“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
We Nigerians are a very wonderful people. We are very innovative, very optimistic, and sadly very gullible, and we like to delude ourselves, and this is the sad part of our existence. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said “We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.” I write this as a sequel to my previous article titled “Nigerians in the so-called Diaspora: Abuja, we have a Problem”
Nigerians have excelled in all the various fields of human endeavours all over the world. At least that is what we are made to believe, judging from news stories on a daily basis. Many of us can testify to this fact either because we are the ones who have excelled or from reports from other people of the world commending Nigerian individuals for their achievements in all fields of human endeavour. We have a Nobel Laureate, we have Deputy Presidents of the World Bank; we have thousands of notable medical doctors, journalists, academicians, accountants, engineers, scientists, IT specialists, political scientists, economists, you name it. On the negative side, we are one of the most corrupt country in the world; despite our oil, we are one of the poorest; Nigerians are noted world-wide for drug smuggling and financial scams (419); bribery and corruption; the cities and towns are not safe from criminals; we don’t have electricity, water, good roads, good town planning; the country is in a permanent state of chaos, educational institutions and medical facilities are in the doldrums and almost moribund; we have driven many of our infrastructures to a standstill; you cant trust political leaders, because they are corrupt and murderous. The list seems endless. These are the bane of our lives, our everyday existence.
Since our democratic dispensation began in 1999, a word, or rather, phrase – Nigerians in Diaspora – has suddenly entered into Nigerians’ vocabulary. During the days of intensive politicking and campaigning prior to the 2007 elections in Nigeria, there has been a lot of mention of this phrase.
There were numerous organisations that sprung up in the United States, in the United Kingdom and in other European countries, especially, variously referring themselves to as representing Nigerians in Diaspora. I live in the UK and most of them that claimed to be representing Nigerians in the UK or Europe, I had never heard of, except on the pages of the newspapers or on the internet media, when they want to make some Press Statements, which invariably is to declare support for one Presidential or Gubernatorial candidate or the other. Some even went to the extent of conducting spurious opinion polls which came out with the results that Nigerians were in favour of one politician or the other. In those days, I could not help but laugh at this inanity. Utterly useless exercises. Utterly devoid of any attempt at decency.
But then, guess what? Most of these organisations purportedly representing Nigerians in Diaspora are no more than paid town-criers and propagandists for certain politicians in Nigeria. They have been paid to make as much noise as they can to advance the prospects of their paymasters. Or they are just looking for or positioning themselves for some political relevance in the scheme of things in anticipation of when any candidate that they have made noise for will be elected, so that they will get juicy positions or fat contracts. This phenomenon is still going, of course. It never ends. Sycophancy and flattery will not get us anywhere, as we have come to realise.
Intensive investigation of most such Nigeria in Diaspora organisations is that most of them do not consist of more than a few individuals, headed by someone with a Ph D. Take a look at their membership lists and you will see what I am talking about. If you don’t read between the lines, you might not see it, but while they tell you that they are neutral, they are getting paid by some itinerant politician based in Nigeria. In a way, I tend to marvel at the ingenuity of these people. They were making money, believe me. They were being paid by gullible and corrupt politicians, and why not? Make all the money you can from the politicians, it is part of the national cake, isn’t it? If I cannot get a position in Government, I might as well get paid for being a sycophant. That is the idea. I know one of them who is now laughing all the way to the bank, his dubious work accomplished. Shike na.
It is with such knowledge in mind that I tend to view such organisations with disdain and contempt. And when I saw the recent “Statement of 100 Concerned Nigerians Abroad”, I said to myself, “Here we go again”. While I give due respect to the erudite and eminence of the signatories of this article, and also bemoaned the fact that such erudite collection of Nigerians (and indeed many thousands, if not millions, more) are living outside of Nigeria, (see my previous article – Nigerians In The So-called Diaspora: Abuja, We Have A Problem), I still could not help but feel that Nigerians abroad almost always overestimate their own importance to the development, well-being and progress of that country. We tend to wallow in this self belief that living abroad makes us wealthier, more sophisticated, more savvy and knowledgeable, more creative, more modern, more world-wise than those living within Nigeria. This is the illusion and delusions of grandeur that has unfortunately afflicted some Nigerians living abroad.
