NIDO is an organisation of Nigerians living all over the world. Victor Ugoh is the Vice Chairman of American chapter. He spoke to NNAMDI OJIEGO about the organisation and other issues. Excerpts.
Nigeria in the Diaspora Organisation, NIDO, what is it all about?
NIDO is an organisation of Nigerians living all over the world. We abbreviated it to NIDO America or NIDO-A. it comprises United States, Canada and the whole of South America. NIDO was formed in r 2000 in Atlanta Georgia by former president Olusegun Obasanjo. His main reason was to give Nigerians in the diaspora an opportunity to participate and contribute to the development of the country just like the Indians and the Chinese did. After he encouraged the formation of NIDO, he gave us an office at the Nigerian embassy in Washington and in all the consulate in the world.
NIDO-America is a global organisation which is suppose to be an organisation of Nigerian professionals. However, the world professionalism was simplified not to be restricted only to the people with bachelors, masters or Ph.Ds. However, we redefined professionalism to include people in all works of life. For example, if you are a taxi driver and you are doing your work with honesty, that’s professionalism, and all those we believe that will make an impact in the way we do things and help to reorientate the minds of fellow brothers and sisters.
So, what brought me to Vanguard is that I realized that Vanguard has been doing a great job on issues concerning Nigeria clearlyy and honestly in their write-ups. I came here on an official duty and I feel I should stop by to appreciate Vanguard for the good job and also inform more about our organisation and what we are doing to improve the lives of Nigerians.
What are you are doing to improve the lives of Nigerians?
We have been able to provide a platform for some of our professionals to come home to contribute to the national development. For instance, Okonjo-Iweala came from NIDO to become a minister here and we are all aware of the impact she made. Barth Nnaji is a NIDO member and you can see what he is doing right now in the energy sector. We also have Dr Ransom and some other Nigerians who have made impacts back home. There are those you don’t hear of but these are prominent persons. So we have succeeded in sending some of our professionals home and have been dialoguing with the govternment. Every last week of July, we have what we call diaspora week. Here, we discuss some national development issues. We also provide mission back home. We send some of our doctors and bring some of our foreign friends to come and give medical assistance. So in every sector, we are contributing. |Of course, it’s a well known fact that we remit over N9bn to Nigeria from the diaspora every year. There is also a couple of programmes that we are doing over there. For instance, this August in Atlanta, we are having a conference on energy. We are going to bring the stakeholders from Nigeria and get some of those in America who have been working in the power sectors to get together and dialogue on how to solve Nigeria’s power problem. We are hoping to bring the relevant ministers, senators and other government officials involved in the energy sector. We believe that will go a long way in bringing a lasting solution to the problem. We are not happy about the epileptic power supply. It’s not all about us, but about the people we left back home, finding out that some people cannot do their work because of power. It is not on in this generation. The world has gone beyond that. With over 150m people, I think we are in a position to sit down and solve our problems. So I don’t believe that in this jet age we should be having epileptic power supply.
There are also other things we are doing. For instance, we find out that so many have to travel abroad for medical treatment. There are some illnesses that would have been prevented, some things that would have been cured here but people eventually died because they didn’t have the funds to travel out for treatment. so we in the diaspora, I am talking about the NIDO America, Atlanta chapter. we are planning to set up a diaspora hospital in Nigeria this year. Our purpose is to build hospital just like what we have abroad. We will equip it, get some of our doctors to come and work in the hospital. Our doctors can also go there put in three weeks or more when they are on vacation. So the ultimate aim is to be able to provide medical treatment we get over there at an affordable rate and make it open to the public. It is not going to be for the elite.
What are the challenges facing you as an organisation?
Well, like any Nigerian organisation, when it has to do with the government, there is always a struggle. At the inception of NIDO especially NIDO-A, there were all kinds of problems some of them we can say were caused by the government interferences etc. In the past, there was leadership tussle especially at the board level. Those who were there did not want to leave probably because they did not want to give up the chance of sitting and having handshakes with the president and getting invited to every function the president had. So when they got used to that, they did not want to leave again. So we had crises because there were people who wanted to come in but there must be vacancy before they could come in. So we have gone beyond that now and we have a very organised board and a very organised NIDO. Also, we should not forget the issue of financial challenges but I can tell you that can’t stop one from performing. When we have laudable projects, there are people who are ready to partner with us. we have the World Trade Organisation, there is USAID. They are all available to work with us when they are convinced that what we are doing will impart on lives of poor people. so we have our challenges.
How is your relationship with Nigeria embassies and consulates like?
Honestly, our ambassadors in different countries of the world are cooperating with us. Actually, our ambassador in the US meet with us every now and then. We had a meeting with him January 28 this year where we talked about moving Nigeria forward. The consulates in Atlanta, New York, Canada have been helping. Every country has a NIDO desk officer. We also have a political team in the embassies. So they give us whatever we ask for. They have been very cooperative. President Jonathan has also been supportive. We have met with him and he renewed his commitment to see us move to greater heights. He has also mandated the ambassadors to assist us in whatever way that we ask for.
