BEING A LECTURE BY HON. ABIKE DABIRI-EREWA, CHAIRMAN/CEO, NIGERIANS IN DIASPORA COMMISSION (NiDCOM) ON MIGRANTS, THE MEDIA AND DIASPORA AFFAIRS, AT THE 2020 JIFORM’S INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION SUMMIT, IBADAN, OCTOBER 16, 2020.
2.0. I am delighted and honoured to be selected as a guest speaker for the 2020 edition of this summit. I will be giving a note on Migrants, the Media and Diaspora Affairs; in line with the theme of this year’s event, Migration Governance and Media Strategy for Development during Pandemic, which I must remark for its timeliness, given the current global situation, as a result of the pandemic.
Every year, there are more than a million cases of migration recorded globally. Over time, the terms, migration and the media have evolved, more so as the pandemic has takencentre stage in most spheres of human endeavours. This paper will, therefore, seek to explain the relationship between the Media, Migration, Migrants, and how it affectsDiasporaaffairs, drawing emphasis on the Nigerian frontier inthe COVID-19 era.
3.1. Migration and Migrants:
Human migration is a term used to describe the “temporal or permanent movement of a large number of population of people from one place to another”.As said earlier, scores of individuals migrate from one place to another. Migration is not limited to travelling abroad; moving from town A to town B within a geographical space is still regarded as migration. Migration is a broad concept. Migration can be, classified as, irregular or regular; internal or external; forced or voluntary and seasonal migration.
Irregular migration is the “indirect or illegal means of moving from one place to another”. While regular migration means the “direct and legal means of moving from one place to another”- for example, having genuine, complete visa and travel documents; going through proper immigration checks, before arriving into another country is a normal, legitimate process in migration.
Internal migration is “the movement from one place to another within an area or state”. For example, a National Youth Corps member from Jigawa state moving to Enugu state for his NYSC programme. It is internal because it is within Nigeria. External migration, on the other hand, is“the movement from one country to another”- for example, leaving Nigeria for Ghana.
Furthermore, migration can be forced or voluntary.Forced migration means“coercive movement from one place to another on account of the threat to life or disasters, such as exile, war, genocide, flood, earthquake”, e.t.c. Ordinarily,an individual in this scenario, will not consider relocating if this occurrence did not happen.Voluntary migration is antonymous with forced migration.Voluntary migration is migration by choice, (such as embarking on a tour to a different city); the latter (force migration), is a form of migration done against one’s will: for example, moving from a town to another neighbouring town, because of the flood.
The last category is the seasonal migration. Its pattern of movement or migration occurs at special periods or seasons: for example, people travelling from different cities to their villages or selective areas during Christmas or Eid celebrations.
There are a plethora of reasons migrants leave their homes, which top on the list are: better living conditions, financial security and safety.
3.2. The Media:
The media consist of two sides: the media as an entity, and the media, as a channel of communication. Contextually, this paper is concerned with the media as an entity- the individuals that make up the media; the fourth estate of the realm. From the author or encoder, of information down, to the media consumers, have a role to play in disseminating information. The media, as a body, is directed to inform, entertain, educate, mobilise, sensitise and monitor (ombudsman/watchdog) the masses in the society.
3.3. The Media and Migrants:
Having established the concepts of the media, migrants and migration, one may ask, “what is the correlation between the media and migrants?”
The nexus between these concepts is that migrants represent a fraction of the media workforce. In return, the media, by its normative responsibilities, present issues that affect the migrants and the Diaspora as a whole.
3.4. Migrants and Diaspora Affairs:
Ponzanesi (2020) opined that migrants have a key role in building relationships “between distant and neighbouring territories, working toward abolishing and shortening those distances. They work towards the construction of a human subject that is an alternative to the universalisation of communication and economic differences”, (p.3).
