By Sunny Ikhioya
Challenges of Nigerians living overseas have become a source of debate at different forums. It is about choice; between patriotism on the one hand, and against reality and professionalism on the other. What path should the Nigerian in the diaspora tread?
A brother told me the story of a friend whose son had a first-class degree in electrical/electronic engineering from one of Nigeria’s top universities and left for the United States, to grab a distinction at the masters degree level, from one of America’s top universities, majoring in robotic engineering. There and then, the father decided that he has had enough and ordered that he should return to Nigeria. The question now is: to do what?
My friend’s reply is: to come back home and help build the nation, as the money used in his training was generated here, where his parents work and live. That is the crux of the debate: should Nigerians living abroad come back home to help build their country? After getting trained with resources derived from Nigeria, is it right for Nigerians to remain abroad to develop other countries, rather than their own? When they agree to come back home, what is there for them to do? What should be the government’s role in their resettlement?
In his last media interview, President Muhammadu Buhari did allude to the fact that those graduating from schools should not expect to get automatic government employment as the vacancies are just not there. If this is the case, how do you expect those specially trained abroad to come and fit in? From which ever angle you look at these arguments, you are likely to be correct, as the building of Nigeria will only be made possible by Nigerians themselves. When our bests are finding their way out of the country, who will remain and do the building? Many had chosen the path of patriotism and rushed back home to showcase their expertise.
However, sooner than later, they were made to face the realities of the situation on ground: no government agency is available to harness and channel their specialised skills into productive use, not enough capital to take off projects on their own, frustrating government bureaucracy in doing business and lack of infrastructure- no electricity, transport, communication, etc; and in a short while, they become frustrated and left with no option, they return to the countries where the facilities to enhance their professionalism exist. So, what do you expect these types to do?
The ones with strong patriotic zeal remain behind to weather the storm and at each point, they encounter stumbling blocks. But within a short while, they are sucked into the system, forget the training that they had acquired abroad and become purveyors of ‘anything goes’. Others join political parties, as the only source of employment for them in the land, where they rubbish all the education and professionalism that they acquired all through the years. In very few cases, children of rich parents, with already established businesses, come back home and get involved with family businesses not related to their areas of study. In the other group are the children of top government officials and civil servants who are promptly engaged into the juicy government ministries and parastatals like the NNPC, Central Bank, Customs, etc.
These ones become career civil servants, not too helpful to the system; and the cycle continues that way. In Nigeria, if you do not have money and connections of any type, you are on your own, no hope for you. For those in this category, when they manage to find their way abroad, they remain there and live comfortably, since there is nothing guaranteed for them at home. With all of the above scenarios, what should be the way forward for Nigeria? How do we guarantee the future for generations coming behind? How do we manage to convince our best professionals to remain in the country?
How do we capitalise on our huge diaspora population? First, we must realise the importance of our diaspora population to the development of this country. In 2018, $25 billion came into this country as remittances; it was $23 billion in 2019 and $17 billion in 2020. It came down in 2020, maybe, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. All things remaining the same, the potentials for these figures to increase are still there, but it will require a government that recognises their importance to the country’s development.
is why the issue of who leads this country is of utmost concern to Nigerians in the diaspora. When the leadership is right, the focus of the country will be right; a leadership that will win their confidence and trust, that will know how to harness their individual talents and fit them in line with government programmes.
There must be in place an official line of communication between government and its citizens abroad, and our embassies could be made to play vital roles in this regards. Talking about sense of belonging, they should also be given the right to register with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and allowed to partake in voting during elections, this way, we help to bring them home. If they are given the right to exercise their votes, it will open a whole new vista into their participation in the governance of this country.
Government must look into this without delay, we can begin with the coming elections in 2023. If we take the diaspora situation as a priority, we will open a special agency or ministry, for that purpose, that will open a register for Nigerians abroad and structure them in line with their professions and utility value; also, along their needs. If that is done, we can begin to place them accordingly. There must be in place, a proper environment to harness their skills.
This is very important, as they have to be positioned where they will be able to put in their best. We have, arguably, the best professionals in the diaspora all over the world, maybe beside China, Israel and India; the difference is in the way these other countries handle their citizens in the diaspora. I am aware that their professionals abroad are properly monitored and in touch with their home country; I am not very sure that we have a data base for ours.
Talking about technology transfer, there is no better way to get this actualised than the use of our people in the diaspora; they are living with modern trends and technology in developed worlds; some of them are even part of the teams making these breakthroughs possible; with better relationships we can use these ones to initiate startups in the country and use their links to attract foreign direct investments.
We need the kind of leadership that will understand these things, that will be ready to devote time and resources to it; it could be the catalyst for our turn around.
Ikhioya wrote via www.southsouthecho.com