By Ajibola Abayomi,

Franz Celestin, Chief of Mission of IOM, Nigeria

The journey started in August 2001 when the Federal Government signed a Cooperation Pact with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This led to the setting up of the United Nations’ (UN) agency structures in Nigeria. 20 years after, the impact on the lives of millions of Nigerians is huge as evident in its activities.

This piece takes a look at the  Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria comprising over 300 journalists covering migration across the continents’ assessment of the pact which encompasses resettlement of internally displaced persons, rehabilitation and integration of returnees and persons returned from abroad, counter measures on human trafficking and child slavery, migration health services and activities which comprise of technical assistance on migration matters.

Since 2002, the IOM has been supporting the efforts of the government to manage migration through capacity-building, advisory services, and technical assistance on migration matters, including migration health and information, assisted voluntary returns, and counter-trafficking. Strong collaborations were established with the media and the national migration stakeholders in order to enhance border management, fight trafficking in persons, and reduce irregular migration and mainstream migration in the country’s development plans.

The organization played a significant role in the actualization of the publication of the National Migration Policy in 2015 even though the Nigerian government was responsible for the content following the National Conference on migration held on April 4 2007 leading to the presentation of the National Border Management Strategy and Action Plan on September 19, 2019 by the IOM and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).

Strategy and action plan were designed to further boost effectiveness and efficiency in the management of Nigeria’s borders, and address the changing realities and new challenges of migration in the country.

Aside from these, a lot of technical supports are being rendered to the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and other government agencies.

Intervention on the returnee-migrants’ challenges reflect the deep feeling for humanity. A Nigerian, Eiguedo Christian saved on a death row at the Alaharam prison in Libya where he was detained for 10 months in 2017, told the JIFORM that the IOM would continue to occupy a special place in his heart. He was one of the migrants who were trapped in the country while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe and was about to be executed after he was apprehended but the IOM Intervention saved his live.

The speed at which the IOM also followed up to help rescue and repatriate a 20-year-old Nigerian lady that was dumped at a sexual camp in Ghana for over two years after a petition sent to the NAPTIP on May 6 this year by the JIFORM was exciting. The rest is now history. 

Working with various government institutions like the National Bureau of Statistics, National Population Commission, National Commission for Refugees Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Nigeria National Volunteer Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity involved in the implementation of its projects, the IOM has in the last two decades exhibited high level transparency and the willingness to improve the Nigerian migration concepts.

Huge resources running to billions of naira are being expended yearly on different migration programmes that are beneficiary to Nigerians. Since 2017 over 22,500 stranded Nigerians were brought home and rehabilitated through the IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) from 20 countries across North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

The Nigerian media capacities have been enhanced on safe, regular and orderly migration advocacy. Apart from several training workshops and information sharing sessions, in 2020, the IOM initiated the annual media competition for the Nigerian journalists backed by cash and Information Communication Technology tools as rewards for the winners.

These engagements have further equipped and schooled thousands of journalists on the need to be sympathetic to the course of the migrants, concentrate on researches with the use the right terminologies to describe migrants’ situations and avoid words that depict hatred, racism, discrimination or encourage xenophobia. Perhaps the consciousness played a major role in keeping inflammatory headlines on migration stories at bay.  

As part of capacity building, in 2019, JIFORM members and other journalists from several countries were part of the international workshop facilitated by the IOM in Tunisia where the media professionals drew a charter for migration coverage while agency also sponsored six Nigerian journalists to Ghana in February during the 2021 the African Migration summit.

The Frantz Celestin led IOM Nigeria team created a new lease of life for the victims of violence in the North East. Records show that the IOM has established 115 camps in the region which have provided shelter to 79,000. In terms of the biggest mental health and psychological support operation in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States the agency has provided services to 744,000 people in 2021 alone.

The IOM core characteristics as exemplified in its flexibility, responsiveness, and agility could be further summed up in the offering of its medical laboratories and staff to support the establishment of the UN Severe Acute Respiratory Isolation and Treatment Facility, this served 262 patients with zero fatality since it opened in 2020 and conducted 5,360 COVID-19 tests for UN staff, their families, and the diplomatic community.

As at today, 7,500 individuals from UN agencies and the diplomatic community have used the testing and facilities in Abuja, Lagos and Maiduguri for diagnostic and travel purposes while two of the enablers to the humanitarian efforts in the North East provide a safe space for all humanitarian actors in the deep field and the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) which is responsible for determining trends and patterns of mobility, the characteristics and needs of the affected populations.

One cannot agree less with Edward Kallon, the UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, that the story of migration governance and management would not be complete nor would the historical account of the humanitarian response efforts in Nigeria without talking about the IOM.

From a hand-counted team in early 2001, IOM Nigeria has grown into a 1,500-strong mission with employments to Nigerians while maintaining presence in five locations which include Abuja, Benin City, Lagos, Maiduguri and Yola and is among the biggest IOM missions on the continent and one of the biggest UN agencies in Nigeria.

Analyzing the lead migration organization, the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the NiDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Eraewa through Abadul-Rahman Balogun, the Spokesman for the commission said,” working with IOM for two years of NIDCOM existence is a testimony high professionalism of operations coordinated together with impacts” while the Coordinator, the Civil Society National Network on Migration and Development -Nigeria, Emeka Obiezu noted that “IOM’s engagement in migration in the last two decades has been impressive with visibility, coherence and coordination to both global discourse and programme.”  

For Dan Atokolo, the NAPTIP Director of Operations the agency’s commitment to the fight against human trafficking could better imagined its deployment of men and scarce resources towards the eradication and degrading of human trafficking.

His words: “The IOM is a major partner of NAPTIP in the area of capacity building for staff and upgrading of facilities that have proved helpful in achieving its mandate.”

As someone who has experienced irregular migrant and now a consultant business development service provider, Comrade Ositadimma Samuel Osemene, Lead Trainer – IOM Entrepreneurship Development Business skills Training and Program Director Patriotic Citizen Initiatives averred that the IOM has done a lot for stranded Nigerians in Libya and also in various detention centers. This was an intervention introduced to provide psychosocial support, economic and social support due to the status of these returnees. The program has benefited a lot of migrants both individually, families and communities.”

It has been 20 years of passionate service to humanity from which we have all benefited. The IOM Nigeria deserves all the accolades and support from all and sundry in order to do more.  The government must view these legacies as a learning process by nurturing all the values being handed over with human face to creating more opportunities to stem the tide of irregular migration.

Just as the biblical old and new testaments documented and bear testimony to the divine deeds from generation to generation, so also are JIFORM members testifying to the great services offered to humanity in Nigeria by the IOM in the last twenty years. The beat on safe, orderly and regular migration must not stop.

Ajibola Abayomi, President of the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM) writes from Lagos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.