According to the International Organisation for Migration Study (2006), the term, Diaspora, refers to “expatriate groups which, in contrast to “migrants”, applies to expatriate populations abroad and generations born abroad to foreign parents who are or may be citizens of their countries of residence”. The study (IOM, 2006) also defines it as “members of ethnic and national communities who have left, but maintain links with their homeland”.
In furtherance in identifying the link between migrants and the Diaspora, it is safe to posit that the Diaspora embodies migrants from various classes, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds teaming together to connect and foster development between their homelands and the host countries. In other words, without migrants, there will be nothing like the Diaspora. Migrants form communities in their host countries to connect and have a feeling of close familial relationship, though they are far away from home. These communities interact with their counterparts in the country of residence, by initiating sustainable and strategic interdependent means of developing not just their homelands but their host country in particular. Based on these preceding explanations, Diaspora Affairs is closely defined as thus.
3.5. Migrants, the Media and Diaspora Affairs:
The connection between the trio is explained using the concept of framing and perception in communication. Based on the Erving Goffman 1974’s Framing Theory, which explains how the media captures information (either positively or negatively) and presents it to the public. Framing depicts the angle, image or publicity, in which migrants are portrayed by the media. The negative or positive portrayal of migrants by the media could have a lasting effect on both current and prospective host countries.
Triandafyllidou (2017:3) stated that most stories concerning migrants are stereotypical and sensationalised; often labelling them as helpless victims, threats to security, uneducated, criminals or have no means of survival except to trafficking themselves. She argued that migrants are always represented as a ‘group’ and not as ‘persons’, especially during an act of crime. A particular migrant group is often generalised with a crime, although the act was done by an individual. The study from Triandafyllidou (2017) revealed that some crimes are normally racialised or culturalised. For instance, in the US, every black person is seen as a potential criminal, armed robber, or miscreant. To further buttress on it, Triandafyllidou (2017) explained that:
Migrants are frequently represented as a group rather than as individuals. They have often attributed characteristics of threat or associated with problems, in particular crime and conflicts and even individual responsibility about specific actions is culturalised, attributed to the cultural features of the specific migrant group.
However, the World Migration Report (2018:4) puts it that, ‘there are reasons to be cautious about this narrative of negativity’. This statement defends that though negative media coverage of migration and migrants is uncommon, the media, notwithstanding, attempts to accent on the problems across most topics associated with migration. In addition, the report showed how the framing of stories “can remove migrants metaphorically from the population altogether through dehumanizing language”, (p.5). One case which the document had to point out is the usage of metaphors, “swarms” (which is a collective noun for a group of locusts) and “flood” (a natural disaster caused by an inflow of water) by some media to describe migrants, their population or movement into the place of destination. Anyone with a pictorial imagination will see migrants as “attackers or destroyers”, “nuisances” and “a colossal disaster”, from such attributes.
On the other side, perception is the reaction from the receiver of an information based on what was contained in that information. Perception is in this case, here, will be reaction of the host countries on the behavioural patterns or attitudes of migrants which could be negative or positive. From the above arguments, there is to an extent, a misrepresentation of migrant because of the media.
Hinged on the previous assertions, the impression of such reportage would badly affect the perception of not just the host country but other countries as well, about the migrants in question.
Painting the Nigerian scene, we have in the Diaspora, about 17 million of our citizens scattered across different parts of the globe. Silverman (2018) revealed that in the UK alone, Nigerians make up the largest African Diaspora. Nigerians in the Diaspora are found in diverse sectors of the economy.
More recently, there has been a frequent rate of bad reportage on Nigerians, home and abroad by the media. With the advancement of digital media, information can be consumed and shared in large volumes at very short speed, mostly via social networking sites. Thus boosting the number of media consumers who just might be reading ins and outs of Nigeria and her citizens. We are often described by some of the media as con-artists, desperate, nuisances, dishonest, and dangerous. The news on corruption, kidnapping and armed banditry in the country makes it even worse for our image abroad, as other countries will perceive Nigerians as very dangerous people. In the wake of the pandemic, thousands of people worldwide went jobless, hungry, depressed, sick and even dead. Nigeria was not left out as many individuals were greatly affected by the scourge.
