Nigeria attains its 50th year anniversary of independence this year and I hope in this paper, opportunities to examine, explore and re-imagine ways in which its development can be re-configured emerges. The re-application of old failing models would simply not work. We need to begin to understand how we can turn the brain drain of the 90s on wards into strategic value. In order to do this we must not just indulge in continual lamentation over what we have not got but to utilise what we have to achieve great things. However, I quote Martin Luther King “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
We cannot be content at home and abroad, limiting ourselves to religious activities such as church planting and having mega pseudo-religious conferences without a corresponding transformation of the Diaspora and the Nigerian society. These activities must demonstrate their relevance by affecting the people around us.
I am convinced that the masses, the impoverished, the committed within and the educated out there, across the globe, that our time has come. I am convinced that from Sokoto to Lagos, Kwara to Taraba, Borno to Imo, Cross River to Kano our time has come, from those in New York, Maryland, Cologne, Edmonton, Toronto, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, London, Dublin our time has come!
Some argue that as we celebrate Nigeria’s 50th anniversary, it is enmeshed knee deep in corruption and it is in danger of strangulating its citizens. A land where it is claimed that corruption is so intractable to the extent that it thrives, where the corrupt masters are protected by the, judiciary, feted by the press, with their justifications and rationalisations splashed on a daily basis on the pages of print media and celebrated on the various electronic media. Corruption and avarice are now modelled for the generations yet unborn as if it were a virtue to be celebrated and promoted.
In the face of the tide of history, one group of Nigerians are best placed to ride the crest of globalisation to ensure that Nigeria does not continue to be left behind in the era of stagnation. It seems from the Diaspora lies some possibilities worth exploring.
While Nigerians in the Diaspora form a small minority and face the challenges and difficulties that minority cultures located with in a majority culture. The situation faced by those Nigerians today is not unique to history. This is a situation which faced many nations and peoples across the centuries. The most widely noted are the Jews in Europe and most recent are the West Indians and Indians and Pakistanis in the UK. Certainly we must and can learn from their experience.
As part of my voyage towards a solution rather than the art of the lament, I have drawn extensively from a Report on the Impact of Diaspora Communities on National and Global Politics to address the prevailing definition of our Diaspora. It is sometimes described as a group that recognises its separateness based on common ethnicity/nationality, lives in a host country, and maintains some kind of attachment to its home country or homeland. However, it is the potency of the members of the Nigerian Diaspora to be self-identified that interests me because from this flows the capacity to exhibit a very dynamic behaviour.
The same research already suggests that this dynamism has the potential to lead to them becoming politically active in support of causes affecting the home country or their homeland. Similarly, events might lead active members of a Diaspora to stop supporting initiatives and causes affecting their home country.
I am however, more interested in the actual mobilization of the Nigerian Diaspora and our latent ability to exert sufficiently focused, organized, and powerful influence to make us significant actors in international affairs. The Chinese and Indian Diasporas are the best examples of Diasporas with economic power, while the Tamil Diaspora might be the best example of one that has influenced events in the home country by funding military action.
Today I want to propose a number of options in which we as Nigerians in the Diaspora can pursue; they include several principal paths of influence for Diasporic politics, stated as follows:
1. To affect home country government policies.
2. To affect host country government policies.
3. Home country government tries to tap into Diaspora resources for its own purposes, usually for economic gain or to sway host country government or popular opinion.
4. As Diasporic civic associations to play an increasingly important role in managing agendas to bring about desired outcomes.
The prevailing finding is that Diasporic associations are becoming increasingly important actors in Diasporic politics. They primarily take the form of civic organizations without ties to government. Some, however, are government sponsored and am not comfortable with that for obvious reasons. It is possible for us as Nigerians to have associations based in either the home or the host country, and then strive to influence home or host government policies. We can explore how we can promote public works projects in the home country using contributions from members of the Diaspora; the advantage here a distinctly grass roots, local political nature of its operation. Of course it might require the existence of a Diaspora that is fairly uniform.
In the final analysis we in the Diaspora cannot remain constituted into ghettoes of self satisfaction or celebrations, of the ‘Ariya’ styles, but must explore and seek ways in which we can begin to influence the host nations where we reside in order to benefit and lift up Nigeria.