Sir Uche B. Okafor is a retired Diplomat and the founder of the Society for the Reconciliation of Nigerians in Diaspora (SORENID). In this interview with Tobias Lengnan Dapam, he spoke on why the organisation he founded focuses on skills fo young Nigerians. He also spoke about his experience with Nigerians in countries where he served and the challenges they faced. Excerpts:
Sir, what are some of your experiences with Nigeria emigrants in countries where you served?
Illegal emigrants or irregular emigrants depending on the term you choose, are people who travel from their country to another. In our case here, when such people leave Nigeria and get in to another country. It is not our work to check their status, but the immigration authority of that country. What we discover here is that a lot of people from this country are deliberately going out without necessary papers, and before they entered, they are declared illegal. During the period that they are unregistered, a lot of them experienced inhuman treatment and faced various challenges; some even died unregistered and when people die in this kind of situation, it is like a vehicle traveling without manifest; nobody knows who died. But for those I met, there were different categories of them; there were the good, the bad and the ugly Nigerians that we experienced. There are Nigerians making waves all over the world, and there are others who want to go back home but they don’t have money to buy the ticket to come home. These are the people that we try to reconcile. I related very well with them and changed some of them in to becoming better people.
What do you think are the major health challenges faced by emigrants?
Though I didn’t serve across the desert, but there are a lot of stories we do hear of those who travelled through the desert. We learnt that many of them died as a result of the stress, lack of water and different unbearable things they encountered in the desert. The stories are not pleasant that is why we always adviced our young people to travel the right way. But for those Nigerians I met in the places I served, many of them had psychological illnesses, psycho somatic I called it. There are many parents who sent their children out when they still need parental care. These children when they get there, the society rejects them because of cultural differences; and when that rejection gets whole of them, they ended up becoming deviants, checking in to hotels and later become problem to the society. But as someone handling students, I was able to help some of them. There were some who would come requesting for identification card that showed they were above 18, so that they could attend clubs and other things which they thought were the necessary things of life. In this process, I would sit them and advice them on what to do, telling them that the time was not right for the life style they wanted to embark on. Some ended up graduating while some dropped out of school. They would deceive their parents that they were in school, but they were busy pursuing something else with their friends.
After your retirement, you founded an NGO, what was your inspiration?
By nature I was called to help people. When I was serving, I used to help those people with challenges and victims of crisis that I came across. The NGO which I founded, Society for the Reconciliation of Nigerians in Diaspora (SORENID), was meant to assist some of these victims and help them to be better people in the society. When I came back, I started the NGO proper with skills acquisition Centre. I also have an institute where I teach them business ideas so that they can help themselves. I believe a lot in giving out to those in need. Whenever I see young ones wasting, I try to create something to help them. I have seen a lot in the countries where I served and I want to help our people at home to get the best that life can offer.
What are some of programmes you have introduced?
We are working on an acronym known as ITEM: We identify these Nigerians and arrange various talent hunt programmes in various fields. We search to get the best comedian, best musician best artist and best in other fields. We also train, empower and mentor them. We follow closely their activities and improve in areas they need to work on. We also have skills acquisition programme for youths. Recently we spent over 500 thousand Naira to empower youths after training them.
The beneficiaries were people in dire need of help. We had over 20 beneficiaries who were trained by this NGO with different skills. We will continue to assist as many people as we can.The selected beneficiaries were in need of help. They have no one to cater for them. We took them in because of our desire to help the society and give people a sense of belonging, and make them feel important in the larger society. It has always been my passion to help other people and I am very happy doing it.
We know that if we hand over the money to them, they might not use it effectively; that is why we gave them these machines to enable them start their own various businesses and expand as time goes on. It is always important to have a skill especially now that there is no job. We are also encouraging graduates to ensure that they have one or two skills that could assist them in life incase the job they are looking for is hard to come by. We believe in giving them a brighter future that is why we design these programmes for them.
What are your challenges so far?
It has not been easy because I have been using my personal money to run the programmes. I just retired and it is not easy working with people who believe they can get money immediately they start. Most Nigerians are not patient enough; they want quick money and you can’t get the best under this atmosphere. However, there are some who are helping me to make this a reality. I am happy with the few people on ground who believe in what we are doing. Also, once in a while when people come around and see what we are doing, they used to assist us.
What was the inspiration behind your book; “eradicating the root causes of illegal migration and human trafficking in Nigeria”?
I wrote the book as a way of advising Nigerians and our advocacy to tell Nigerians how these things are done; who does them, the dangers and others so that they cannot fall victims. This is because I have seen a lot of people who have been deceived to go to Europe. We want students and youths to get these books so that they can know the dangers and also know how to travel the right way. We are giving the books free and we are looking for people who will help us print more copies to give out to people so that they will not be deceived by these trick-stars.
We are not stopping people from traveling. We are educating them on what they must do to travel the right way. We are against them traveling by road to Europe. It is always to have a skill so that you can be useful to yourself when you finally travel the right way to the country of your choice. I have staff who are training people on various skills to make them useful. It is important for people to know how to do something, instead of selling their organs for money.
What do you want the government to do?
The government is doing a lot with its various agencies like NAPTIP, which is working with other NGOs. But I want these NGOs to be allowed to go in to the villages because these are where the recruitments are being done; school, NYSC camps and other places must be targeted by NGO’s.
Do you think if things are better, Nigerians won’t go abroad?
Migration is a natural issue. We want them to go the right way. All the ways are in this book. We want our people to spread and do businesses and work in foreign lands. We are only against people who travel illegally, while encouraging people who go the right way. We also want people to have skills so that they can also want them to have something doing when they get there.