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Reuben and Ayodele Obaro: Patriotism in the Face of Victimization

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Every year, millions of people leave their countries of birth in search of opportunities abroad. Globally, the number of people living outside their country of origin has almost tripled over the past 45 years — from 76 million to 250 million. In many countries, remittances contribute to keep national consumption afloat and represent up to a third of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP). At first glance, this is a loss for the home countries, which invested considerable time and money in educating and developing these people, only to watch them leave.

However, with the right policies, home countries can make use of their diaspora communities—which include emigrants and their descendants—to support the economy. The intensity of diaspora involvement in their home country depends on a multitude of factors. Many of those are out of policymakers’ realm of influence, such as culture, a sense of identity, prevalence of extended families, and security conditions. However, there is also a lot that governments can do.

Currently, there are about 15 million Nigerians in the diaspora, a sizable percentage of this figure distinguishing themselves in their different fields of endeavour. The government needs to develop strategies that can help get the most out of these large and successful diaspora communities.

One of such strategies is to encourage investment by relaxing legal barriers and capital flow restrictions faced by diasporas when investing in home-country property and business opportunities. Governments can also appeal to the patriotism of their diasporas by encouraging them to support public investment by marketing bonds catered to their interests. More broadly, improvements to the business environment, governance, the quality of institutions, and reducing perceptions of corruption would facilitate investment from not only diaspora networks, but also from other entities abroad as well.

Recently. Nigerians in the diaspora have contributed immensely to growing the country’s economy, while also growing the economies of the countries where they reside. They have brought in over $25b yearly as home remittances to the Nigerian government through official and non-formal channels in the past three years. This amounts to about 6.0 percent of Nigeria’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) and upwards 80 per cent of our annual budget. This gesture has impacted on livelihoods of people in their homeland in terms of education, health, housing and estate development, industry trade and investments, agriculture, and technology/skills transfer.

However, despite the laudable contributions of Nigerians in the diaspora to the development of their fatherland, some of them have encountered enormous challenges in their quest to develop their homeland. Yet this has not deterred well-meaning Nigerians who have not lost hope in the country from continuing to make laudable contributions.

A case that comes to mind is that of renowned medical doctor, Dr. Reuben Olu Obaro, and his wife, Ayodele, who were arraigned before a High Court Abuja, on false allegations of corruption which was levelled against them by the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission in a case that has lingered for over two years in court.

The couple had travelled abroad in search of greener pastures, and after establishing themselves in the medical practice they decided it was time to give back to Nigeria by supporting her ailing healthcare sector. It is common knowledge that healthcare delivery in Nigeria has experienced progressive deterioration as a result of weakened political will on the part of successive governments to effectively solve a number of problems that have long existed in the sector over many years. This has directly impacted the productivity of citizens and Nigeria’s economic growth by extension.

The couple secured a seed grant worth N450m from the SURE-P, in addition to personal funds and bank loans, to set up a specialist stroke hospital in Nigeria with the aim of reducing the rising incidences of stroke amongst Nigerians. According to sources close to the couple, the estimated cost of the centre was around N4.5bn.

According to Stroke Action Nigeria, stroke continues to affect 200,000 people annually in the country. The successful set up of the stroke centre would not only have provided critical healthcare to thousands of stroke patients but would have also provides numerous jobs for Nigerians.

When completed the hospital would have provided critical healthcare for thousands of stroke patients, reduce the amount of people travelling abroad to seek medical help and create job opportunities for numerous Nigerians.

However, the ICPC in an eight-count charge wrongly accused the highly revered couple for misappropriating a significant part of the SURE-P grant. After two years of investigations followed by a harrowing trial lasting another two years, the case was dismissed by the High Court sitting in the Federal Capital Territory, as ‘Frivolous’ and ‘Baseless’.

Anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) face some critical challenges in combating corrupt practices in Nigeria. These agencies suffer some bottlenecks such as absence of autonomy, paucity of funds, unequal treatment, institutional factors, lack of judicial power, inadequate database, and lack of political will towards combating the menace of corruption.

These challenges have hindered the attainment of goals of the anti-corruption crusade from bringing future development and prospects to the Nigerian democratic system.

In dismissing the case, Hon. Justice A. O. Ebong said, “It is common knowledge that at various times, the Federal Government has made efforts to rebuild the negative image of our nation in the international arena. This sort of dubious and frivolous attack on the character and reputation of citizens as exemplified in this trial, cannot aid that effort.

“I believe it is high time for our investigation and prosecuting agencies to have a rethink on how the go about exercising their mandates. They should refrain from exercising their powers in a manner that inflicts on the citizens, what could only be described as malicious damage.”

The Obaros’ conduct through the long drawn four-year struggle with the ICPC has been exemplary of patriotic Nigerians who have not lost hope in the country. They remained optimistic and resilient despite being arraigned for frivolous and baseless charges. Neither did they consider taking the shortcut of bribing their way through the unfounded allegations till they got their deserved victory. The Obaros’ never gave up; not on themselves, not on their country.

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