“The farther backward you can look the farther forward you are likely to see” (Winston Churchill)
Reverse Migration, is a phenomenon in bird migration and is defined as “A phenomenon in which migrating individuals orient in the direction opposite the normal one for the species at that season.” This definition is apt to this article.
“Ile ni abo sinmi oko”, so the Yorubas say. This, translated roughly, means that when you have laboured all day, home is the only place to go and rest. This saying is apt to the situation of all Nigerians living and working in foreign countries.
Travelling abroad for various purposes by Nigerians has been in existence for decades. Initially, this was initiated by our colonial masters who handpicked a few Nigerians and sent them abroad to study not only their language, English, in order to facilitate better communications and understanding with the natives that they are lording it over, but also ostensibly to make it easier for them to govern us. Later, this was expanded to giving the natives an education in many areas, especially law, classics, education, and a few in the sciences. It was something that worked well for the British, and also a gain for the Nigerian natives, although, as the British realised to their bitter cost, educating the natives of Africa eventually led them to start demanding for their independence. This was much evident in Kenya, later in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and some other east and southern African countries, where they fought very murderous wars before relinquishing their hold on African land and people. In Rhodesia, they even had to contend with one of their own in the person of Ian Smith. Luckily for us in West Africa, we did not have to go through such long and bloody struggles.
Even before and after Nigeria’s independence, Nigerians then started going abroad mainly to further their educations and then as soon as they have one degree or the other, were in haste to return home. It was a good time for the educated and travelled Nigerian. What they returned to was a country full of hopes, opportunities and the commitment to further progress. Alas, these returning, educated and knowledgeable Nigerians failed us, and we are still suffering for the mistakes till today. The legacy of good governance and infrastructure left behind for us were not built upon by our founding fathers. In fact we discovered, too late, that greed, selfishness, corruption and self-aggrandisement seem to be African. Our educated founding fathers used their education and knowledge only for their own advantage and used them to pull the wool over our eyes. Their children and family are still doing that to us till today, giving us no respite and continuing to bully us, enslave us and make our suffering deeper and greater.
But one thing I give to them is that they came back home, and in their own small way, contributed to Nigeria to build a nation. In those days, it was fashionable, but very expensive to go abroad, and after you have achieved your degree, you are welcomed back home with drums and parties and you are the toast of your community. The understanding being that you will now start to be a visionary leader in the community and bring progress and development with your status. Usually the most brilliant are picked. Also, it was not uncommon for communities to get together to contribute to a scholarship fund to enable one or two brilliant sons and daughters to go to abroad, especially the UK. Those were the days. This was what was done for my father, for example. He came back home immediately and founded a secondary school in his community that helped send him abroad, thus giving back to the community what he felt owed them.
The moment the Nigerian Army, hitherto unseen or unheard of, interfered with governance of Nigeria, things changed. Up till now, I cannot decisively conclude whether this was a curse or a blessing for the country. Surely, there were positives and negatives in their intervention, but one outweighs the other. This is for history and posterity to judge. Despite the gushing of oil which gave us tremendous wealth as a nation, we suddenly started backtracking, our infrastructures deteriorated, our moral values abandoned and the community spirit that had kept us together for centuries broken and Nigeria gradually descended into the most corrupt nation in the world, almost overnight. Sad, an alien from outer space might say on a visit to Earth, but this is not the issue I want to talk about now. I have often written about corruption in Nigeria.
Even in the 70s and 80s, Nigerians were still travelling abroad mainly to get an education or to further it and they want to come back home. But the objectives of coming back home soon changed for various reasons. Some got married to foreigners, thus making it a bit difficult to bring their spouse and children back to a strange culture and what they consider as a harsh environment. The lucky Igbos who managed to escape Nigeria, as a result of the Biafran War also found it difficult to come back to Nigeria and relate to other Nigerians who had committed genocide on them. Then are some Nigerians who came back but only for selfish reasons. They have got the education and knowledge which they can use to further oppress their fellow countrymen and women. So they went into all kinds of areas and careers – government, politics, civil service, etc, where they can facilitate their nefarious activities to make illegal money and acquire wealth.
