It may seem that in addition to the physical distance, psychological distance also exists between Nigerians in the diaspora and those living in the homeland. Such distances have contributed to the growing differences in opinion, sometimes leading to suspicions of motives and intentions on both sides, especially over debates on Nigeria’s social, political and economic issues.
Nigerians living in the homeland have always suspected the motives of those in the diaspora, who are sometimes accused of peddling western views and solutions to purely unique Nigerian problems. Their views are usually characterised as being ‘too westernised’ and are considered unworkable in the Nigerian environment. Nigerians in the homeland are quick to dismiss the views of those in the diaspora on political and economic matters because allegedly, those in the diaspora do not experience what the average Nigerian is experiencing every day, because the diasporas have the comforts of secure and lucrative jobs, private homes, social security, reliable health service, transport, education and other social infrastructures and services, as against many Nigerians living in the homeland who still grapple with some of these issues.
The diasporas on their part sometimes accuse Nigerians living in the homeland of being too static and averse to change. However, the findings in my Study of the Nigerian diaspora seem to suggest that both the diasporan Nigerians and those living in the homeland actually share a commonality of purpose, which is the development of Nigeria. They both want to see her reclaim her place amongst the great nations of the world.
The differences in opinion have also impacted on the approach which the two sides adopt in proffering solutions to Nigeria’s problems. However, as one of the diasporan Nigerians who have severally come under such attacks and critiscms, I wish to state that any further suspicions of the intentions of the diasporan Nigerians may be laid to rest if the analysis of Safran (1991) and other diasporan researchers are placed into context. In Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return, Safran argued that “they (the diasporas) believe that they should, collectively, be committed to the maintenance or restoration of their original homeland and to its safety and prosperity, and also that they continue to relate, personally or vicariously, to that homeland in one way or another, and their ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by the existence of such relationships”.
It is indeed very inaccurate for Nigerians in the homeland to even begin to think that diasporan Nigerians do not care anymore about their homeland. The diasporas haven’t really abandoned ship, because not only do the diasporas still dream of an eventual ‘home coming’, they also have members of their immediate families and friends living in Nigeria with whom they maintain regular contacts, such that complete dissociation becomes impossible.
There is also some evidence to suggest that most of the family members of the diasporas still living in Nigeria are actually supported financially and depend solely from the remittances from the diasporas.According to the report (Migrations and Development) by the International Development Select Committee (UK), over $300 billion are sent from developed to developing countries annually by diasporas living in the developed countries. Global remittance, the report maintains is growing faster than official development assistance from the developed countries, also global remittance is the second largest source of external funding for developing countries, behind Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and also accounts for as much as 27% of the GDP for some African countries. The report also says that global remittance accounts for 5% of GDP in Nigeria, this figure is predicted to increase in the coming years.
A U.S government official also claimed that Nigerian diasporas remit back to Nigeria the sum of $12 billion annually, while other sources maintain that Nigerians send a total of $3 billion annually through the official channels of the Western Union and other financial institutions. So in effect, Nigerian diasporas are also patriots in their own rights and arenot ‘enemies’ of Nigeria as is being insinuated in certain quarters, because if invested well, these funds remitted from abroad could play a major role in poverty reduction and socio-economic development.
Part of my findings also suggests that not only do the diasporan Nigerians visit home as often as they could; they also try in different ways to contribute to Nigeria’s socio-economic development. Some of the diasporas endow scholarships back home, contribute to community development projects such as the building and equippingof local schools, local roads and health clinics, they contribute policy documents and opinions on national media, and also make representations to parliament and policy makers etc.
Many of the diasporas have also relocated back to Nigeria to contribute their quota to her development, leaving behind the much touted ‘western comforts’, many others have gotten involved in politics in Nigeria, some have also tried to influence Nigeria’s political process from their diaspora locations.
Professor Mobolaji Aluko, a Chemical Engineering lecturer at Howard University in Washington and his party members (The Nigerian Democratic Movement – NDM) recently petitioned the UK House of Parliament concerning the political situation in Nigeria. The UK parliament had an extensive session on Nigeria as a result of the NDM petition. Although the outcome is yet to manifest, but at least that’s another example of diasporas doing something for the homeland.
Another diasporan Nigerian Omoyele Sowore, a New York based citizen journalist has been influential in exposing the corrupt practices of Nigerian public officials, and has recently set up saharareporters.com to help further the anti-corruption campaign.
Most Nigerians in the diaspora would actually swap places and relocate to Nigeria if an opportunity becomes available. Some of these Nigerian diasporas actually went abroad to study but then stayed back as the Nigerian economy took a downturn, there are also those that migrated to join their spouses. Majority though migrated to escape the harsh economic conditions and the persecution that characterised years of military dictatorship, which offered them little or limited opportunities in terms of employment, social safety net and general welfare.
Majority of these diasporas now agree that life abroad is not a bed of roses. The responses to the article Those Lonely Londoners actually capture the growing frustration of diasporan Nigerians. Also the responses to Sabella Abidde’s article Thinking Of Relocating To Nigeria? confirms this growing disillusionment.
So both the diasporas and Nigerians living in the homeland actually share a common destiny. They are all patriots in their different ways and in varying degrees. When Dianne Abbott wrote her article Think Jamaica Is Bad
? Try Nigeria which she published in the Jamaica Observer, I was moved by my own sense of patriotism and responded the best way I could in a rejoinder titled The Dianne Abbotts Of This World. Also other Nigerian diasporas like Ben Oghre and Phil Tam-Al Alalibo responded to the same piece from different perspectives. Both the original article and the subsequent rejoinders attracted mixed comments from both diasporan and homeland Nigerians, as well as from other nationals.
The various responses have once again thrown open the debate of who indeed is more patriotic between the diasporas or the homeland Nigerians, and also a much wider debate of whether acknowledging little efforts on the part of the Nigerian government by either homeland or diasporan Nigerians is unpatriotic.
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, a member of the editorial board of the Daily Independent newspaper in Nigeria thinks so, andbelieves that the diasporas are no where near the patriotism mark, in his scathing article Dianne Abbott And Our ‘Patriots’ he poured invectives on those diasporas whom he believes are no longer true to the cause based on their reactions to the Dianne Abbott article, he also went ahead to pronounce a ‘curse’ on them, and in so doing may have increased the psychological distance between the diasporas and the homeland Nigerians even further.
In the final analysis, it is in the best interests of the diasporas and the homeland Nigerians to work better together because concerning what has gone wrong with Nigeria and ways in which Nigeria can be great again, both the diasporas and their brethren in the homeland are actually in it together. The two sides have a stake in a stronger, democratic and prosperous Nigeria.