In this recent interview, Managing Director and CEO of Hobark Consultant Management Services LTD; a business with primary focus on human capital management, and the Founder of Mepon Ltd. Dr Emmanuel Okoroafor, harps on the importance of Nigeria’s diaspora remittance earnings to the economy.
He also warned and advised on an impending threat to the earnings, occasioned by restriction on United States visa, as part of the Trump administration anti-immigration policy. Sunday Ehigiator brings excerpts
How underrated is Nigeria’s diaspora remittance?
Incontrovertible facts have continually revealed that the Nigerian Diaspora is one hugely underrated source of foreign exchange earnings for Nigeria.
In fact, Nigeria, reaps double foreign exchange from remittances of its citizens abroad, more than what is accrued from its crude oil exports. Yet, even with this immense input, Nigeria is still being solely regarded internationally as a major oil-exporting country and a petrodollar economy since the 1970s.
Figures have been provided to back this fact. For instance, in terms of annual emigration, the total number of Nigerian immigrants grew from 448,500 in 1990 to 1.3 million in 2017.
In 2018, diaspora remittances to Nigeria equalled US$25 billion, representing 6.1 per cent of GDP. Translates to 83 percent of the Federal Government budget in 2018 and 11 times the FDI ﬂows in the same period.
Nigeria’s remittance inﬂows was also seven times larger than the net ofﬁcial development assistance (foreign aid) received in 2017 (US$3.4 billion).
What is the statistics of Nigerians in diaspora and what is their remittance strength to the economy?
The latest statistics from the federal government affirmed that the total size of the Nigerians in Diaspora is 15 million. That is bigger than the combined population of Ireland, Wales and Scotland or Tunisia.
There is another side of the coin. The statistics provided by the federal government is a far cry from the real figure of Nigerians outside the shores of their country.
The quest for survival and a better life has lent impetus to the human instinct for migration. Economic hardship of recent years had driven uncountable Nigerians to leave the country in droves.
A recent survey showed almost half of Nigerian adults have indicated willingness to leave the country in the next few years.
While the 1980s and early 1990s was the era of the exodus of professionals leading to brain drain, the migration in the past 10 years was undertaken mostly by unskilled and half-educated Nigerians, who are more desperate and therefore prepared to face dangerous experiences just so they could get out of the country to greener pastures in Europe and other parts of the world.
Unlike the early generation that migrated legitimately and via legitimate routes, the latter generation resorted to irregular migration. Aside from the danger of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and the peril of the Sahara Desert, most of them got trapped in dystopic Libya where they were subjected to unimaginable atrocities.
Nigerians were one of the largest groups of victims of Libya’s modern slave market who were incarcerated in camps and sold in open markets. According to record, over 5,500 Nigerians were trapped in Libya in their attempt to reach Europe.
Similarly, Nigerians constitute one of the largest groups of Africans trapped in the xenophobic web of South Africa in 2019. In the end, at least 640 of them were airlifted back to their country. These examples further add to the humongous size of Nigerians who had migrated out of their native country.
Thus, our diaspora community is made up of legal and illegal migrants, and hence their numbers much greater than the FG statistics.
From the foregoing, are you saying human resources is our biggest export?
Without any doubt, Nigerian migrants translate as our biggest export, not oil as is being touted. In order words, Nigeria is not an oil economy; how can we be described so when our biggest export is human resources, and with huge revenues – diaspora remittances more than $20 billion annually?
In light of this fact, does it make sense that Nigeria that has long (10 years ago) instituted local content policy and directives, continues to shout about it at every opportunity, let alone export and promote local content to other African countries, where there are large Nigerian migrant populations?
Nigerians working for multinationals in some African countries have been made redundant for reasons of local content, and still, there are Nigerian officials falling over themselves to preach local content in those countries. Only an unwise man advises the world to restrict and or ban his greatest export. Oil exporting countries do not talk about the environmental impact of hydrocarbons.
What would you then advise the Government to do in changing the narrative?
Basically, Nigeria should rethink and revise the strategy of propagating local content. The idea and benefits have already been sold to Nigerians and institutionalised via National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), andDepartment of Petroleum Resource (DPR).
The time is ripe to give local content a low profile so to arrest putting Nigeria’s greatest export under threat. To this end, Nigerian officials should be discouraged from attending and discussing local content at international conferences.
Would you advise Nigeria to rely on diaspora remittances instead of oil?
Nigeria should not rely heavily on diaspora remittances because the growth in remittances is subject to global economic forces, which could spur or hinder growth of remittance ﬂows.
Other factors that will drive remittance ﬂows include growth in emigration rate, economic conditions of the resident countries and the economic fundamentals in the Nigerian economy.
Currently, many countries are closing their doors to immigrants. And this has affected Nigerian migrants. US immigrations recently revealed that due to the restriction on US visa as part of the Trump administration anti-immigration policy, the largest global drop-off in visitors to America was recorded from Nigeria.
This development should cause a sober reflection in the country. Diaspora remittances may not continue to grow as previously and may shrink.
With a population of over 200 million people, Nigeria is the biggest market on the African continent. That is a big leverage for the government. Emphasis or attention now, should focus more on technology capacity building; all foreign companies doing business in Nigeria must set up a factory or workshop in Nigeria, that is to produce or manufacture from within Nigeria.
But some of these companies as referred have assembling plants domicile in Nigeria?
It is not sufficient to set up assembling plants. Plants that use local resources to manufacture components and parts for local assembly and/or for export will be welcome. Nigerian factories being included in the supply chain of multinational conglomerates will be welcome.
This was informed from my visit to South Korea in 2010. My company’s client at the time was Samsung, and they insisted on our having manufacturing and maintaining a physical presence in South Korea, and with everything needed sourced locally.
I was there to help qualify local vendors that will supply seals (with ultra-high resistance to aggressive and corrosive environments) used in my company’s products for Samsung. What better way to build capacity and can’t Nigeria do the same thing?
This was part of how China grew exponentially in the past few decades. America tech giants seeking to reap profits from the massive Chinese market were given conditions requiring them to establish factories in China, the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and other tech giants. What follows was technology transfer. Today, the Chinese economy rivals the American economy.
Nigeria should emulate what South Korea, China and other developing nations did or are doing, by focusing on technology capacity building relevant to the 21st Century, to help her become industrialised and a prosperous nation, with multiple streams of income (not just Oil and diaspora remittances).
That caters for the needs of her population, and reduce brain drain and illegal immigration.
What about Human Resources?
Furthermore, to not put her greatest export and associated remittances under threat, given the projected strong regional economic growth and large intra-regional migration ﬂows from the Sub-Sahara African region, Nigeria must also be seen to welcome and accommodate foreign workers.
Their terms and conditions of employment made to match those of locals in similar employment or roles, partly to avoid undercutting the local workforce and partly to avoid local workforce feeling undervalued.
To illustrate, a Nigerian engineer in a role that earns the equivalent of $1000 per day.
A foreign engineer, legally permitted to come and work in Nigeria in a similar role, should not earn more or less than the Nigerian Engineer. An image of Nigeria as a welcoming nation for business and fair work practice will help in many ways, including, among other things, attract the diaspora back to contribute in the building and industrialization of the country. Altogether, will aid to mprove the revenue streams of the nation.