However, strenuous demands from the Federal Government and the plight of the people, during the pandemic, were cushioned as some Diasporas contributed funds to provide food and other necessary items for people back home. But how much attention did such acts garner from the media; locally or internationally?
Videos of stranded irregular Nigerian female migrants in Lebanon sending an SOS plea, to the Federal Government, circulated local and the international media, but the same magnitude of coverage was not given to Nigerians in the diaspora, who are regular migrants with decent jobs, on how they are coping in the face of the pandemic.
Another case is the publicity that elicited from the arrest of Ramon Abass, aka Hushpuppi, (the infamous social media personality known for flaunting his wealth online) by the FBI in July for cyberfraud and other crimes. The news of his arrest almost “shut down” the internet during that period. Stories about his wealth, arrest and other things connected to him were in the news, regularly.
Sadly, the same response was not reciprocated on a PhD Nigerian student, Ikenna Nweke, who found a huge sum of money in a wallet and returned it to Japanese authorities, despite the hardship meted on by the Coronavirus pandemic, everywhere; or, on that of Lt. Victor Agunbiade, who served in the US Navy and was given recognition on an account of his honesty and transparency while in charge of the accounts of the Navy. The list is endless of Nigerians who are making us proud abroad. In the case of Hushpuppi, some Nigerians in Dubai were shunned and asked to leave the city, fro fear that they are unscrupulous elements.
This is not to say that we have no bad eggs in our midst, as the saying goes, “In every disciple, there is a Judas Iscariot”. On the contrary, we have many good, hardworking, vibrant men and women from this country, doing exceptionally well at home and abroad. The portrayal of a few migrants, especially Nigerians abroad gives a lamentable impression that every Nigerian, whether home or abroad, is fraudulent, which is false.
So how can we, as media persons, curb the negative representation of migrants, particularly Nigerians in the Diaspora? One way I will like to suggest is to celebrate the good more than the bad. As media persons, we should create more stories and buzz to champion Nigerians doing commendably in the Diaspora.
At NiDCOM, one of our core mandates is to extol our great Ambassadors abroad. To prove this, the Commission publishes congratulatory messages to accomplished Nigerian Diasporas through the media. The Commission also has its TV Magazine programme, The Diaspora, not just to showcase the activities of NiDCOM but to laud the great things our people abroad do. The Commission, carries out media engagements to interface with the media, on issues that affect the welfare of Nigerians in the Diaspora, as well.
Another suggestion is for Diasporas to own a medium or platform that will promote Nigerians and raise agenda-setting messages concerning migrants and Diaspora as a whole. The World Migration Report (2018) mentioned that changes in traditional media (as well as, the proliferation of social media outside of conventional journalism) gives opportunities for migrants to create and promote their content, pointing out positive aspects of migration: for instance, the Diaspora Commission dedicates its time to engage Nigerians both within and outside the country on the functions of the Commission by delivering lectures, goodwill messages and talks on various Diaspora-related issues.
Also, the Diaspora Town Hall Meetings are organised during the President’s official engagements to other countries, with NiDCOM as part of the entourage. At Mr President’s visit, Nigerians abroad converse with His Excellency to highlight and discuss issues affecting their well-being, while using the opportunity to brief Nigerian Diasporas on efforts made by the administration to revamp the economy, tackle insecurity and fight corruption to a standstill in the country.
Furthermore, media practitioners must be more professional by projecting Nigerians, who are doing great things abroad in a positive and encouraging reportage, as against spotlighting only a few bad ones.
5.0. Thank you.
HON. ABIKE DABIRI-EREWA
NIGERIANS IN DIASPORA COMMISSION (NiDCOM),
OCTOBER 16, 2020.