So I did a quick research. Wikipaedia, the internet encyclopaedia defines the term “diaspora” (in Greek – “a scattering or sowing of seeds”) used without capitalisation, as referring to any people of ethnic population forced or induced to leave their traditional ethnic homelands; being dispersed throughout other parts of the world, and ensuring development in their dispersal and culture. (This term aptly applies to the dispersal and exile of the Jews as recorded in the Old Testament by the Babylonians in 586 BC and by the Romans in 136 AD. The Jewish diaspora is the most notable, but there are several others in history, even in some African countries) In the beginning, the term “Diaspora” (capitalised) was used by Ancient Greeks to refer to citizens of a grand city who migrated to a conquered land with the purpose of colonisation to assimilate the territory into the empire. History contains numerous diaspora-like events”
>From this definition alone, it is patently obvious and apparent that Nigerians living abroad can never be termed as a people in diaspora. We were, or are, neither forced out of our homelands, nor do we ensure development of our culture in our chosen foreign lands. We do not migrate to a conquered land with the purpose of colonising them or assimilating them into our empire. Even early migration of Nigerians to neighbouring West African countries were not done with these purposes in mind. The closest Nigerians have ever been to a diaspora-like event was during the Biafra War, when thousands of Ibo people were plucked away into safety by countries like Canada and the United States to escape the horrors of the war. But they were taken away (not migrate) to safety with the intention that when the war was over, they will return home. In most cases, this never happened. They stayed put, and I don’t blame them.
Then when General Abacha was riding roughshod over our lives in Nigeria, many Nigerians, not in their thousands, though, fled the country. Most returned. As a matter of fact, some of the returnees used this medium to climb political ladders in our democratic dispensation. Hear it for NA
DECO’s Governor Tinubu of Lagos State. Some used the situation to claim political asylum in the UK, the US and all over Europe. There were even many who were not remotely connected with the democratic struggle against Abacha’s tyranny, but who took the advantage of the situation in Nigeria to seek refuge in these foreign countries. And why not? Nigerians are very quick to see loopholes and exploit them.
How they brought this word or phrase into the Nigerian vocabulary still beats my imagination, but then we are noted for our ingenuity. They must be congratulated for pulling the wool over the eyes of so many of us. Diaspora indeed. I have never heard such rubbish from a people infatuated and engrossed with their own misplaced importance in world history.
A reader wrote me recently to argue that Nigeria is not suffering from anything called Brain Drain, and that even with the evidence of the number of Nigerian professionals living abroad, this is not a problem, since Nigeria does not lack personnel in any discipline relevant in the country. He argued further that there is no hospital in Nigeria known to be lacking in medical personnel as a result of brain drain to America. And that our perceived brain drain is because, as he put it, we think everything in “Oyinbo land” is better than what we have. I agree with my friend, if there is no job for the numerous doctors we have taught, they do not have any other alternative than to leave. Furthermore, if our governments do not build hospitals or install necessary equipment for medical personnel to operate, then they have to find all these elsewhere. So to classify ourselves as a people living in diaspora is arrant nonsense. A complete misnomer. A collective illusion and delusion.
What makes it more worrying is the calibre of people espousing this dubious theory. Nigerians in the 50s and 60s usually came abroad to get some kind of education, most usually on full scholarships at the expense of Nigeria, learn from other people, gain invaluable knowledge and experience in many areas, see the sights, probably marry a white woman for status and then go home, ostensibly to help develop their community and their country. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, some of us do come abroad to study or to further our education, again some on full scholarships and at expense of Nigeria or on their own, and then stay put, blaming the situation at home for our inability or reluctance to go back home, and totally, conveniently ignoring the fact that we owe Nigeria something, scholarship or no scholarship. We settle down abroad, either marry someone we meet here, or send for a new spouse from Nigeria. In many cases, we tend to excel in our areas of profession and contribute to the progress and development of the host country. On the other hand, some of us do come here, as economic refugees, do menial work or perhaps even have a good job and excel again, and there is a problem in going back home. Yet another category of Nigerians find their way into the foreign countries and become a thorn in the neck of the foreign country’s authorities, committing frauds and other crimes. Such Nigerians even go further helping corrupt Nigerian politicians and government officials launder stolen money.
