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 his first interview after the election with some European and Nigerian based media houses and notable bloggers via a Tele-Conference on the challenges facing NIDOE, how Nigeria can attract more foreign investment and the best way to manage the fight against corruption. 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 and what he plans to do to support the current government.
- Congratulations on your election as the new Chairman, Board of Trustees, of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Europe (NIDOE). 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.
Let me kindly use this opportunity to thank all the representatives of the 14 NIDO country chapters across Europe and all the 61 delegates who travelled from all over Europe to Athens to exercise their democratic franchise and those who voted by proxy too.
I specially thank the Special Guest of Honour, Hon. Barrister Rita Orji (Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora Affairs) and His Excellency Ogah Usman Ari (Charge d’Affaires, Nigerian Embassy in Greece). It is not debatable that without these two patriots, this year’s Annual General Meeting in Athens could not have been so successful.
- You are the outgoing President of NIDO Germany. Where did you meet NIDO Germany and where are you leaving it now?
It has been a worthwhile experience. All my efforts in NIDO Germany have been geared towards making an input into national development. When I took over NIDO Germany, the focus was on the intellectuals. It was a very solid foundation to step upon. My Exco expanded the horizon by bringing in professionals and entrepreneurs. This is especially important in Germany where a taxi driver and a Barber are trained professionals.
In summary, I am leaving a re-positioned NIDO Germany, one of the very best chapters in Europe.
- The Diaspora has a role to play in national development. Were there attempts during your tenure as NIDO Germany chief to explore opportunities for making contributions in that regard?
Yes, we did. We 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 and IT-based solutions and availing the organisation of international best practice models.
We have also signed an MOU with Lead University, Owerri. 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 we 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.
NIDO Europe members or partners in management consulting, software development, industrial processing and related services could key into the opportunities these partnerships provide.
Many more of such partnerships in the areas of agriculture, mining and IT will follow under my watch as Chairman of NIDOE.
- What are the immediate issues you hope to tackle as NIDOE Chairman?
Our immediate objective is a holistic repositioning of NIDOE to present the organization and the Diaspora as a whole as a well-organised and dependable group. We intend to continue our contributions to national development by promoting trade & investment opportunities in Nigeria and provide a professional resource pool from where national developmental interests in various spheres could be managed, in a transparent but secure, respectful manner. This will promote growth in the economic, social, academic, political, cultural and entertainment sectors, where our people seek to position themselves.
To achieve this, I will immediately propose a master plan to enable us raise half a million euros within the next one year and 1 million in the next two years. The overall goal is to make NIDOE a self-funding and self-driven organization. This will help us tackle the immediate, medium and long-term needs of the organization.
We will also review and harmonize all ongoing and planned NIDOE projects and find strategies to finance them. A Project Summit is planned for the 26-27 May 2017 in Dortmund, Germany. This will coincide with an investment summit to which all the Chambers of Commerce and Industry across Europe have been invited. These activities are under the framework of the Nigerian-German Bi-National Commission and the Federal Government of Germany economic plan for Africa.
Moreover, we plan to hold a stakeholders’ retreat to re-examine the core objectives of NIDOE including the roles of the various components of the organization. This is part of the holistic plan of the Board to reposition NIDOE.
- 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?
That the issue of migration is on the front burner of national discourse in almost every European country is understandable. 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. Those who make it to Europe find out how precarious their situation is as they have no good chances of having their asylum applications accepted.
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 migrants including 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 leave all their jobs and families and embark on an uncertain journey that often do 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. And there is no clear-cut solutions to this from anybody.
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 in the six-geopolitical zones of Nigeria to provide solar skills to 12,000 youths in the first two to three years. All NIDOE members with expertise in solar technology and interested stakeholders in Nigeria will be invited to join the initiative.
- How will NIDO Europe play very active role in the Buhari-led government in Nigeria?
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 the 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.
The Nigerian Diaspora should be considered symbolically in my view 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.
- 8. What is your assessment of the Buhari administration so far?
The war on corruption is good. No Nigerian will be against fighting corruption except they’re direct beneficiaries. Corruption has really had a terrible impact on the country. However, the war should be fought transparently and in a non-discriminatory manner. There should not be sacred cows. Nobody should be spared because they come from a particular ethno-national group or belong to a particular political party. If the war is selective then it becomes a with-hunt and it will no longer be popular with the people. Moreover, it should be fought tactically in such a way that people who have money are not afraid to invest. This is very important. The shadow economy in Nigeria is very huge. That must always be at the back of the minds of our leaders.
- What do you think the government should do tackle the ongoing economic crisis?
The main reason for the crisis is simply that we import far more than we export. We export mainly oil and gas. And import virtually everything including even refined petroleum products. So the crisis was only waiting to happen.
According to official figures, Nigeria spends US$22 billion to import food items annually, we spend $7.2 billion to import refined petroleum products. We import textiles and ready-made dresses to the tune of $4 billion in a year. Imagine that there are seven million vehicles on our roads and we do not produce a single tyre for them….
So the current crisis is an opportunity to diversify our economy. For example, the major food items that we import are rice, sugar, wheat, fish, milk and cooking oil. Take rice; there are so many rice belts in the country that, if encouraged, can produce as much rice as we want.
The government should draw up a crash programme to achieve self-sufficiency in these food items in the next five years. It is achievable. Countries like India and Pakistan have proven that it is possible. Self-sufficiency will not only lead to basic food security, reduce our import bill, create jobs and further social peace but will also spark the development of the agro-allied industries.
- Economists say we need massive foreign investment. How can we make Nigeria more attractive for German investment?
The peaceful transfer of power last year is a very good advertisement for our democracy. The present government must deepen the democratic system and ensure the rule of law while maintaining peace and stability.
Two, the way the government treats investors in the country will also send a message out to the world on if the country welcomes investors or not. This is why the Buhari administration should reject any advice that it should reverse the privatisation of the electricity sector. If that happens, it will show that Nigeria lacks respect for contract sanctity and that government is inconsistent in its policy. Nobody would like to go to Nigeria to invest there for the long term.
I would like to call on the President to reject such advice. Whatever challenges the investors in the country’s electricity sector are facing should be critically looked into to see how the government can support them to succeed for the sake of our development.
In the government’s fight against corruption, the rule of law and due processes should be adhered to. It will send out a message that the rule of law prevails in our country which is important for foreigners wishing to do business there. They should be able to rely on our judicial system for the protection of their investment and to resolve disputes when it arises.
- What will you tell Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora at these trying times?
Today, Nigeria is undoubtedly in an economic nightmare due to the fall in oil price and maladministration. However, the potential of Nigeria and of doing business in Nigeria with over 170 million people can never be ignored or underestimated and we need to wake up the giant in us by active participation in the affairs of this great country.
In Europe, citizens participate actively in the process of governance through professional, civic and other groupings, which is why the state works well for them. We have to do that too. Anybody who chooses to keep out has no business complaining. Yes, we are down but not out. Nigeria will be back and in full strength.
- Will the new position avail you time to remain a magazine publisher?
Time will tell.