Guest Columnist By Anyim Pius Anyim
At the 2013 Diaspora Day conference held in Abuja last Thursday, I saw, once again, the beauty and diverse endowments of our nation in terms of human capital assets. The conferees came from all over the world. They were among the best and some of them were among the most celebrated in their chosen fields of endeavour. These are Nigerians who “think home” and who seek opportunities for involvement in the serious and demanding business of nation building and national transformation. The events of last week and the track record of the Federal Government under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in harnessing the skills and resources of Nigerians in the Diaspora has reinforced my personal conviction that the strength of every nation lies not just in the quality of its human capital, but even more in the ability of the government of that nation to give everyone a sense of belonging and create a clearing house for all who want to be part of progress.
As I joined the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, and the Chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, to welcome dignitaries and our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, I thought of the fact that they all sacrificed time and resources to be part of this conference.
Then my mind went to how the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) and the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora worked together, along with other stakeholders, to make the event possible. The synergy was evident and what we should see in all of this is the emerging national culture of service, selfless patriotism and commitment to national transformation. As we know, the NNVS was established in 2003 under the political Affairs Office in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. It has the mandate to coordinate the effective utilisation of the skills and expertise of Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora, for the development of the nation and to promote voluntarism.
The focus of the NNVS is to find ways of utilising the skills, knowledge and expertise of Nigerians. Such expertise and skills may have been gathered during their career in the public/private sector, or after retirement; but it must be Nigerians who are able and willing to offer national service through volunteer work. Needless to say that it was in recognition of the worthy contributions of Nigerians in Diaspora to national development that the Nigeria Diaspora Day was instituted in 2005. This was government’s own way of creating an even more contemporary platform for Nigerian professionals and experts abroad (and their counterparts at home) to come together for productive dialogue, effective engagement, and useful professional interaction. This is all aimed at enabling everyone contribute to finding solutions to some of our developmental challenges.
Besides the continental chairpersons and members of the Technical Committee on National Diaspora Policy present at last week’s event, I have had occasion to interact with our brothers and sisters in Diaspora under various platforms. Each time I am deeply moved by the depth of the love they have for our dear country, as well as their eagerness to contribute to efforts to transform it. I want to use this opportunity to thank them most sincerely for their patriotism and to also appeal to some of their colleagues who are yet to identify with the Diaspora initiative and the noble contributions it is making to do so.
This year’s Diaspora Day celebration is special, as it took place in the midst of on-going activities and programmes to celebrate Nigeria’s 100 years of existence as a united country. The Federal Executive Council approved the concept document, which outlines the focus and structure of Nigeria’s centenary celebration. Detailed planning, the buy-in of various stakeholders and the resolute support of the private sector, built up to the events of the 4th of February, 2013, when Mr. President, in company with former presidents and heads of state, commenced the Nigeria centenary celebrations at the State House Banquet Hall. It was a very colourful ceremony, capturing some of the most essential defining moments of our national historical evolution and our nationhood.
But beyond the ceremonies, the centenary programme has some important legacy projects. One of the most outstanding of these legacy projects is the proposed Centenary City, which is located on a virgin land along Airport road in Abuja. It is designed as a contemporary efficient “mixed-use” city, emphasising modernity. But it is a modernity that draws from, and does not play down, Nigeria’s unique cultural heritage.
The centenary City Concept captures the best mix of activities, as it is designed to promote leisure, tourism, commerce and sports with only a 20% residential component in a master planned environment. It will, at the same time be a centre for the preservation of Nigeria’s political history as well as a monument for documentation of our contributions to the advancement of global peace and security and the political, cultural and economic advancement of humanity.
This city will be regulated and well secured, with world-class security infrastructure that will make it re-introduce Abuja to the world. In terms of its actual ambience, the Centenary City will be a green city, with a natural buffer, ultra-modern public facilities and zero waste management. This city will reduce waste to zero through a combination of modern measures for maintaining a clean environment. Domestic waste will be incinerated as an additional power source, while other wastes such as plastics will be recycled or re-purposed for other uses.
The Centenary City shall have a prominent cultural core, with various symbols of Nigeria’s unity and strength, parks and galleries. On the whole, the city shall have an aesthetic appeal matching any of the world’s most celebrated cities today, with a central park that provides the green-spirit. This will give orientation, clarity and iconic power to the city as a whole, while accentuating, in particular and most powerfully, the city centre. Part of this package is an urban grid, with a super-block system that is modular and organic. This will yield an organised framework and resulting grid of arteries, streets and pathways will deliver an efficient intermodal traffic system where pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles, trams and the monorail can co-exist in a friendly human way.
Another major feature of the centenary city is that it will have an independent power source,with a gas-fired power plant connected directly to a gas terminal, to guarantee constant power supply. Water management will be planned in an environmentally sound manner; where approximately 60 per cent of the water used will be recycled and waste water reused as many times as possible.
The residential component of the city is expected to accommodate only about 100,000 people, who will be resident in the city to maintain round-the-clock human presence. There will be more of elegant, people-friendly high-rise apartments and apartment towers, than villas. Sports shall be given prominence in the Centenary City, with top-of-the range sporting facilities, which shall include a signature golf course and tennis centre. The city will also be the preferred ‘business centre, as destination for multi-national and domestic businesses where the topmost corporate bodies in Nigeria will have their show rooms. Then there is the presidential archives, which will warehouse the history of our political development and the contributions of our past presidents/heads of state and the Nigerian Institute of Federalism.
Perhaps we should now look at the investment opportunities in the Centenary City. In doing that, we should first note thatthe city is purely a private-sector-driven project. It has been incorporated as a public limited liability company (PLC), after the response by a number of individuals and corporate organisations to the invitation to participate in the Centenary City as promoters and investors. They have also accordingly paid the first capital call of a minimum of US250,000 and a maximum of US5,000,000. The promoters and investors met on Friday July 26, 2013, to begin the process of constituting the board. It is the board that will in turn start the process of appointing members of the management of the Centenary City Plc.
As I invite all Nigerians in the Diaspora to take advantage of the wonderful investment opportunities that the Centenary City offers to own profitable businesses in Abuja, I wish to particularly challenge the medical professionals among them to take up the hospital project in the city. This will reduce capital flight through Nigerians who are often forced to travel all over the world in large numbers and spend huge amount of money on medical tourism every year. With our large population, it is obvious that any investment in a world-class medical facility in Abuja will bring returns in less than no time.
Finally, let me mention the Nigerian Diaspora Centre, which will be one of the iconic structures in the Centenary City. I enjoin everyone to be part of this endeavour and to take up the challenge of helping to build the centre. It is only in this way that our joint dreams, concepts and ideas can be accurately incorporated and concretised in the centre. I have no doubt that Diaspora Nigerians will become more visible as promoters and investors in the Centenary City. More importantly, I urge everyone to embrace the spirit of voluntarism, take seriously the consolidation of our indivisibility as one united nation and wave the flag of unity as “One Nation” with “Great Promise.” It is Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora that will develop Nigeria and ensure her future greatness.
*Senator Anyim is Secretary to the Government of the Federation