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Dispersals and emigration: The notion of diaspora in the Nigerian usage

By John Amoda
THE  notion of Diaspora attained public policy relevance during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. Nigerians who had emigrated to the United States were engaged by President Obasanjo to become partners with government in the promotion of the nation’s development.

Recently in South Africa, the African Union celebrated the Diaspora in America much as Nigeria in 1977 celebrated the cultural achievements of the Diaspora in the Festival of Arts and Culture.

The Guardian of Tuesday June 26, 2012 in its editorial on the new ambassadors and their postings highlighted care for the well-being of Nigerians living abroad as the focus of their commitment to “citizen diplomacy” introduced into the Foreign Affairs Diplomacy Discourse by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, himself on his way to Canada as Nigeria’s Ambassador.

The Guardian editorial addressed the issue thusly: “The displeasure of Nigerians in Diaspora over the seeming nonchalant attitude of many foreign embassies to their plight is legendary. Often, this is occasioned by undue zealousness on the part of the Nigerians, many of who get into avoidable problems. But the embassies also appear to give priority of service only to the privileged officials and their families”.

Abike Dabiri’s yeo-woman effort in highlighting the significance of Nigerians in Diaspora is underscored in this The Guardian admonition. Laudable as this foreign policy development is in itself, there is need to appreciate what is denoted by the word Diaspora.

Its origin is to be found in the history of the Jewish nation. From that historically specific description of a national condition the word Diaspora has been extended to cover many other conditions where the notion may promise and imply more than the reality can deliver.

It has been used to describe the emigration of Europeans to the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. It has been co-opted by African American affirming cultural origins in Africa to cover their forced relocation through the slave trade for enslavement in the Americas. In this particular usage the enslaved in the Americas and the Caribbean have described themselves as Africans in Diaspora.

The Nigerian usage is the latest appropriation of the notion to describe what is still emergent, namely the full blossoming of an American ethnicity, viz of Nigerian- American ethnicity. In this particular usage all the problems in the non-Jewish adoption of the notion of Diaspora are evident as will be seen in the dictionary explication of the word Diaspora.

The word Diaspora denotes a historical event, namely the dispersion of the Jews after the Babylonian exile. Stemming from that event the word describes the Jews thus dispersed. In the time of the Apostles, it was applied to Jewish Christians living outside of Palestine. The dispersion was contextualized by facts.

*There was a Jewish nation formed in pre-Exodus Egypt;

*There was a land of promise conquered and settled clan by clan under Joshua.

*In exile through Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, the Jews retained their nationality and consciousness of their peoplehood rooted in the priestly institutions of the Mosaic Law and the Land Promised. Their home-sickness is recorded in the following Psalm:

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we wept, when we remember Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song: and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, sing us one of the songs of Zion.  How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:1-6).

All the pains of exile, of forced relocation from home to a “strange land”; of joy of home rudely shattered are expressed in this home song. There is a homeland of a people, a patriotism impossible to severe; a home longing that nothing of the “strange land” could destroy. It is the home longing that defines the Diaspora as the home-sick people dispersed. The Diaspora looks forward backward to home coming and to a re-union.

The African-American nationalist’s adoption of Africa as the Zion and of themselves as the Dispersed is only marginally historical. Prisoner-Taking-Wars were waged with the help of African middlemen and prisoners in chains were transported to be enslaved to strange lands by strange peoples.

The slave-making transaction determined where brothers captured and transported together would be auctioned to their buyers. One brother is bought for labour in Spanish Cuba, another for labour in Dutch Surinam, another for labour in British Jamaica and another for labour in English Virginia. Slave women bore slave children for their European captors-owner. Cross-breeding under condition of forced labour produced the rainbow race of the New World Americans.

A new kind emerged in the context of plantations; in these plantations and conditions of enslavement a new culture and new humanity was produced by the enslaved as they adopted the land of their captivity as their land. Of those who could have qualified as the dispersed, the Ajayi Crowthers knew enough of their ethnic home and returned into their Abeokutas.

The Returnees are the creolized of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Diaspora in the American cultural politics is of an adaptive normative usage. The Nigerian employment of the same is a cultural policy.

A political relationship between Nigerians who have adopted the lands of their immigration as their homes and the Nigerian government who seeks to earn the support of their emigrants is geared towards bridge-building.

But the effectiveness of such policy is not facilitated by the use of the blanket term, Diaspora to cover Ekiti, Ijebu, Igbo. Nupe immigrants who are busy networking these various immigrant ethnicity into wider associations of more inclusive association of “Yorubas”, “Igbo”, “Hausa” in America.

There is no Diaspora of Nigerians, because Project Nigeria is still a project. And immigrant Nigerians are first and foremost Americans.

The policy of the Nigerian government to such immigrants should entail cultivating them as intermediaries between their emigrant government and their immigrant government. This should be one task that the new ambassadors should address as a suitor courts a beloved.




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