The Bitter Truth about Mobilizing the Nigerian Diaspora

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I rarely watch the news these days because it depresses me to no end particularly when it’s news about Africa. It’s not just because the content is usually drab with a morbid edge, but also because of the way news about Africa is portrayed in Western media. However, sometime ago, I saw a clip from CNN’s…

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I rarely watch the news these days because it depresses me to no end particularly when it’s news about Africa. It’s not just because the content is usually drab with a morbid edge, but also because of the way news about Africa is portrayed in Western media. However, sometime ago, I saw a clip from CNN’s African Voices, which really got me thinking about the future of Africa and in particular, about Nigeria’s future. The clip featured Amini Kajunju, a Congolese-­‐American, who is the new Director of the Africa-­‐America Institute. In the clip, she talks a little about her work trying to get the diaspora to come and invest in their home countries. It sounds like a nice idea and it’s one that I wholly support but despite my sometimes naïve idealism, the truth  can be a big, bitter pill to swallow.

The Problem with Sand: I often joke that “Nigerians are like sand, we’re everywhere -­‐ except Antarctica (maybe).” When you really think about it, Nigeria has one of the largest diasporic communities around. As with most things in Nigeria, I’m never certain of exact numbers, but I’ve heard estimates ranging from 17 -­‐ 30 million people in the diaspora. Imagine what would happen if we all started coming home. The problem with sand isn’t just that it gets everywhere; it’s also that it starts piling on top of itself after a while. In big cities like Lagos, which already have tremendous population issues, this might very well be a recipe for disaster, especially if the diaspora tries to repatriate their lifestyles as well. Lagos in particular, is one of the top 5 most difficult cities in the world to live in because it’s crowded, the traffic is terrible, and getting the things you need for simple daily living can be quite the ordeal. Fashola is already shipping people by the busload back to their home states and that hasn’t exactly had smooth results. There’s no telling how the cards will fall if the diaspora gets caught in the crossfire of population reshuffling especially given the standard of living that repatriatees might expect and possibly feel entitled to.

The Hand that Feeds You: Many of us remember the last Olympics in which many members of the various British teams were kids of Nigerian descent. One thing that really stuck out to me was the number of adults, particularly in the homeland who lamented the fact that these kids weren’t sporting the colors of their parent nations. The question they should really ask is why should we want to? The fact is that many in diaspora don’t feel the need to come back because we don’t see the point in supporting a country that didn’t support us. For many of us, Nigeria wasn’t the country that gave us the scholarships and the student loans that we needed in order to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, business people etc. Nigeria didn’t give us the athletic equipment or the facilities that we needed to become Olympians. So why would any of us want to go back? Every parent knows that you don’t become a parent simply by birthing a child; you become a parent when you nurture a child to adulthood. For many of us, Nigeria didn’t do that, and in the instances when it did, the job was half done. If Nigeria is serious about reclaiming its diaspora, then it needs to connect the future of the diaspora to its own future and vice-­‐ versa.

For example, Israel does this all the time. It gives Jewish kids all over the world scholarships to come study in Israel for a year. It funds programs that help kids work on humanitarian projects in the homeland. Obviously, not all these kids will end up going back to Israel, but some do. They live there, work there, and start their lives there. Nigeria needs to start projects like that if really wants the diaspora to be invested in its affairs.

The Culture Wars: Living in and being a part of a community also means that part of who you are gets shaped by that community. You girls and guys on this blog are no strangers to the fact that my views on certain subjects are definitely 2 standard deviations away from the mean of what is considered “typically” Nigerian. There will be things that those of us in diaspora have different opinions on than those back home and those will undoubtedly create tensions maybe of the garden variety workplace squabbles, or maybe even more severe.

Take for example, one possible scenario:

Repatriated Nigerian: I know this is the way that things have been done, but I would like to try something different.

Homegrown Nigerian: Ah! See oh, this JJC Americanah wants to tell me how to do the job that I have been doing since before his father was born.

One the flip side, many of us in the diaspora may come off as having a colonial edge when we move back which is also it’s own Pandora’s box. Those kinds of tensions are already beginning to rear their heads. Hopefully, things won’t get as bad as the unfortunate cycle that culminated in the Liberian Civil War, but you never know what will happen when people feel like their way of life is being threatened.

Final Thoughts:

I know this post might not sound like it, but I truly have every intention of making a life for myself in Nigeria at some point. That said, there’s no denying that sometimes, the right ideas are the toughest to sell. Seriously, if it took the world centuries to accept simple truths like the roundness of the earth, then we can’t reasonably expect that marketing Nigeria to its diaspora and vice-­‐ versa is going to be an easy task. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, nor does it mean that the shape of things to come won’t have facets that neither party has bargained for. Despite all that, I still think reconnecting with the diaspora is worth a shot, because when all is said and done, some of us will go home and make the kinds of changes that people want. Some of us will go home to simply retire and die. Some will ruffle a few feathers, get frustrated, and leave. Some of us have absolutely no intention of ever going back. Whether we do nothing, or we decide to move hell and high water, sooner or later, what will be, will be.

Post By: Omotola Ajibade

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So what do you think? Are you currently a Nigerian living in the diaspora? Do you plan to come back, and why? Do you think Africa should be actively courting its citizens in the diaspora or do you think it should just focus on the people currently resident there? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

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Responses

  1. eskay
    Coming back is definitely not for everyone or even most people. I hate it when people(we residents esp) feel we need Nigerians abroad to come back and ‘save us.’ We have more than enough brains to get things working but what we lack is the right environment to encourage productivity.
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    1. Syca
      Well, it's not that diasporans feel they have more brains. You rightly said that what we lack is the right environment.

      Maybe what Nigerians in diaspora want to do is make the homegrown ones feel uncomfortable enough till they realise they deserve better and demand better treatment or force their government to do what they should do.

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      1. Tola
        For the record, that is not it at all. I'm one of the ones who was fortunate enough to have been born and partially raised in Nigeria. I spent the vast majority of my adolescence hopping back and forth between the USA and Nigeria. Others in the diaspora were born there and have never known any place else. Some of their parents never speak their mother tongues and them only interact with other Nigerians in the diaspora at a superficial level. These a re kids who are going to grow up, get married and a build a life that doesn't include Nigeria, because Nigeria was never really in the picture. Some of them are Nigerian in the same way that fortune cookies are Chinese i.e. not really.

        There's no malicious intent on the part of those in the diaspora, some things just happen the way they happen.

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  2. dami_andu
    I just left a Nigeria a few months back, I miss home terribly despite the lack of almost everything..but now..as i settle here, i begin to think; can i go back to where almost everything doesnt work? Here you dont have to be rich to enjoy basic amenities. In as much as I would like to contribute to making Nigeria an enviable nation, it becomes daunting when nobody is in it with you, some are just bent on frustrating your efforts, others are comfortable with mediocrity..I can go on and on…I think Love would bring me back..xx
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