No fewer than 15 million Nigerians live in diaspora with may distinguishing themselves in various fields, according to a former Minister of Defence, Interior, Agriculture, Water Resources and Mines/Steel, Demolca Seriki who spoke to the Cambridge Union Society in the United Kingdom.
Seriki’s speech was entitled, ‘The Role of the Nigerian Youth in Diaspora in Nation-Building: Towards a Sustainable Democracy’.
THE DIASPORA CONCEPT
To understand the subject matter, examining the concept of diaspora within historical, socio-political context, cannot be avoided, particularly in a global arena where nations jostle for development and progress.
In doing that, refreshing our minds about what nationhood stands for is quite Germane to any academic, political, economic or even cultural context, in so far as it does not, in any way, vitiate the core essence of independence of any nation-state in relation to its citizens’ world-view, in a growing competitive world – underscoring the essence of citizenship
Mind you, globalization, in today’s world, has almost eroded the border walls of isolationism, no matter the arguments to the contrary. But that is a matter for another day.
It is, therefore, based on my conviction that there is an undisputed nexus between nationhood and citizenship, that we proceed to give vent to the importance of every country’s citizen, either resident in a foreign land, or in transit to his or her motherland.
There seems to be a consensus among scholars about what the word diaspora connotes, as many have continuously maintained that it is not unconnected with the dispersal of people.
People, in this context, implies a group of persons, who share a common identity and socio-political history, created through the process of nationhood.
Permit me to say that almost all of you seated here share a common identity – specifically, I’m referring to my fellow countrymen (but when I say fellow countrymen here, it is not in the warped context of the deceptive clarion call by coup plotters of yester-decades, a call which they used to coral and cajole our people to believe that they meant well. That some of you were compelled to flee in search of a better quality of life is a consequence of how well the military meant for Nigerians when they first struck in January, 1966).
Instructively, the origin of diaspora could be traced to the Biblical times as recorded when the people of Israel were told thus: “Thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth.”
However, it is also widely accepted that the term diaspora is a Greek word meaning dispersal.
While the dispersal that happened in historical times, were mainly provoked by unpleasant circumstances, the diaspora of this day appears to have been birthed by so many social factors.
Before the 1950s, the term diaspora was, perhaps, only attributed to the Jews, who were dispersed across Europe.
But the term African Diaspora emerged in the 1950s when it found footage in scholarly debates – although quite a handful of Nigerians had ventured abroad for, mostly, educational purposes, seeking knowledge and/or for greener pastures..
Let’s not forget, individuals in foreign lands are at liberty to engage any form of acculturation as they deem fit. Whereas there are those who choose to pick up attitudes and new lifestyles that are nowhere near edification, others focus on and are committed to their mission and purpose for traveling far in the first instance. For the purpose of this discourse, our focus would necessarily be on those who have sojourned and have imbibed positive attributes, as against the dregs who continue to give the Nigerian nation false and unbefitting labels.
Since Nigeria is a geographical entity on the African continent, tracing the origin of the term, Nigerians in Diaspora to that era, would not be out of context. Little wonder, the description of Nigerians across the globe as Nigerians in diaspora. The Nigerian diaspora covers practically every part of the world but the largest populations of Nigerians can be found in the USA and UK and by extension South Africa in modern era whereas Xenophobia is the order of the day in latter which is rather unfortunate and unpalatable..
United States of America has the largest concentration while the United Kingdom follows in the total number of Nigerians in diaspora. Indeed, there is no exactitude on the accurate figure of Nigerians abroad.
A worthy mention of Nigerians in Diaspora not registering their presence at our foreign missions cannot be ignored however Government is culpable in this regard by not doing enough to attract the Nigerians in diaspora to register their contacts, details and occupation or business in foreign land…
But it is widely estimated that no fewer than 15 million Nigerians live in the diaspora, with many distinguishing themselves in their fields of endeavour. In a country of almost 180 million, having this sizable number of citizens outside the country suggests that the nation has a considerable percentage of human assets abroad. And by extension, some have had children abroad with those children not identifying with Nigeria. It is no news that in virtually every field of human endeavour, Nigerians in diaspora are reputed to be among the leading lights with the youths having a substantial population. Even though, insignificant percentage of Nigerians in diaspora have smeared us.
With every sense of satisfaction, we all recall the patriotic works of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, among other patriots, who, in their youth, pioneered the march to independence while domiciled abroad. Their contributions best set a template for the roles expected of you as you pursue more interest in democratic development of Nigeria.
They braved the odds, in an era when freedom was subjected to human interpretations, to raise the consciousness for Nigerian nationalism.
Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, which was founded by Herbert Macaulay, was a catalyst that attracted a lot of young Nigerians both within the country and their counterparts in the diaspora. Macaulay did not stop there. The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, NCNC, which he co-founded with Dr. Azikiwe – referred to as the Great Zik of Africa – also encouraged wider diaspora participation in the quest for Nigeria’s independence.
An astute politician, an accomplished journalist, a sportsman, Azikiwe studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University, in the United States of America, his foray into politics had its roots in his desire to create change while abroad.
While studying at the University of London in his 30s, Obafemi Awolowo, had already taken keen interest in the political developments of Nigeria as championed by Macaulay. Upon his return to Nigeria, he formed the cultural group known as Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1949, and, according to recorded history, also formed a political party, the Action Group, AG, otherwise referred to as Egbe Afenifere. Samuel Ladoke Akintola came to England to study Public Administration and Law. He returned home and teamed up with others like Awolowo.
