An insurance expert, Mr Babatunde Loye, is the president of the Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom (CANUK). In this online interview with DARE ADEKANMBI, he speaks on the essence of the organisation, its leadership crisis, the danger of migrating to the UK illegally, among other issues. Excerpts:
ELEVEN years after CANUK was established, and with reference to immigration matters handled so far, in what areas has the organisation benefitted its members?
Since we took over the administration, the organisation has worked effectively with the immigration section of the Nigeria High Commission in London to serve Nigerians better. Prior to this, the UK Home Office had unilaterally been repatriating our citizens, after endless detention in deplorable conditions, most times without informing the Nigeria High Commission Immigration, Consular and welfare section. The reforms introduced to the handling of immigration detainees today by the Home Office are as a result of our feedback. CANUK introduced Immigration seminars/surgery to provide free legal advice to Nigerians in the UK, where members are assisted on related matters. CANUK makes regular visits to immigration detention centres and prisons to uplift, support, hear out, encourage and help raise their matters with the appropriate authorities. CANUK’s most recent seminar/surgery was held away from London, both in Milton Keynes and Glasgow on November 21, 2015, where some groups of students were advised on the implications of overstaying their student’s visas.
You have always given the number of Nigerians living in the UK to be two million. How did you arrive at this figure? Is the figure made up of only those in the UK legally and illegally?
Britain is second home to Nigerians as many hold dual nationality. The estimated two million include students and Nigerians registered as residents in the UK. These figures have also been corroborated by the British High Commission in Nigeria to include Nigerians whose status are pending determination by the Home Office.
What was the position of CANUK towards the recent Brexit referendum and what was your reaction to its outcome?
CANUK encouraged its members to participate in the EU referendum as it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. As democrats, it was important to encourage our members to exercise their civics responsibility. CANUK has continued to monitor development with reference to the implementation of the EU referendum. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the newly constituted cabinet has assured the country that the process will not be rushed and that nothing has changed as regards the status of EU nationals and non EU families of EU nationals. CANUK is hopeful that our members will continue to live and contribute to peace and progress of the British society.
One of the post-Brexit realities for CANUK members is the 35, 000 Pounds annual income policy that PM Theresa May is set to implement. Does CANUK know how many of its members will be affected by this policy? What is the body doing about the plight of those who will be affected?
CANUK and many other affected countries have made representations to the Home Office on several pending legislations. We are hopeful that these legislations are mere proposals that are yet to be enacted by parliament, therefore, are subject to review. There are some petitions that signatures are currently being collected to put pressure on UK government to influence their outcomes. CANUK has been encouraging its members to actively participate in such petitions.
Is CANUK getting the desired support from the Nigerian government on the welfare of its members and sundry matters?
Yes, we are. Both the Nigeria High Commission, London and the Nigerian government are giving the Diaspora the required support, especially with the appointment of Honourable Abike Dabiri–Eruwa as the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora. The annual Diaspora Day Conference which was held in Abuja, Nigeria, in August was to highlight areas of partnership between the government and the Diaspora.
What is your advice to those Nigerians who go through a lot of life-threatening risks through the high seas and desert in search for greener pastures in Europe?
Europe and the UK are increasingly experiencing economic difficulty, which explains why Britain voted to leave the European Union. There is high rate of unemployment in the UK, so many people are not able to pay high rent, especially in London where property prices have gone beyond the reach of the people. For new comers to the UK, especially those risking everything to arrive illegally, it may result to self-imposed slavery as those currently here illegally are trapped with many working in dehumanising conditions, many faced with conditions that are worse that what they are running away from at home. Take my advice, do not risk your life, Europe or the UK is not a bed of roses.
Could you tell us the reason for the seemingly intractable crisis rocking CANUK for months now?
Since the inception of the present administration in the last one and a half years, CANUK has witnessed tremendous success in its activities of promoting the interest of our community, such as improved engagement with regional associations, service to the underprivileged members of the community, support to the bereaved and growth in paid up membership. It is not unusual that a few individuals may feel unsatisfied with the leadership style and election of some members of the CANUK executives, but as with all democratic practices, the four-year tenure will soon end, giving opportunity for members to elect new officers. While the executives are constrained from joining issues publicly, some individuals have not exercised restraint.
However, respectable members of the community have intervened and we are making progress. The current executives are focused on providing service to the community. A delegation of the executives recently returned from Abuja after attending the Diaspora Day Conference 2016 on 24th to 26th July, where MoUs were signed for the benefit of Diaspora SME businesses. We are getting on well with our lined-up programmes. We remain undaunted and focused and have refused to be distracted. We are proud to say this administration has the support of the community leaders, Nigeria High Commission UK and all positive minded individuals. This executive is committed to building upon the solid foundation already laid by our founding fathers and leaving a lasting legacy of great service to our compatriots.