And you know what; all these latter day Nigerians are part of the ones now classifying themselves as Nigerians In Diaspora. Herein lies the problem. You see, the Nigerians in Diaspora syndrome or phenomenon will classify somebody like Professor Achebe with the Nigerian 419 Crook, unfortunately. But that’s the fact. Do not generalise. One hundred Concerned Nigerians abroad were speaking for every Nigerian abroad, rightly or wrongly, that’s the way the world will see it. The so-called Association of Nigerians In Diaspora (ANID) and others of their ilk take on the dubious responsibility of speaking for all us, making irresponsible statements on our behalf, without our consent. Mind you, everybody has the right to associate, assemble and discuss Nigerian issues, but don’t make it seem as if you have the mandate of every Nigerian to speak on their behalf. Say what you want to say, do not insinuate that you are representing all Nigerians, home or abroad. You are not my ambassador. I am not a Nigerian in Diaspora; I am a Nigerian living abroad temporarily, in touch with home and in touch with reality.
What is the point in having a lot of Professors from Nigeria teaching American and British kids, when our children in Nigeria cannot get a good education? Why are my Nigerian doctors treating British patients when our people are dying in their thousands because of lack of medical and health care? Why are there Nigerians managing the local authorities, roads, policing, railways, electricity, communication, hospitals, water companies of Boston, London, New York, Atlanta, Manchester, St Louis, Montreal, Vancouver, Melbourne, Winnipeg, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Houston when we do not have any in Ibadan, Aba, Lagos, Warri, Kano, Onitsha, Ado-Ekiti, Benin, Port Harcourt, Osogbo, Ilorin, Kabba, Abuja, Yola, Minna, Markurdi, Ondo, Ikot-Ekpene, Ogbomoso, Abeokuta? Why are Nigerians cleaning the streets of UK, US and European cities while our very own Lagos is a city full of un-cleared trash? The answer is that we consider ourselves to be in Diaspora rather than living abroad temporarily. The moment when we realise that we are not either a conquering people in search of far-away kingdoms nor were we forced away from our homeland, that is when all these things will keep happening in our own country. If not, forget it. Your contribution to Nigeria is nil. As we say in physics, work done equals zero. That is a fact.
In fairness, and in grateful acknowledgement, there are many sincere Nigerians living abroad, working quietly instead of making the usual loud noises of Nigerians abroad, who are making inroads into creating better lives for their people in Nigeria. These real patriots, either individually or as groups, have created jobs in Nigeria. They employ as many Nigerians as they can, pay taxes and have managed to contribute significantly to not only to the economy of our country, but the alleviation of the problems of their immediate community. Yes, they will make their money, but they have employed people, and are sincere. They did not go back, or trying to go back to take part in the frenzied cake sharing (read – treasury plundering). They go back because of their love for their homeland and people.
This is in stark contrast to many other Nigerians, whose sole purpose of going home is to participate in politics so that they can also take part in the stealing, (I am not against being in politics, as long as it is sincere and for the good and benefit of the people, and not self-serving), get fat contracts which they will never execute, get positions in government as a way of making money. Many of our so called Nigerians in Diaspora fall into this. I have seen a lot of them, believe me. When these dodgy loud-mouths go home on holidays, with their pockets full of dollars and sterling, they live expensive hotels, travel in convoys on our bad roads, and they come back and boast “Ol’boy, Naija na wah o, man just go oppress them”. You see; a Nigerian living abroad saying he went home to “oppress” his fellow Nigerians. And you tell me we are in Diaspora. Like hell we are.
Look at that list of Concerned Nigerians again. Again, I say I am impressed but saddened by the loss of these great minds to Nigeria, instead benefiting Canada, the US and wherever foreign countries they live and work and contribute to their development. And there are many thousands more like them. Some do appear to be like the Flying Dutchman, which aaccording to folklore is a ghost ship that can never go home, doomed to sail “the seven seas” forever. The Flying Dutchman is usually spotted from afar, sometimes glowing with ghostly light. If she is hailed by another ship, her crew will often try to send messages to land, to people long since dead. The sight of this phantom ship is reckoned by seafarers to be a portent of doom. Some of our “Nigerians in Diaspora” do portend doom to the country, judging from their utterances. Very apt.
