadership NIDO Germany signed a tentative Partnership Agreement for Export Promotion with Aulic Nigeria Limited, concessionaire of the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex for the New Nigerian Export Hub (NETH) at Lagos. This partnership, considering the current realities, supports the diversification of our economy away from over-dependence on crude oil.
Many more of such partnerships in the areas of agriculture, mining and IT will follow under my watch as Chairman of NIDOE. Members specialising in management consulting, software development, industrial processing and related services could key into the opportunities these partnerships provide.
Migration is a big issue now in the Western world. Brexit and the recent election of Donald Trump have been attributed to the fears of citizens about migration. We also have the issue of thousands of Nigerian migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea desperately and dangerously because they want to get to Europe. What is your view of this issue?
While I would like to encourage young Nigerians to seek opportunities for self-actualisation abroad they should desist from the perilous journey of going through the Sahara desert and seeking to cross the Mediterranean in dinghy boats. Thousands of young Africans, including many Nigerians, have perished on such journeys.
So my message is that if you want to travel, please be well informed. You can seek to study. Many high institutions of learning offer places to students from Africa. For example, you don’t pay tuition fees in Germany and universities here are willing to consider applications from brilliant students from all over the world. There is also the EU Blue Card residency permit that enables professionals to work in Europe. So, there are many legal routes to Europe.
I am the director of the African German Information Centre in Hamburg and we cater for refugees from Africa. The stories we hear from these young people about their sufferings will make you to cry. Some were in transit for more than 2 years in North Africa, seeing friends die or killed and bearing all forms of inhumanities. In fact, most of them are traumatised.
Yet, at the end of the day, their chances for asylum are not good because they come from countries considered under the asylum law in the EU as safe countries of origin. If you come from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal or Cameroon, for example, you hardly can get your asylum claim accepted. Our young people must know this. This is why many choose to live in the shadow of society without legal papers and engage in crimes such as drug peddling to survive.
The saddest thing sometimes is to realise that some of these refugees had relatively good jobs at home with prospects for career development. They left their jobs and families and embarked on an uncertain journey that often does end tragically.
In a nutshell, my advice to our young people is to look well before they leap. Sometimes there are opportunities in Nigeria that can enable them achieve their dreams.
What can the Diaspora do to help the situation?
Our members always do their best to let their relations at home know the true situation of things. What we often hear is that people at home don’t usually believe what we tell them from here. We understand that the situation at home makes people to become very desperate.
Frankly, people leave their homelands because they can’t see a good future for themselves. The economic situation is responsible for the wave of emigration from Nigeria and other African countries. If the economic situation improves, then lesser numbers of people will be willing to leave the comfort of their homeland and families. So, the situation of the economy is decisive. Many of us send money to relatives to sponsor their education and enable them to start businesses, but our capacity to help is, of course, limited.
We in NIDOE are aware of this and have been making efforts to contribute to the economic development of the country by promoting opportunities for trade and investment with Nigeria in our countries of residency. In Germany, as I have early mentioned, we have held several events to bring together prospective German and Nigerian investors.
We also believe that providing training to young people will open opportunities for employment for them. As a short-term plan, we hope to embark on a basic solar energy installer programme as from 2017 in the six-geopolitical zones of Nigeria to provide solar skills to 12,000 youths in the first two to three years of the project. All NIDOE members with expertise in solar technology and interested stakeholders in Nigeria will be invited to join the initiative.
How does NIDO Europe plan to engage the Buhari-led government?
Let me run the risk of stating the obvious, but at least for the sake of your readers that have very little to do with NIDO. NIDO members are intellectuals, professionals and entrepreneurs with many years of experience in their various fields of endeavour. The Federal Government of Nigeria recognizes NIDO as an official platform through which it can engage with Diaspora Nigerians. So we are ready to support the government.
Already, the Diaspora is actively promoting investment in Nigeria, they invest at home themselves, they provide support through such initiatives as medical missions, education and training programmes.
I think government, not only the federal government but also state and local governments, should create frameworks to actively engage the Diaspora. Nigerians abroad are willing to support the development of their homeland, their states of origin and their local government areas if given the opportunity.
In my view, the Nigerian Diaspora should be considered symbolically as the 37th State of Nigeria just as the African Union considers the Diaspora as the sixth Region of the continent with the rights of representation.
We therefore need a Nigerian Diaspora Commission to provide an institutional framework for the engagement of the Diaspora in national development. Nigeria can borrow a leaf from countries such as India or even Benin or Senegal that have such institutions.