By Habiba Salihu
LONDON – Nigerian professionals in Northern Ireland have called for support from the Nigerian government to enable them carry out a census of the country’s diaspora community in that area.
They made the call during an interactive session at the first Town Hall Meeting with Dr Dalhatu Tafida, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, on Saturday in Belfast.
Northern Ireland is a region of the UK, but shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland.
The Europe Correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Nigerian community in Northern Ireland is estimated at 3,000, comprising mostly students.
The group, which cuts across all fields of human endeavour, said the census would help the community to have a database of Nigerians and their activities so as to ease planning.
They also raised concerns over challenges with the UK Resident Permit, which limits them only to the UK, in spite of Northern Ireland’s proximity to Ireland.
The group then appealed to the High Commissioner to wade into the matter.
Other issues raised at the occasion included the Nigeria’s security challenges and UK’s proposed intervention, as well as investment opportunities in Nigeria and diaspora engagement.
In his response, Tafida lauded the census initiative but expressed fears about the outcome, saying “many Nigerians abroad do not want to reveal their identity.
“There are many Nigerians in the UK and these include both skilled and unskilled workers, as well as students.
“For some strange reasons, many of them do not want to reveal their identity, while 99 per cent, especially students, do not even contact the High Commission and we do not know them,’’ he said.
Tafida however pledged to partner with the Nigerian Community in Belfast in carrying out the census.
In the same vein, the envoy also briefed the group on the country’s economic reforms and volume of bilateral trade between Nigeria and the UK.
“Both nations had resolved to double trade from £4 billion to £8 billion by the end of 2014 and, as at August, the volume had reached £7.2 billion. So, we are on track,’’ he said.
On the country’s security challenges, Tafida briefed the community about government’s intervention in curbing insurgency.
“Security is not an easy matter. It is a global challenge, even here in the UK. But we are hopeful that it will soon be resolved. Government is doing a lot, but it is a collective responsibility.
“We all need to pray for peace in our land,’’ he said.
Speaking at the event, Mr Bimbo Afolayan, Chairman of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK (CANUK), said the town hall initiative was aimed at harmonising the community.
He said it was also to provide direct access to officials of the High Commission.
“We need to start making practical moves in addressing some of our challenges by bridging the gap and stop blaming government for our inadequacies,’’ Afolayan said.
He lauded the idea of a census and pledged CANUK’s support.
Similarly, Mr Sebastian Aluko-James, Chairman of the Nigerian Community in Northern Ireland and Co-ordinator of the meeting, praised the town hall initiative while briefing on the challenges facing the community.
He said while Northern Ireland has the smallest community among the UK’s four region, it has been vocal in its campaign against stereotypes and giving the country a negative image.
“It has been a brilliant experience for us here. We have been challenging some of the issues here, such as immigration, and so far we are getting results,’’ Aluko-James said.
NAN reports that during the two-day visit to Belfast, Tafida also had a meeting with Mrs Nicola Mallon, the Lord Mayor of Belfast.
He also met officials of the Invest Northern Ireland Agency where he was briefed about the region’s economic activities.
The High Commissioner also visited the Bryson Charitable Group and saw a presentation of the firm’s activities.(NAN)
Nigerians in Belfast appeal for govt support to carry out census
By Habiba Salihu