Between 1945 and 1946, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was awarded a scholarship to study abroad at a London University Institute of Education. At the end of his sojourn, he received a Teachers’ Certificate in History. But like Macaulay, Azikiwe and Awolowo, Balewa, who had founded the Bauchi Discussion Circle, BDC, (an organisation interested in and committed to political reform) set the stage for his brand of political activism – the foundation for this laid while studying abroad. Even Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, upon return from abroad, was directly nominated to represent the province of Sokoto in the regional House of Assembly. After attending Katsina College, Mallam Aminu Kano attended the University of London’s Institute of Education. He returned home to participate in politics, making the down-trodden his concern.
Anthony Enahoro was just 29 years old when he moved the first motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953.
Jaja Nwachukwu was said to be among the influential voices that left a foot print on Nigeria’s journey to independence. Called to the Irish bar association – Kings Inn – in November 1944, after studying Law, with LL.B Prizeman in Roman Law, Constitutional and Criminal Law, he was a key participant in Nigeria’s constitutional conferences and struggle for independence from Great Britain. When he returned to Nigeria in 1947, he joined the NCNC, and was elected the Party’s Legal Adviser and Member of its National Executive Committee.
Remi Fani-Kayode, was born on December 22, 1921, and came to Cambridge University (Downing College) in 1941. At the British Bar examinations, as records have it, “he came top in his year for the whole of the British Commonwealth and he was called to The British Bar at Middle Temple in 1945. He was later appointed Queens Counsel in 1960 (he was the third and youngest Nigerian ever to be made Q.C). He also held the position of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 1977 (he was the third Nigerian to be made a SAN). He was a leading Nigerian politician, aristocrat, nationalist, statesman and lawyer. In fact,in 1958 he successfully moved the motion for Independence of Nigeria.. He was elected Deputy Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria in 1963 and he played a major role in Nigeria’s legal history and politics from the late 1940s until his demise 1995.
It was very fashionable for returnees to be quickly acclimatized because they had a deep sense of appreciation for what they witnessed abroad, just as they were convinced that their motherland would benefit immensely from their cumulative experiences. But take note that there was sanity and values in the country then. Now, events do not just happen from the blues. They are a culmination of series of events. That Macaulay, Azikiwe and Awolowo, among others, played leading roles in pre-independence Nigeria cannot be said to be a fly by night action. These great individuals set about their briefs from an early age and while studying abroad. The impetus and inspiration they drew from, is everywhere around us here. It was the situational realisation within their environments while abroad, that they could see, feel and smell the refreshing and nourishing air of freedom, guaranteed by a free society hinged on democratic ethos, propelled their desire and urge for participation in the development of Nigeria. That was a huge testimony..
With humility, I was also a Nigerian in diaspora until I went back home in 1987 and later participated in Nation building under Babangida transition to civilian rule in 1990 of a two party system of SDP and NRC which was short lived and aborted unfortunately.
THE PRIMACY OF YOUTHS IN ANY NATION
This is where the theme of this discourse finds relevance. A 2015 report by the National Population Commission, NPC, said the total population of Nigeria is 182.2 million, while the World Bank in 2013 estimated Nigeria’s population to be 173 million. The population of Nigeria represents 2.35 percent of the world’s total population, which, arguably, means that one person in every 43 people on the planet is a citizen of Nigeria. Of these figures, the youth population of our dear nation is over 60 percent, suggesting that the country is more populated by youths. In the light of this, it would not be wrong to posit that the youths are critical stakeholders in Nigeria; and, as such, must be considered key elements in any discourse on nation building, particularly democracy and the rule of law .
The fact that the youth population among Nigerians in the diaspora is obviously sizeable means that the nation should not lose sight of how valuable the youths are to nationhood. A trip to most embassies and consulates in Abuja and Lagos respectively unarguably would corroborate my stance on the youth population of diaspora Nigerians, as many, who visit the missions daily to seek entry visas of different countries for greener pastures, are often young Nigerians who believe in their inherent human capacity legitimately or otherwise in pursuit of subsistence and to excel.
Now, with these facts, it is incumbent on every patriotic leadership to further the debate as well as interrogate how well the youths in the diaspora could contribute to the sustainability of democracy while simultaneously advancing the cause of economic growth and prosperity.
Frankly, the immortal words of John F. Kennedy, who said ‘’ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” remain relevant. But within the context of this lecture, I will at this juncture, urge the leadership to prioritize youth development. Kennedy’s epochal assertion was one based, in content and context, on a country that had provided the very basics of what citizens need to excel. United States is arguably the most responsible government in the world to its citizens hence it is not far fetched that its citizens are the most patriotic.
Regrettably, the same cannot be said of the case of a good number of past leaders in Nigeria.
We must also admit that it is a nation that has provided the best of the basics for its citizens and care particularly for the youths, either at home or abroad, has the right to make the sort of demand Kennedy made. The future of any country belongs to the development of youth through enabling program. PERIOD!
However, this should never be misconstrued as a magna charter for you my brothers and sisters, not to want to contribute your quota in that same quest towards nation building and growing and strengthening our democracy in Nigeria a way of life.
To achieve this, two must tango: The leadership must endeavour to provide enable environment as well as make practical commitments to the education and developmental program of the youth towards growth and prosperity. Education is at its lowest ebb at the moment.
•To be continued next week