Ibrahim B. Babangida
By Roland Ogbonnaya
For many, it started gradually as if nothing was happening, and before time most Nigerian professionals were outside the country. Universities and other tertiary institutions and even other sectors were crying over brain drain.The impact of the IMF-inspired Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) during the President Ibrahim B. Babangida regime, which fundamentally destabilised the country’s economy was attributed as the reason for this exodus of Nigerian professionals to America, Europe and Asia. This ultimately altered the mobility of some of the nation’s brightest intellects in favour of a migratory urge to more clement pastures abroad.
This exodus of Nigerians quickly swelled the community of Nigerians in diaspora and would soon assuage the sense of loss with the speculated benefits of alleged millions of dollars monthly remittances by Nigerians working abroad every month. It was of no consequence that the moneys sent back home can only be a tiny fraction of the total loss Nigeria suffered from the forced absence of these expatriate Nigerians from their home country, a report said.
When former president Olusegun Obasanjo recognised the potentials of Nigerians in diaspora to the economic growth of the country, he went from time to time to appeal to such Nigerians overseas to begin to think of coming home to invest in the country’s economy or government with the emerging democratic government in place. Subsequently afterwards, other presidents after him and governors keyed into the message wooing Nigerians in diaspora to bring their funds back home to invest in the country’s economy.And as the years go bye the calls and appeals kept reverberating across America and Europe with the message: come and invest back home.
Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga earlier this month hinted that one of his short term objectives with the newly created ministry, saddled with an enviable mission to facilitate much needed local and foreign investment into Nigeria, is the establishment of a Diaspora Fund to help boost the country’s growing economy. Speaking in Lagos, the minister made known his four-year plan, saying that considering the amount Nigerian diaspora remitted back to the country — largely to family members — annually, the economy stand more to benefit if Nigerians are encouraged to do the same formally. He said “We have so many Nigerians in the Diaspora. The economies of many countries were built based on investments from people living abroad. We are in the process of structuring a fund, which we hope to put in place sometime in September when all the approvals are in place. That fund will be targeting those Nigerians in the Diaspora. They will come in, bring their money and invest.”
Why not. According to the World Bank, in 2009, about $18.6billion was remitted to this country by Nigerians in the Diaspora. If half of that is channelled into the country’s economy, experts believe the country will have enough capital to invest in the economy. Latest World Bank figure (2010) shows that Nigeria is the 6th largest recipient of remittances in the world, behind India, China, Mexico, Philippines and Bangladesh. In 2010, Nigerians living abroad remitted more than $10 billion back home — not including money transfer that not formally accounted for. Globally, the World Bank pecks the value of remittance flow at $440 billion.
Considering the volume of remittances flowing to developing nations, diaspora bonds (diaspora fund) has gained significance popularity as potential source of capital for financing infrastructure and development projects. According to reports available to THISDAY, Israel (from 1951) and India (from 1991) are two notable examples of countries that have successfully engaged their citizens through issuance of diaspora bonds. Both countries have since raised more than US$40billion, said Sonia Plaza and Dilip Ratha, Editor of World Bank’s Diaspora for Development in Africa.
Aganga believes that the Diaspora fund is the key to short term investment drive needed to address Nigeria shabby infrastructure, too inferior to support the country’s economic ambition. This is even more important as potential investors from Europe and America are overwhelmed by unflattering debt crisis that continued to hunt their respective economies. Greece and some other European countries can attest to this.
However, it is not unusual for our fellow countrymen to miss their fatherland and some of them are even eager to make whatever contribution or already making contributions that will remediate some of the challenges. Amongst such people are successful technocrats, bankers, engineers, computer gurus, surgeons and professors in some of the world’s best universities and corporate bodies. They are either appointed into government or they are establishing businesses. The government’s creation of an agency for the diaspora was an attempt to formally harness the intellects of this caliber of Nigerians to the service of their fatherland.
Also, towards realising the country’s goal of becoming one of the world’s largest economies by the year 2020, Nigerians in the Diaspora, under the aegis of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) Washington DC chapter held a world conference aimed at attracting more American investors to Nigeria recently. The organisers further said that the world conference was to create an environment in which investors will have opportunities to target the needs of each specific government and businesses from Nigeria; and tailor investment instruments to meet such needs.
But the Nigerian government will have to do more to persuade skeptic citizens, who remains doubtful of government ingenuity and transparency when it comes to managing the peoples wealth. With the perception of high corruption among government officials, weak justice system and lack of continuity in government policies, the minister might be forced to do more than just being a policy maker, but a believable marketer.
Many Nigerians living outside the country, largely in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada could still recall how they lost theirs savings, worth millions dollar to failed banks of the 90‘s, a report said.