I have always said it, one of the problems of Nigeria are its educated elites. Take a look at Ekiti State. In that list of 100 Concerned Nigerians, I could count up to 20 Ekiti Ph D holders. Many more are in the UK and all over the world, not to talk of Nigeria. Ekiti is on record as one of the most backward states in the South West, if not in the whole of Nigeria. It was Ekiti State that allowed an educated illiterate to bring anarchy to bear on their governance and see what’s happening now; the educated Ekitis are in disarray again. That just shows us that education by itself is no guarantee of intellect, good governance or ability to differentiate between good and evil. And this is very frustrating to the likes of people, who are trying to use education to have a bearing on good governance and progress in Nigeria. Even being an intellectual does not make one a good administrator or manager of people or resources or of governance.
I say, do something more positive with your eminence, with your renown, with your education. Do not sit in the comfort of your Atlanta living room firing long range salvoes at the people back home. You are more likely to misfire or not hit the target. Become agents of positive change, criticize constructively, offering practical solutions everytime. Do not pander to disgraced and frustrated and corrupt politicians, this will only damage your credibility and integrity. Separate yourselves from the madding crowd. There is nothing like the Nigerian in Diaspora. It is one hell of a myth. We are all living abroad temporarily, and we have to go home, and when we do, we must make positive change in whatever way we can, without political distraction and partisanship. If you don’t want to go back home, keep your mouth shut and continue to help develop your adopted country. There is nothing wrong in changing your citizenship. It is a global world we live in these days, and where you make your life is your country. I have no grudge with that.
When people claim that they are representing “Nigerians in Diaspora”, I say they are deliberately fooling the gullible politicians back home. They do not represent anybody because in most of the countries where we have very large concentrations of Nigerians, Nigerians are hardly cohesive in existence, in other words, we have not be living as a cohesive community, like say, Indians, Chinese, Jews or even the recently migrated Somalians. It is only very recently that Nigerians abroad started having that sense of community, and some committed Nigerians started creating Nigeria-based associations, not tribal organisations, which used to exist in the 70s and 80s. When I was in Winnipeg, Canada in the early 80s, there were separate Ibo and Yoruba societies. Even the Ibo associations were also divided into clans or village meetings. It was my humble self, as a student leader in those days, who now persuaded one of the Ibo leaders (a very go
od friend of mine and very well respected, and who used to believe in Biafra) to form and lead a truly Nigerian organisation; hence the Nigerian Association of Manitoba was born, incorporating all Nigerians. He brought everybody together. I don’t know whether they still exist now.
In London, where, as of the 2001 UK Census, 88000 Nigerians were recorded as living, hardly will you find 30 Nigerians attending the Nigerian Union meeting or any of the other Nigerian associations. My brothers and sisters are busy trying to survive the harsh realities of living in a strange land even after being there for an average of 20 years. Such is life. So what will 30 people discuss about Nigeria? How can 30 people claim they represent all Nigerians in London? In most cases, these 30 people are jostling for positions in the organisation or using the organisation to gain political points with the governments back home anyway. And even these associations are doing nothing either to improve the plight of our people back home nor helping Nigerians here in the UK.
And now they come and tell me they are representing Nigerians in Diaspora, whereas they are only representing themselves or certain political interests in Nigeria. A lot of bull. Don’t try and convince me a monkey is a dog.
That is the way I see it, damnit. Nigeria in Diaspora is a figment of some people’s imagination. It does not exist. Period.
By the time this article is published, Nigeria would have sworn in the new President and the new Governors. Despite the flawed elections, and the world-wide protest against its conduct and results, we can only hope that our leaders will now realise that they cannot continue to cheat Nigerians, and that if some of them thought they have gotten away with it, the people are still waiting for them – Note the following – Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ekiti, Abia , Delta, Edo, Ondo, and Anambra States.