As the 80’s approached without any apparent improvement or progress by Nigeria’s military and civilian governments, Nigerians started emigrating en masse, especially to Western countries. In fact, so much was the desire to get out of Nigeria that people were ready to go to such places as the communist eastern European countries, India and Australia (not that these countries are not better than Nigeria). It was a mad rush, still continuing to this day, and it was not just to get an education. Nigerians were prepared to go and clean the streets and toilets of London and New York. I have no problem with that if only they can do the same for Lagos and Ibadan and Enugu.
Mind you, please note that I am not denigrating our people. They have to survive, and survive they do. Nigerians are a very hardy people, we will survive anywhere under any circumstances. It is in our blood. In fact a lot of the latter graduated into getting very good education and very good jobs on the long run, have mortgages, etc and eventually secured their UK Right of Abode or Permanent Residency or the US Green Card and other countries’ citizenship. At least they can travel freely to and from Nigeria and also send money home to help their families and take members of their families out of Nigeria to help them too.
The negatives on this emigration far outweigh the positives, though. The fact remains that some undesirable Nigerians managed to get out of the country and into the West, causing mayhem. They started carrying drugs, committing all kinds of financial frauds, and generally giving Nigeria a very bad reputation, if ever we had a good reputation before. I am aware that Nigerians had been smuggling drugs since the early 60’s but not on the same scale as in the early 80s, and a lot of our current wealthy elite have made their fortunes from this nefarious trade. Most have stopped however, and gone legitimate.
Nigerians have a kind of wanderlust – the love of travelling. Even in hard times, check the airlines, they are always packed full of Nigerian travellers. During Abacha’s time when he banned British Airways from operating in Nigeria, British Airways suffered. When the new civilian government of Obasanjo came in, and restored their licence to operate in Nigeria, British Airways’ shares skyrocketed on the London Stock Exchange, because the Nigeria route was their most lucrative in Africa.
So what is my point? The point is that after almost 50 years of independence, and travelling to all places to acquire knowledge, education, experience, wealth, renown, etc, let us start translating all these virtues into progress and development for our beloved country. Highly skilled Nigerians abroad should return home, and offer the country a “brain gain” that could help solve some of Nigeria’s crushing social problems. I am sick of hearing some Nigerians complain that Nigeria has done nothing for them. Yes, our leaders have done nothing for us, but the country, Nigeria, has. We were born and raised there, we drank its water, we ate its food, we tread its soil, we breathed its air, we went to its schools, we have fought its wars, and we have even given it its name and recognition all over the world. We bear its name – and you know what? We even love the country, though we can heap abuses on its wayward leaders. In some cases, Nigeria has even done a lot more for some of us – scholarships, courses abroad, training, business, you name it. Should we not give something back? What we should prevent is giving something back to the corrupt leaders.
So what do we give back to an “ungrateful” country, some people might ask? Make it a better place for all Nigerians, is the simple answer. Is the country ungrateful? No, it is those of us who have taken advantage of the resources and opportunities of the country and are wont to give back something in return that are ungrateful. There is no government in the world that extends gratefulness to its people in kind. What they do is to ensure that all basic necessities of life are provided for their people. And in fairness to various Nigerian governments over the decades, despite their shortcomings, they have sometimes tried, or at least, think they have. We know they have not, but we cannot write them off as being entirely bad, and we acknowledge that they have not done enough; they have not utilised our resources, both human and natural, effectively and efficiently enough to better the lives of their people. This is corruption. We can slate them on that point alone.
Nigerians are winning all kinds of plaudits and encomiums abroad for their work in foreign countries. Nigerians are Nobel Laureates, Booker Prize winners; senior partners in big international accounting and law firms; we are brilliant consultants, surgeons and medical practitioners in great foreign hospitals; respected technocrats in the government of other countries; erudite and renown lecturers in various disciplines in all universities and research centres all over the world; IT specialists; renowned scientists; great bankers and actuaries; millionaires, politicians and even Mayors and officials of British and American cities; you name it. But exactly what good are these positions or status doing for Nigeria, except to recognise their achievements and probably portray Nigeria in a better light as a country full of brilliant minds, great potentials and what not?