Nigerians In The Diaspora, By Kunle Sanyaolu..July 2006

Nigerians In The Diaspora
By Kunle Sanyaolu July 31 2006

Great ideas are never in short supply in this country.
Nigeria is a God-blessed country. Rather, implementation has been our bane. Most often, we tend to reduce great ideas to tatters, in the course of implementing them. The idea behind Nigerians in the Diaspora, a euphemism for Nigerians living outside the country, particularly in Europe and
America, is impeccable. It would be wonderful if the country can device means to tap from their experience, their expertise and even their wealth. Nigerians in the Diaspora are rubbing mind and shoulders daily with modern technology. Their host society is organized and a lot more predictable. The scholarly among them are enjoying their studies because these are daily conducted in serene and amiable environment. Back here in the country, it is not uncommon for students on campus library to suddenly abandon their books and scamper for safety in response to sporadic gunshots that could be coming from anywhere or targeted at anyone. In marking the Nigeria in the Diaspora day in
Abuja during the week, Foreign Affairs Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala observed that remittances by Nigerians in the Diaspora are in the region of $4 billion yearly. This is a staggering sum that could boost the economy of any developing country, if properly applied.
Many families in
Nigeria benefit directly from remittances from abroad. Some old people whose children or breadwinners are in the Diaspora in fact live on such remittances. Economists believe the foreign currency sent in invariably strengthens the local currency. Obviously, such a gain is largely eroded by the import-dependence and penchant for foreign goods characterized in the local economy. All the same, the money coming in cannot be quantified in its usefulness. Ironically, the recipients in
Nigeria always wish the naira value to be low, so they can cash more naira for given dollars or pounds. All of us should be concerned about how these remittances can be harnessed for real growth. Additionally, how can we tap the expertise and invaluable experience acquired by Nigerians in the Diaspora, for direct benefit to the country? So far, most Nigerians that manage to have a steady or not-so-steady job abroad are unwilling to return home. Yes, they could be considered second-class citizens, in society so race-conscious. But many of them have concluded that their second class status is better than their first class status in
Nigeria. When they come home, it is usually briefly, due to cost consideration among others. But their satisfaction with the arrangement is buttressed by the praise they receive from family friends and kinsmen who freely express how healthy and good looking the Nigerians abroad are. Many of them actually believe they could not have been so healthy and good looking had they remained in
By giving thoughts and activities in honour of Nigerians in the Diaspora, the Federal Government has acknowledged their contribution, or their potential, to the development of the country. These are people who went with nothing and end up establishing themselves in all spheres of life and entrepreneur. They become very useful citizens to their host country, and they reciprocate by loving the country, their community and serving them wholeheartedly. Their regret is that their service and loyalty ought to be rendered first and foremost to their native country. But alas, they had no such opportunity. Indeed they had no expertise until they traveled abroad. But it is their father-land. They can’t give it up. Even some Nigerians who excel in sports and decide to assume foreign nationality still have roots at home. And they remit money regularly. It is not always a success story for Nigerians in the Diaspora. Some of them have become only slightly better than destitute, as a result of constant harassment by the host, coupled with inability to get decent jobs. Many in this category have no genuine international passports. If they do, their visa has expired. But they cannot contemplate going home with empty hand. What would they even do at home? They ran from home in the first place. They can only return home with a lot of cash to satisfy the expectation of their people. To these people, life in the Diaspora is not so kind. They have to be extra mindful of where they go, when and who they associate with. In particular, they have to consciously steer clear of mischief lest the authorities send them home with the next available flight. These Nigerians have their experience and expertise too. And
Nigeria can very well benefit from them if the approach is correct. According to reports, one thinking behind the
Nigeria in the Diaspora Day is to bring the private sector, universities, the government and the Nigerians in the Diaspora to work in partnership to convert Nigerians’ intellectual talent into a competitive advantage, comparable with the achievement of more developed societies.
But the idea of redesigning the out-of-use Federal Secretariat in
Lagos as a residential complex for Nigerians in the Diaspora does not jell with the overall plan for them. President Olusegun Obasanjo envisaged that the secretariat, as residential quarters will provide accommodation for them. That presupposes that accommodation is a problem for intending Nigerian returnees. Accommodation certainly is one of the problems but not a major one. Nigerians in the Diaspora left relatives and kinsmen before their departure. They kept contact with them all through their years of sojourn. And these home based relatives are always too happy to receive their sons and daughters on return. Besides, many Nigerians in the Diaspora have built fine houses in the native country over the years, to which they could always retire.
In addition, the country cannot get the best from Nigerians in the Diaspora when these are secluded in reserved or prime areas of the country. They probably will end up feeling extraordinary or with much higher class and taste than other Nigerians. But l doubt if they would feel comfortable in such designated accommodation. For one, such an arrangement reduces the difference between home and abroad that otherwise they would have, since they will still end up seeing themselves as Nigerians abroad. Also, massing them up in the Federal secretariat exposes them to security risk. Armed robbers of nowadays go for cash, and where this is in hard currency, the target becomes more attractive. Finally, the Federal government assumes that Nigerians in the Diaspora, if they come home, will like to stay in
Lagos. Again, this may be far from the truth as no survey or research work has so indicated. If anything, the hustling and bustling, chaos, regular breaches of peace and the aggressive nature of
Lagos are directly antithetical to the serene, orderly, courteous and organized societies abroad that the Nigerians had become used to.
For coming up with the idea of foraging a partnership with Nigerians in the Diaspora, the Federal Government deserves praise. But they should guard against the idea going the way of Image
Nigeria and other lofty ideas killed by wrong implementation. Thousands of other Nigerians had opportunity to travel abroad for greener pastures; or to stay there, having achieved the silver lining. But they chose to stay back or return to
Nigeria to contribute their quota directly. These Nigerians are unsung, yet their contribution is unquantifiable. Care must be taken not to alienate them. If things work at home, most Nigerians abroad would rather choose to be home than abroad. Government needs to make things work. Supply of electricity remains a sore point, coupled with bad roads, unemployment, degrading environment, diseases, inadequate housing and poor health delivery. All these have culminated into poverty for the masses. Having tasted the immense difference between this condition and that prevalent in Europe and America, Nigerians in the Diaspora naturally would prefer abroad, from where their contribution home will always be minimal, while their host country enjoys the most of them.

One Comment on “Nigerians In The Diaspora, By Kunle Sanyaolu..July 2006

  1. I work with Celtel Nigeria. I have a passion to work with Nigerian Children whom i believe i must positively influence today, to influence the future of Nigeria, positively. I have been involved in actively creating forums to productively engage teenagers and have many more projest to embark on.
    We, would very much like to partner with Nigerians in the Diaspora to help make positive impact in our Nation. Can we work together?


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