By Chidi Maduagwu
The Nigerian Diaspora is a formidable force in the development and preservation of our collective consciousness today. Of particular significance in terms of examples is the Nigerian Diasporic citizenship in North America. The typical Nigerians outside Nigeria normally will keep their links with home, but the links begin to weaken as they struggle towards integration into the societies of their residence. This probably accounts for the seemingly broken links that a lot of families complain about in relation to their sons and daughters abroad. But the same relationship improves when the Nigerian residents abroad move on to the next stage of their sojourn which is a lot more promising and less demanding. It is at this later stage that they become very useful to home.
A cursory look at the Nigerian diasporic citizenship shows that there are different classes of the citizenship. But before then, let me dwell a little on the background to the Diaspora. In general terms, diaspora is made possible by a number of factors and more so, these factors vary from one form of diaspora to another. Perhaps the factors which necessitated the formation of the first authentic and most popular diasporic experience, the Jewish diaspora, are different from those which shaped the African diaspora, of which the Nigerian experience is a part of. But no matter the differences in the reasons for specific diaspora formations, one thing appears to be constant, and that is, diasporas are formed because of the migration of a people from a country/continent of origin to another, the country/continent of residence, and for reasons of discomfort emanating from natural disasters, oppression, suffering, war and sometimes, abject poverty.
The formation of African diaspora is peculiar. It is a result of the unfortunate experience of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Many Africans were carted away like commodities to the Americas and West Indies where they worked under inhuman conditions in the plantations. Later, and gradually, they regained freedom and became, like any other person, part of the general citizenry of the various countries where they found themselves. These people make up the first layer of the African diaspora. They are prominent in North America as African Americans. Because Nigeria is a part of Africa, somehow, there is a strong feeling that Nigerians are also part of the original African Americans. Next to this is another layer of the African diaspora, made up of early Africans, who went to America to study in order to receive ‘civilization’ and help in the ‘humanization of the savages’ (indeed!). At this level, it is easy to know who the specific Africans were. Many of them grew to dislike the western civilization, but at the point it had become late because they were already part of it. They generally drifted to extremes. While some abandoned the western values and all the values offered, others embraced them and abandoned African values. Those who got integrated into the western societies remained there while those who rejected the societies returned. In between is another set of people who out of necessity remained; those who had commitments and those who lost their humanity.
A number of those who returned left a part of themselves behind. They had, perhaps, inadvertently copulated with the whites and produced offspring that would become part of the new generation of African Americans in North America.
After these, came another category, they were Africans who left because of the oppression of the early African politicians and rulers, who were so corrupt and vicious, so some people could not continue living in Africa.
They were those on either forced or voluntary exile. Though many of them returned eventually, they left their marks in their countries of residence by leaving behind, their children.
The next set of people to enlarge the diasporic citizenship were the second generation of Africans or Nigerians, who went out in search of education because they were unable to cope with the stiff competition for few chances in the few institutions of higher learning in the country and the continent. They enjoyed the opportunity offered by generous American institutions in order to acquire higher education. They no doubt had intentions of returning after their education, but they were unfortunately dismayed by the fast deteriorating political and economic situations in their homes of origin.
If you have been counting with me you will realize that we already have isolated five layers of the diasporic citizenship in the west. But those would not be all. There are yet more, at least two more. The next two are, first, a combination of the beneficiaries of the Diversity Visa programme, popularly known as the visa lottery winners and their friends and relations who joined them, and a set of new Africans/Nigerians who are semi literate, mostly artisans and traders with who call themselves ‘hustlers.’
Their mission is to capitalize on some dreamlike opportunities purported to be available along the streets of America. They tacitly have passed a vote of no confidence on their home countries. The second of the last two layers is made up of decent Africans and Nigerians; the professionals, skilled workers and advanced researchers who migrate or relocate to the western countries in search of ‘greener pastures.’ They are products of the brain-drain syndrome in Africa. They are regarded as immigrants though, but they more or less are Africans/Nigerians who live and work outside Africa/Nigeria.
This has been a long introduction to an equally tall list of issues I want to raise about Nigerian diaspora, being, as we interact right now, a former diaspora myself (though people do not believe me when I call myself former, probably because I am always outside the country). Only last month, I was in New England, USA. I met an old friend in Boston Massachusetts. He has always been an excellent person, being a proud product of University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.
But I am not talking about the academic pedigree of my friend, Dr. Ejike Eze, rather I was struck by his patriotic position as a diaspora Nigerian. Dr. Eze is the President of Igbo Union in New England, which covers from Massachusetts, through New Hampshire, Rhode Island, to Connecticut. He took me to Igbo House, an imposing structure that legally belongs to Igbo people. This, I guessed at first, would be where they meet to make merry, especially in holding the celebrated ‘Nigerian parties.’ But I was not altogether right. I learnt from him that the union was more than a mere social interactive avenue.
The union has designed and is currently implementing an Igbo language learning programme for Igbo diasporic citizenship; part of the larger Nigerian diaspora. Interestingly, as we interact, about fifty candidates, mostly youngsters are registered and learning how to speak Igbo. As if that is not enough, more than twenty are on the waiting list because facilities could not be overstretched to accommodate them.
I was very impressed because I think that kind of feat may not be accomplish-able in a place as near as Lagos, for even a voluntary learning of Yoruba Language. Dr. Ejike also took me as a guest to the Akwa Ibom Community day celebration.
I confess, where I heard a popular Nigeria music called Dorobuchi for the first time. There was a performance of this music by some artful dancers, I guess Nigerians, but I cannot guess where they came from. At the party, Nigerian food, especially Ibibio and Efik dishes were lavishly presented. Nigerian languages (including pidgin) were spoken, mannerism was adopted, Nigerian dresses worn and of course all the people felt Nigerian. These, I suppose, are made possible by the immigration policies of the host country USA.
The policies are so that immigrants can import the traditions and cultures of their countries of origin to their host country, provided, such practices do not violate universal human rights. Through such complicated friendly policies, the Nigerian diaspora abroad has been able to achieve what diaspora scholars refer to as ‘institutional completeness.’ That is where the 7th layer of Nigerian diaspora is today. The implications are great and grave, and in our subsequent interactions, we will take them in series.