Reverse Migration: Time To Go Home

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

“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?

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5 comments June 26, 2007 - 4:57 pm

I look forward to your return to Nigeria in the near future.

prince kennedy Iyoha June 21, 2007 - 5:16 pm

Mr Akintokunbo Adejumo. I want to thank you for your in-depth thought, about the need for Nigerians in Diaspora to contribute to the development of our country ailing infrastructure. I will like to relate this article to what Paul Adujie published about the contributions of Asians in Diaspora to the development of economies like the giant China, India and Vietnam. In his article, he mentioned the single handed contribution of the Jews in Diaspora, to the creation and development of the state of Israel.

It is a beautiful thing if we, i.e., Nigerians in Diaspora, can put in our seeds of sand to help uplift the economy of our country. We most not forget however, that more than 40 billion dollars is invested into the Nigeria economy via sending money to friends and families home, from Nigerians resident abroad, and many are erecting buildings, thereby investing cash and infrastructure into the economy, though the country need more industries and multi purpose infrastructures like good roads, constant power supply, that can help the growth, and encourage more multi national companies to come and invest here.

I am convinced that many Nigerians resident outside its shores, have the contact and capabilities to introduce o present Nigeria to federations or industrial owners unions in their respective countries of resident, that may be interested, or looking for a growing economy to invest. We can contribute to the economy in various ways, without the need to coming down to reside in the country. I agree with the first contributor when he informed that his home is where he finds peace and tranquillity, but most remember that if America did not work to develop itself, it would have been difficult for him to have peace and tranquillity in that country today We that reside in develop countries, should realise that we are enjoying the hard work and labour of men and women that have put in their best to make these countries what they are, therefore we have a moral obligation to contribute our very little to help, rather than criticising government policies even when it’s objective is at the long run for the best interest of the country.

I will also want to point here that CARE. Which is an umbrella organization for Africans resident in Spain, is doing everything possible to see that justice is down to the memory of the late Mr Osamuyia Aikpitanhi, that died in a plane when he was been repatriated to Nigeria. The result of the first autopsy about what lead to his death is still inconclusive, though we have many version of what really happened to this young man. We as an organization and I as the founder and president have personally sent letters to every organ of Government, and to the European parliament, condemning the actions of the cops, and demanding justice and fair play in the investigation, while asking for the suspension of the cops involved in the unfortunate incidents till investigation is conclusive

segun akinyode June 21, 2007 - 8:49 am

I like the frankness of the first respondent,Julius.If Egbon Adejumo and those reasoning like the second respondent, Paul Odu,like let them go to Nigeria and wait for Paul Odu's list of ifs to be.For me, though I still obtain my bread and butter in Nigeria, am aware that I will soon leave Nigeria for good.I will not return.I have been staying in Nairobi in the last dix months and I want to confess that life in Kenya is relaticely better than what is obtained in Nigeria.We are only deceiving, cheating,looting and pretending that all is well.I am an incurable pesimist about the future of Nigeria.It is sad but that is the truth.Egbon Adejumo, conduct your research diligently and tell me that thing that is working as it should in our fatherland.Electricity,education,health,economy,social security.All the negative things of this world are residing in Nigeria with no prospect of relief in sight. All that assails your ear everyday is billions of dollars voted for this and that.Several billions of pounds received in form of grant and aid.You look around and you do not see the impact, the effect of the money any where.What sort of living is that? What will bring sanity to the polity called Nigeria is simple.I have said it before and I will reply it again,Nigeria needs J J Rawlings type of revolution.O pari.

Paul Odu (USA) June 20, 2007 - 7:43 pm

Mr. Adejumo, your article is very relevant at this time of Nigeria's political and economic struggle. I want to agree with you that Nigerians all over the world should seek ways of returning home in order to help develop/transform the economy in particular and the country in general. The simple fact remains that the Obasanjo's era was very notorious and hostile to some Nigerians that returned home to serve in his government. If you recall how OBJ treated and humiliated Dr. Okonjo Iweala and many others, you will agree with me that the OBJ's government was very unstable and very dubious for any right thinking person to return home to serve. Because OBJ was very brutal and heavily corrupt, many people never saw the need to return home to serve in his government. I want to tell you that, it is the type of leader that Nigeria produces that will determine whether people return home or not. If the government of Yar'Adua can show sincerity and commitment to the needs and aspirations of Nigerians all over the world, Nigerians would find it meaningful to return home to assist the new government. Nigerians abroad are watching events back home with keen interest I want to assure you.

julius June 20, 2007 - 2:26 pm

You are very right Mr. Adejumo, I myself I'm a Nigerian living in the US, and I have sat down and asked myself this question when am I going to go back home, do I want to die here in the US, what about my kids? etc. However, unlike you I have come to the conclusion that home for me is in heaven so whether in Nigeria, US or UK I'm only on a sojourn. I will surely take my kids to Nigeria to see where I was born but it is their choice if they want to go back or remain in their own country (US) I might be discriminated against (same way I was discriminated against when I lived in Kano), looked down upon etc, but here the law gives me the opportunity to fight for my right and fight I will. Migration started even before Christ, Abraham did it and so many others, Joseph died in egypt, so did Jacob eventhough his bones were later shipped back to his fatherland. If my kids like let them ship my bones back to Nigeria I careless cos I'm already gone anyway infact I'm thinking of donating all my organs and cremating the rest. For those that will like to go back home I'm proud of y'all, and wish y'all the very best. As for me, I have only one life to live Bro Adejumo, the US affords me that opportunity to enjoy that life, when we get to heaven we shall discuss the rest. Stay blessed egbon.


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