How are you coping with the perceived bad image of the country abroad?
Nigeria has what I will call battered image. However, it’s not just about what Nigerians do because, there are Nigerians who are criminals and there hardworking ones. So, it will be very unfair to classify all Nigerians as criminals. In America where we live, you have more American criminals than what we have in Nigeria. They don’t talk about them so much. so it’s a problem of racism, because, you are a black person, any little thing you do is blown out of proportion. There is no country in the world where there is no crime, however, we are not letting that draws us back, that’s why we are paying attention to our own country. When we get developed and get to where we are supposed to be, they will come looking for us. Then, they will ignore the crimes. We are not encouraging our people to indulge in crimes, we try to discourage them, that’s why before anyone is admitted into NIDO, we have to do a background check to make sure the individual has not been convicted of any crime. However, we think that the best way to fight the bad image is to do true rebrand that will let the world see the positive aspect of Nigeria by showcasing our culture and cultural activities, seminars where they will come and see responsible Nigerians.
Do you have any plans or role to play in the next month general elections?
Well, yes. NIDO is trying so much to get involved in the election. we are non political group and do not support any political party. however, when the INEC chairman came to Washington, we met with him and he invited us to come and help in the election monitoring. we ask for some fund to enable us attend to some logistics but INEC said they don’t have money but that they will accredit us if we send our people. we are planning to partner with Jimmy Carter Foundation to send some credible members to different regions to monitor the election. I will be coming back under the umbrella of the United Nations to do election monitoring. so that’s much we can contribute for now. we are not going to interfere but at least we can give unbias assessment of what we see.
on the issue of diaspora participation, we met with the president when he came to Washington and he assured us that he will make sure that we vote in 2015 and we followed that up with Prof Jega. however, what we are planning this year is to have a mock election for those who could not travel home to run simultaneously with the elections in Nigeria. that way, we will prepare ourselves in organizing free and fair elections over there. our aim is to set the stage and let the INEC run the show in 2015. to tell you the fact, we are working very hard to make sure that we vote in 2015 and also making sure that when we are given the opportunity, the election will be as transparent as elections in developed part of the world.
Recently, one of your members, Uche Okafor died in United States and the news was that he committed suicide. what role did NIDO play to unravel the cause of his death and what assistance are you giving to his family?
Uche’s death was really a sad one. however, I spoke with his wife, Ify and I specifically asked her what she wants the NIDO to do for her and she said to help take care of the daughter. initially, when Uche died, the first news that went out there is that he committed succide and considering that he has a 15 year old daughter, it becomes very important to make sure that if they say it’s suicide, it is suicide. Samson Siasia’s wife also called me and said they want the consulate to be involved. I called the Consulate -General and we discussed. meanwhile, we had a lot of issues and one of them is that they didn’t do enough work to find out what happened but when the consulate, the Nigeria organisation in Dallas put so much pressure on the police, they changed the cause of death from suicide to inconclusive. and that was when I was asked to talk to the press and I chose Vanguard. The story came out which of course, got everybody on their feet including the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Sports. the story helped to open people’s eyes and right now, they are digging deep. however, there is a way American system works. the police especially, when foreigner is involved can go so far if it is a well known name in America. but according to the American Police, they said this guy may mean a lot to you in Nigeria but he does not mean much to us here and that we saw as insulting but we couldn’t go out to say that. at this point, the next stage is to get the killers. in cases like this, what the police normally does is to put a tag say, $10,000 or 20,000 as a reward for whoever that will come up with information leading to the death of the person. so if anybody comes up with information leading to the apprehension of the murderers, he will be given the money and if nobody comes up, the money will be given back to the owner, because, the money normally comes from the family of the deceased. in the case of Uche, he is a national figure and we are his family, the whole Nigeria is his family. None of us as individuals has the resources to do that but to Nigerian Football Federation or Ministry of Sports, it’s nothing to them. So I will like to call on them to go beyond the burial so that he is not forgotten. it’s not all about him but all Nigerians living abroad. if we don’t make our voices heard, they will continue to treat us anyhow which can affect our diplomatic relations with them. if Michael Jordan for instance, comes here, will we say he is nobody? No. So our own stars should also be recognise over there. again there is an extent some of us can push. we start the negotiation and expect the govt to come and compliment what we are doing.
Are you saying that Nigerian govt has not done much in this regard?
Well, our organisation works closely with the Nigeria Consulate in Atlanta, with Nigeria embassies in Washington and the consulate in New York. I have told them about bringing the money, however, you know how things work. if it is not in their budget, they will not approve it and because of that, NIDO cannot do any thing. but the minister can do that even if it is $5000. with that, somebody will eventually come up because, you cant tell be that neighbours didn’t know what happened because it is not easy to kill somebody. But Dallas Police will not spend so much on somebody they don’t know unless he is a star, that’s only thing that can make them go extra miles otherwise, when the person is buried, they will channeled their resources to something else. But if there is pressure, that will tell them that you are seriously want to unravel the cause of the death and I can tell you they will find the killers because, we don’t want that stigma on his daughter especially, somebody who served this country the way he did.