The Diaspora Commission and Matters Arising
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s effort to integrate Nigerians abroad in national development by upgrading the Diaspora department in the foreign affairs ministry to the level of a commission is a welcome development. This proposed action will be of immense benefit to Nigerians both in the Diaspora and in our homeland.
Diaspora is the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland. Diaspora actors can promote or enhance the development of the homeland politically and economically. Also, Diaspora attitude toward homeland are often represented by the values and beliefs held by Diaspora members or perpetuated by Diaspora groups and organizations. These attitudes however, can be alienated, distanced, co-operative, or committed.
Before now, Nigerians in Diaspora have taken the back seat in the political development of our homeland and are not fully utilized by the Nigerian government in the affairs of our nation. It is unfortunate to note that in the twenty first century, Nigerians in the Diaspora can not vote during elections. There are various Diaspora group across the globe – for example the Nigeria Lawyers Association (NLA), Nigeria in Diaspora Organization (NIDO) and tribal organizations among others, who can do more to help in achieving the objectives of the proposed commission.
Diaspora/homeland relationship can sometimes be complicated. Until recently, the Nigerian government and politicians back home are derisive and authoritarian towards Nigerians abroad. Word like meddlesome interloper has been used to describe Nigerians abroad who wants to go back home to be part of the political process. Healthy Diaspora-homeland relations can promote positive contributions to nation building.
But what is actually perceived by Diaspora members to be ‘homeland’ is questionable. Is ‘homeland’ a representation of one’s locality, kin or family? Or is it mainly understood as the state or government? Nigerians were often cynical when it comes to national politics and government, preferring connection with local organizations.
But it becomes clear that most have a strong connection to homeland through family and friends. It should not be so as attitudes towards our government have significant impact on our country. This is an opportunity for the Diasporas to look beyond tribal, family, and friend’s homeland connections by embracing President Jonathan’s propose commission.
Nigerians abroad have an important role to play in contemporary social, economic, and political processes. Remittances from the Nigerian Diaspora (capital in-flow) contribute significantly to the nation's economy.
By contrast, corrupt and unpatriotic leaders and functionaries at home are bleeding the country’s treasury by stashing billions in foreign banks and assets (capital out-flow). It is estimated that Billions of dollars was sent home last year; these remittance stabilizes foreign exchange demand, provides opportunities for employment and is used for educating relatives and friends.
Official figures stress that remittances are the second largest source of foreign exchange receipts in Nigeria. Other Diaspora contributions include tourism, the purchase of Nigerian products (food, arts, music, movies, clothes etc).
"Reverse brain drain", is becoming a major Diaspora contribution to Nigeria. This is when qualified and experience experts in the Diaspora go back home to be part of the country’s economic and political development. It has been reported that several Nigerians in the Diaspora has left for Nigeria or are in the process of leaving.
The Diaspora commission should not just be on paper but should be used as a coordinating agency overseeing the possible placements of these professionals. This can be effectively achieve by taking a lead role in encouraging qualified citizens abroad to go back home and advising the government to create incentives – increase salaries to attract highly skilled Diasporas back to Nigeria. Civil service pay reform can also provide some incentive to the return of Diaspora. Student Loan forgiveness programs can also be introduced to induce Diaspora return to Nigeria.
There are reported cases of Nigerian inventors who have been discouraged by government bottleneck – the commission should have a department overseeing these inventions and the need to match them with the relevant agencies in Nigeria.
Also, it has become extremely difficult for business in Nigeria to transact business abroad; the commission can also act as a clearing house for international business partners who want to do business in Nigeria. I am urging the President and the minister of external affairs to act fast as time is not on the side of this administration.
Felix Ayanruoh Esq.