An issue that is silently creeping upon the Nigerian polity with little or no discourse has been on my mind for a while. Since the advent of democracy in 1999, the economic landscape and psychological state of Nigeria and Nigerians has been changing. For better or for worse, is still the question for debate by individuals who have benefited from those changes or those who happen to find themselves on the other side of the tracks. No matter the degree of cynicism that the Nigerian project offers its stakeholders, these changes are undeniable and in some instances, remarkable by global standards. A clear pointer is the reform in the Nigerian banking industry, a fledgling telecom market and a growing awareness of democracy as a conduit for the expression of opinion. The last manifest of change been adequately exemplified by Nigerians’ open questioning of authority in recent months, with regard to publicly scrutinized scandals that in times past would draw little interest, be hushed by political violence or if lucky, the perennial GMG syndrome (oh…the generic name is Ghana–Must–Go). With growing foreign reserves, economic sectors that are drawing interest from international investors and the subtle emergence of the non-existent middle class, it seems that we might be on our way to a more sensible approach to nation building. In these circumstances, romantic optimists might become easily giddy at the mantra of a New Nigeria whose financial potential and regional muscle in such an oil-rich region piques the interest of not only the global financial community but also, the international geopolitical establishment and various peoples seeking to tap into this emerging market.
What bothers me the most is that the mirage portrayed by such optimists and a political elite that is more conscious of its well being in utter disregard for the greater good of the Nigerian people, is exactly that. A mirage. A utopia not shared by our people in the Niger Delta. A nirvana that our uneducated citizens in Northern states cannot fathom. A promise that Easterners are not dreamy about, being psychologically categorized as second-class members of the Nigerian nation, four decades after Biafra. A proposition that a politically conscious West takes to heart with a pinch of salt, after the raw deal they have gotten from unreliable cultural leaders and record holding sycophants. A Middle Belt that still struggles with its identity in a Yoruba-Igbo-Hausa dominated environment. We all can rave about our struggles but we take solace in the fact that we are all Nigerians, bound by a history of intolerable leadership, an entrepreneurial streak and tenacity that the rest of the world envies. It is my prayer that if we get things right this time, that every Nigerian be given the fair and equal opportunity to partake in a realistic “Nigerian Dream”. I say this because it seems we have a leadership that has no planning skills that exceed their term limits and who are preparing us for a greater showdown, if vital steps are not taken. What is this issue of prime importance that is causing you to cringe in despair already? It is the subject of immigration.
“Immigration? Is it that not an American problem?” I can hear you say. Yes, we do not exactly have (unfairly bastardized) Mexicans running across Seme border, looking for a better life in Nigeria. We do not have a “green card” for South Africans dying to live and work in Nigeria. No, what we do have is no sensible plan and immigration policy to manage the economic and political gestation period Nigeria is going through. No, I am not a black “minuteman”, neither am I a proponent for closed borders and an irrational policy such as the one in the early 1980s, where we threw out millions of other Africans (particularly Ghanaian nationals) once our oil economy went bust. Why do I consider this a matter that Nigerian policy makers should be making a top priority? Well, for one, how about making plans for a crisis before the stuff hits the fan? You see strategic planning seems to evade the mindset of our leaders. Maybe we have technocrats that see the impending danger but have a hard time, explaining the issue to a knucklehead appointee who has no formal training but who has a job because he or she belongs to the “right party”. We might be a democracy and have a growing market that interests the world but that is not the all in all. True leadership requires that the economic, political and social conditions of its citizenry be given adequate focus. As our economy draws people from around the world, Nigerians should be prepared for the obvious changes around them and not fall into the xenophobic and racist disaster that characterizes immigration policy in countries such as the US, South Africa and parts of Europe. Foreigners have always being part of the Nigerian fabric but never to the scale that globalization and a growing economy are going to force Nigerians to experience in the coming years.
Various reports indicate that Nigeria would be among the leading world economies by 2050 (whether by omission or commission, na only God sabi) and already we have witnessed the effects under less than a decade of democracy and a more open society. Lagosians are still in shock at the number of Asians in that city, with Indian cuisine and Chinatowns becoming more the norm than the exception. The financial district on Broad Street in downtown Lagos has white guys hanging around, researching investment opportunities in the stock market and other ventures. In Northern Nigeria, the Lebanese, Ethiopians and Indian businessmen are expanding their reach in industries that they have maintained a historical stranglehold on for decades. A growing natural gas industry and the discovery of new oil wells are bringing in more Oyibos each day into Port Harcourt, guaranteeing “market” for Niger Delta militants! We are not the rainbow nation of South Africa nor a diverse society like the United States, but our shades are indeed changing from the rich brown skin that we have known for centuries to a coloration that many of us are hesitant or yet to recognize. Whether we like it or not, “they” are coming. However, the conservative psyche of the largest black nation on earth seems not to be in class for those changes. Our pride as the most populous African nation with our tentacles spread globally in business, medical research, organized crime, literature, religion and culture, does not help matters. Unlike many other African nations (I write this to the chagrin of other Africans!), Nigerians have an unrivaled pride in themselves and make no apologies for who we are. The idea that some other people may come and take away our distinction and uniqueness is more than a little unsettling to the average Nigerian, brimming with political zeal. This was evident to me at a conference in Houston, where other Nigerian professionals and I met to discuss on issues affecting the homeland. Someone made a comment, “O boy, dem oyibo dem dey make money for Naija no be small o! Kai, if u see the houses for Abuja wey dis Oyibo build for im and im family…chai Nna, I wan pack my load waka go Naija now now” (yes, professionals prefer pidgin). I replied that indeed, it seems foreigners particularly the Lebanese seem to have a better eye for making money than native-born Nigerians. Someone then told the classic story of the ‘thieving and conniving’ Lebanese entrepreneur who in cohort with former military dictatorships handled bribe-induced construction contracts, engaged in money laundering and foreign exchange ‘round-tripping’, and mistreated Nigerians in their sweatshop work facilities. At this juncture, one of the discussants in a very boisterous tone expressed his hatred for all Lebanese and prayed for the day when all of them would leave our country. Patriotic sentiment? I will argue pure racism, cloaked in the garb of nationalism. Short of looking at a potential Nigerian “skinhead”, after those Nazi weirdoes in Europe and rural America, I was flabbergasted and told him that his comments were totally out of line. I asked him to reconcile his presence in America as an immigrant with full rights as native-born American citizens, while labeling another human being as undesirable for having the intent to live and excel in a foreign country. With no response, I politely let him wallow in his hypocrisy in silence.