In a move to boost US Dollar supply into the economy, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced on 30th November 2020, new rules that allow beneficiaries of Diaspora remittances to receive US Dollar foreign currency either into their USD domiciliary (foreign currency) account or as cash pick-up from bank branches.
The Ethnic South Asian population in Nigeria has doubled roughly every 5 years since 2000 and currently stands at around 64,000 people officially though it is said that the figure may be some percentage higher if ‘undocumented migrants’ were included.
Nigeria has a very small locally born South Asian population. South Asia itself is the main source of migrants. Some come to invest while others arrive having pre-secured an expatriate salaried position. Smaller numbers of ethnic South Asians are inter-Africa migrants, particularly South Africa and Kenya. A yet smaller number are job hunters that have been displaced from expatriate positions in UAE. Globally there are also ethnic South Asians in Europe, particularly UK, North America, Australasia, the Sijori Triangle, parts of the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad, and Guyana in South America, but these generally show little interest in Nigeria as either a migration option or a job market.
Almost from nowhere, an unprecedented outbreak of COVID has happened in India which at least equals the vehemence, pace and penetration of any national or local outbreak in the history of the pandemic thus far.
The last 24 hours has seen an increase in about 350k cases and over 2,200 deaths.
While there are no direct flights between India and Nigeria, Nigeria has ratified a bilateral aviation agreement with India in October last year, and Nigeria was added to India’s ‘travel bubble list’, a COVID sensitive selection of routes and destinations.
Common sense predicates that Nigeria and India would not consider a bilateral aviation agreement unless sufficient air traffic between the two countries pre-exists to warrant it.
Canada and Australia have led with the ban of flights that may involve passengers originating in India while some other countries such as the US, UAE and Saudi Arabia have taken action at carrier level. There is yet no announcement from Nigeria.
The Indian Government is so sensitive about this outbreak, it has appealed to social media, for example, Twitter, to take down comments relating to the rampant pandemic in the country.
‘Twitter is normally a place where people share thoughts… but right now in India, Twitter is a ‘Help Centre’ … thousands of volunteers… so we can try to arrange oxygen, beds, ICU, ventilators… How do I feel? Right now I feel numb… I cannot sleep at night knowing that there are people outside the hospitals waiting to get a bed… there are people dying outside the hospitals…’ Samriddhi Sakunia on Al Jazeera.
On July 26 last year, the day after National Nigerian Diaspora day, President Buhari thanked the Diaspora for the $25bn sent to relatives. Last year’s Annual Diaspora Remittance exceeded 80% of the yearly budget
This means a significant proportion of the Nigerian population is supported by overseas remittances.
With the delay in official response to the India outbreak, there is a strong chance that new mass viral loading has already happened in Nigeria from South Asia.
Without doubt, if this triggers a new Nigeria wide lock-down, it will immediately halt all forms of direct face-to-face services. The closure of retail banking outlets is a given!
Since domiciliary accounts cannot dispense Naira by ATM, all of these breadline dependents of the Diaspora President Buhari is so grateful to, will become cut off from the remittances that is so much their life-blood.
Unless The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele has some surgical measure that will automatically trigger on the fly seamless continuity of access to their funds for desperate people amid a covid compliant retail banking shutdown…
This situation has all the ingredients of a very Nigerian PERFECT STORM
References and Acknowledgements :
Al Jazeera ‘The Stream’ Program – ‘Can India Survive Coronavirus ?’