To mark Commonwealth Day 2021, the Commonwealth Scholars and Fellows Alumni Association, Nigeria (COSFAN) and the Chevening Alumni Association of Nigeria (CAAN) delivered a joint roundtable webinar, entitled ‘Alternative Narratives in Irregular Migration Among Young People in Nigeria’. The roundtable webinar, held on 19 March, was the second of two events organised by COSFAN to celebrate Commonwealth Day this year. The organisers were pleased to welcome around 40 participants to the roundtable webinar marking the occasion.

Meeting the panel

The event opened with welcome addresses from both alumni association presidents, Dr Kester Osahenye (CAAN) and Dr Abiola Adimula (COSFAN), who introduced the webinar and thanked all attendees and organisers, including the British Council in Nigeria, for their support. The webinar panellists were drawn from both scholarship alumni associations and represented expertise in various fields related to the discussion topic of irregular migration in Nigeria.

Professor Ibikunle Hakeem Tijani, Director, Centre of Excellence in Migration and Global Studies, National Open University of Nigeria (Commonwealth Scholar)

Dr Adetoun Mustapha, Chair of International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, Africa Chapter; CAAN Vice President (Chevening Scholar)

Hajiya Raheemat Momodu, pioneer ECOWAS Representative to the African Union (2008-2018) (Chevening Scholar)

Dr Ekundayo Samuel, Founder, Dove-Haven Foundation; COSFAN Secretary-General (Commonwealth Scholar)

Professor Abiodun Adeniyi, Professor of Communications, Baze University, Abuja and Chairman of the CAAN Publicity Workstream (Chevening Scholar)

The webinar began with opening remarks from the panel moderator, Professor Abiodun Adeniyi, who outlined the background of irregular migration in Nigeria: irregular migration refers to the movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations, or international agreements governing the entry into or exit from the state of origin, transit, or destination. Building on this, the panellists then explored the reasons for irregular migration and the challenges and opportunities at the individual and country level for positive interventions to be made.

Responding to the opening remarks, Professor Tijani shared his thoughts on irregular migration and the context within which this can become illegal migration. He highlighted the choice made by the scholarship alumni in attendance at the event in choosing to return to their home country rather than seeking opportunities in the UK or elsewhere, as an example of national civic pride and belief in the ideals of the scholarship programmes superseding the impulse to undertake irregular migration.

Drawing on personal experience, Dr Adetoun noted that reasons for migration vary from country to country and that individuals face different challenges which may warrant or tempt them to follow irregular migration. In doing so, she stressed the importance of understanding alternative narratives and how the range of options open to individuals may differ. This was echoed by one of the webinar attendees, Professor Olubemiro Jegede (Commonwealth Scholar), who also raised the point that ignorance of the law and of alternative options was a contributing factor in the decisions made by individuals.

In response, Dr Ekundayo summarised that ‘we need to change this idea of always wanting to receive from society to what to give to the society’. Based on his own experiences in founding an NGO which supports underserved communities in rural areas, he urged governments to provide conducive conditions under which citizens can work and environments which citizen want to be a part of.. He added that further research should be conducted to provide statistics on irregular migrants and where they migrate from and to. With further research, the factors which influence this and other forms of migration can be better identified and adequate planning for solutions can be developed.

In her speech, Hajiya Raheemat Momodu echoed the perspectives of fellow panel members and noted that migration can be seen as a positive thing by governments. However, Hajiya was sceptical about the benefits of irregular migration and argued for more responsible governance and labour migration management to ensure migration was beneficial both for individuals and for the future of the country.

Following the panel discussion, attendees were invited to contribute their thoughts on the topic and submit questions to the panel. The final closing remarks were given by Max Brewer, representative from the FCDO, who thanked the organisers, panellists, and all attendees for their contributions to the webinar.