March 10, 2011

Nigerian Diaspora: Issues from North Africa

The term diaspora was used originally to identify the Jewish people who are resident outside of Palestine or scattered like “ seeds” throughout the world. In the context of Nigerian experiences it has come to be applied to Nigerians resident abroad and who are equally widely travelled and dispersed with the reputation of being the most populous African nation. The term seems to apply well. It used to be that the life of a Nigerian resident abroad was worth less than the sand on the sea shore. And why is that so, seeing that Nigeria as a nation is one of the riches countries in Africa? Simple. Millions of Nigerians leave the country daily. Many in search of the holy grail, running away from an economic depression or from being caught in a vicious web of intrigues; ethnic, religious, economic or political.Add your voice

When President Goodluck Jonathan authorized the evacuation of Nigerians from the conflicts in North Africa he made history. He became the first Nigerian leader since Sir Lord Lugard to take such action. It could be argued that the need to evacuate stranded Nigerians abroad was not necessary in the early 1900s. Let’s take a look at that. The first official administration in Nigeria was the colonial administration headed by Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard, 1914 – 1919. During this period modern Nigerians were completely resident mainly in Nigeria, within the boundaries of  present day  Federal Republic of Nigeria. This must have remained largely so during the next forty years from 1919 – 1960.  However, around the period after World War II, 1945, some Nigerians, mostly from the elite or elitists, began to travel abroad in search of some credible education according to the standards of the new world. Two factors made any evacuation less needful. Most of these Nigerians were still under the protection of Britain as citizen of a British colony. The world had fewer restriction to immigration and most countries are yet recovering from the shock of the most bloody World War yet.

Then came the independence struggle. The nationalists, suddenly found themselves in harms way in their own country of birth and threatened by the supposed protector (colonialists). The excuse was the notion that it is the duty of the Europeans to civilize Africans. A concept referred to as the “white man’s burden”. Independence was won eventually. Some on the negotiating table, some on the streets of rebellion or a combination of both. Self rule brought with it several challenges. Ethnic nationalities that began to struggle for more independence or authority over the rest within one nation and a new emerging ideological cold war. In Nigeria the result was a civil war in 1966. All evidence point to the fact that the current dispersion of Nigerians throughout the world started with the civil war. Today the challenge remains that there are thousands of undocumented Nigerians in almost every corner of the world. The central government lost control of immigration/emigration from that initial point. The rot started with the administration of General Gowon. The distrusts and betrayals of the civil war made many Nigerians unwilling to accept their national identity and unwilling to submit to the protection an authority of Nigeria foreign missions anywhere in the world. Many Nigerians still feel “foreign” or second class in their own country. The Federal Government equally failed to care for its citizens both home and in the diaspora. Elements of these feeling continues till today. Instead of identifying with the country, the embassy or the Federal Government as proud citizens of a country that cares, most Nigerians abroad identify only with their ethnic or cultural group if at all. This is why President Jonathan action, in ordering the evacuation of Nigerian in North Africa, is a small step but a giant leap for Nigeria. For once Nigerians in trouble caught in an unrelated crossfire can confidently say, here I am, I am a Nigerian. This is unprecedented. A sense of pride in oneself, in ones identity, history, and origin is a vital aspect of self actualization, self respect, self believe and the wellspring of great achievements. But that is not all. There is more steps that the Federal Government needs to take. We shall talk about it now. Add your voice

The state of the Nigerian Diaspora. If I had the resources I would have loved to interview a selection of the Libyan returnees. Indications are that there are convicted prisoners among them who are now apparently free to return home and try again. There are mostly families with children. Women who are pregnant, probably with Libyan husbands and there is report on the punch newspapers of a woman who gave birth on the way. There was also several undocumented emigrants on their way to Italy or other parts of Europe. Of all these the hardest hit would be the legally resident Nigerians who have built a respectable name for themselves and who have families, respectable occupation or business and a livelihood that is now up in smoke overnight. And what is the Federal Government going to do to resettle these people, each and everyone of them? Well my guess. The National Environmental Management Agency, NEMA, would organize for security agencies to clear the returnees. Some medical checks and pronto everyone is let loose on the society like the Spanish bull runs. Everyone is back on his own after loosing everything and is back to probably depend on the people who, just a month ago, lived on remittances from them. You call that fate? I call that disaster. So what must the Federal Government do? Give hand-outs of cash? From where? Well not exactly. In this case there is not much the Government could do, because there has been no plan for this kind of emergency. But my thought is that now is the time to make a long time plan and start to actively restore the pride of our people and the confidence of the citizens on the Government. A kind of insurance for Nigerian Diaspora should be in place. So this kind of emergencies could be covered as well on an individual basis. A marginal tax on air travel tickets out of Nigeria could be a source of funds for such insurance to be held by a reputable insurer.Add your voice

Phillip Emeagwali


Phillip Emeagwali: Arguably one of the most influential Nigerian Scientists in Diaspora.



Nigerians in Organisation. The Federal Government had taken a good step previously since 2001 to establish an organisation to compile a database of Nigerian Diaspora as a veritable skills pools on which to draw (see ). I have no doubt that Nigeria as a nation has substantial intellectual capital and resources among the diasporas. There are very many Nigerian professionals abroad who can do what the country is paying expatriate millions of dollars to do. And they can do it with the passion and favour of citizens if given the same liberty and honour similar to what we give the expatriates ‘mercenaries’. I have not space here to begin to list the achievements of influential Nigerians in diaspora. It also goes without saying that there are also ordinary Nigerians in ordinary jobs abroad who have sufficient integrity, ethical awareness and experience in simple official protocols and procedures, which are very often lacking in Nigeria civil service, and can help bring back some respect to Government work in the country when given the opportunity. What is the point of all this essay? If we are to survive as a people and re-brand our image to that of an effective, honest people and achievers, we must first bring our people together to identify with the collective and not the regional or cultural niches. And we have hundreds of these niches. President Jonathan has done well on that with that one step. I commend the effort.


Anonymous said...

the crisis is deepening.recent news reports suggest there are in excess of 10000 undocumented nigerians in libya.

ade said...

WIll government give up on this? will they put better plans in place? Does the president really really care or is this a new concept in politics?

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