Of Remittances, Nigerians in the Diaspora and 2015... Time to become more engaged

01 Dec 2012

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Diaspora By Ekerete Udoh

About a month ago, I read a comment to an article that was written by a Nigerian in the Diaspora in one of the social media sites, where the writer had railed against the parlous state of infrastructural development in the country, the deficit in democratic dividends and the paucity of that propelling impulse of the common good among the leadership class that had pretty much defined the Western world’s relationship with the governed. The writer had in a non-confrontational manner, but in a voice that was dripping with frustration enjoined the leadership class to do more to advance the peoples’ condition by addressing some of the concerns he had emphasized in the article. The article in my opinion was fair, balanced, and factual and was capable of encouraging further dialogue. But it was not to be.

The reaction from the reader to the intellectually elegant and well written piece was very dismissive and utterly condescending. He had urged readers to disregard the ranting of the naysayer- those ‘run-away’ Nigerians who constantly rail at imaginary deficiencies in the county without deigning to looking at the progress that are being made in some sectors of the Nigerian experience. He added a line that I thought was pretty insulting to Diasporans like my humble self, who in spite of living almost four thousand miles away have remained very engaged with the Nigerian project and are eternally optimistic about the capacity for Nigeria to reclaim the true essence and potentials of its founding. The writer had dismissed  the Diasporans as representing if I may use the famous phrase of a former U.S. Vice President-Spiro Agnew  “nattering nabobs of negativitism” – that we don’t matter electorally in Nigeria since “over 90 percent of us “can’t vote, have not registered” and therefore are inconsequential players in the Nigerian political arena.

I was personally offended by that writer’s comment because I, like thousands of other Diasporans that I know and have actively interacted with, are as invested and committed to the development of Nigeria using some of the best practices available as those who are on the ground in Nigeria. I was a keen observer and participant of the last Nigerian elections and had registered to vote and actually stood under the scorching sun in Uyo, Akwa Ibom to vote in all the elections. I covered the primaries at Eagles Square, Abuja where President Jonathan had emerged the winner and also attended numerous campaign rallies at both my state and the grand finale of the Presidential campaign at Eagles Square. All of this was done with my own resources, because of my commitment to the Nigerian project.  The Nigerian Diasporan community should not be dismissed with such sleight of hand, but should be actively courted to be a part of the developmental plans of the country. Earlier this week, the World Bank released a report in which it stated that Nigerians abroad by the end of this year would have remitted home the sum of 3.27 trillion Naira- a figure that was the highest in sub-Saharan Africa and was only topped by China and India.

It is instructive to note that the two countries-India and China are prime members of the BRIC  states- the world’s fastest growing economies which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and a recent addition-South Africa . These are countries that have leveraged and utilized the skill sets of its Diasporan population and actively courted them and the result is there for everyone to see. A mere two decades ago, India was a country that was ravaged by widespread poverty with some of its best brains leaving the hopelessness of India to seek economic refuge in the United States and other western countries. Today, the same Diasporans who were economic refugees have returned home to India triumphantly and have remained the catalysts that helped make India the outsourcing capital of the world, where to get  certain  information on some of my credit cards such as American Express, a man or woman from Bangalore or Mumbai is the one that would answer the call.

Indian government, acutely aware of the skills set and other best practices that these Diasporans had garnered, actively encouraged and made them integral part of the development of the country. They were invited to fill some key positions in government and the private sectors and gradually a new way of doing things became internalized by the people, leading to a tipping point where old order gave way to new approaches and India is the better for it today. Our leaders now undertake frequent medical tourism (whatever that means) to India. A powerful Diasporan department exists within the Indian government where the best the country has offered the world is regularly called upon to give back to their country.

Until 1978 when Deng Xiaoping took over the reins of government in China, the country was largely agrarian with its streets filled with peasant looking, bicycle riding population. The collectivist ideology that Mao Tse Tung had introduced since 1949 revolution had foresworn capitalistic approach to economic planning. Capitalism was abolished and those who remotely entertained market value approach to solving economic problems were purged and sometimes made to pay the ultimate price. The attendant economic misery led millions of Chinese to fleeing the land to look for succor and opportunities elsewhere-especially in the United States.

When Deng Xiaoping introduced the reforms that gradually allowed private ownerships of capital and the tools of production, it was to the Chinese experts in the Diaspora that Comrade Deng turned to, and they responded in equal measure. Chinese scientists were able to copy and replicate western technologies and introduced other best practices that in a short three decades span had launched the Chinese economy into becoming the second largest in the world with the prediction by analysts that it would become the world’s largest by 2025. China, already is acting like a major power, flexing its soft power muscle and winning the hearts and minds of countries especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nigerian Diaspora is seen as some of the most knowledgeable and skilled immigrant group here in the United States. We are according to the United States Bureau of statistics and Census Board, the most educated immigrant community in the United States. There is hardly any industry that demands intellectual rigor that you won’t find a Nigeria at either at the mid level management cadre or at the top echelon. The Nigerian Diaspora is about the most patriotic  you can find-he or she  is eternally concerned about Nigeria, how we can engender new approaches to service delivery, to governance issues and, above all, is ready and willing to render his service to the country when called upon.

Instead of being invited to bring to bear his knowledge base, he is regularly insulted and even taunted by people such as the guy I had mentioned in the opening paragraph of this piece.

And this brings me to the issue of remittances. If the Nigerian Diaspora community remitted such a colossal amount of money to the Nigerian economy, it should be able to have some influence in the electoral process. He should be allowed to vote and to insist on having people that are qualified to lead irrespective of geography emerge.  The Nigerian Diaspora community must wake up and begin to assert its economic might. If the larger Nigerian Diaspora community banded together, and form a strong Political Action Committee, and through such PACs influence the members of their families and communities who for the most part depend on the remittances they send to Nigeria and demand that they vote for only candidates the PAC had endorsed, we may be able to influence a new culture in politics- a culture where candidates don’t just mouth platitudes and take the voters for granted, but would actively speak to issues and concerns that the voters care about.

The Nigerian Diaspora community must work toward getting the community the right to vote. If that fails, it must bring its economic might to bear and help force a change of approach. The 2015 elections, as I have stated in previous columns and other analysts have equally been saying will be decidedly different from past elections. Citizens’ participation and the insistence on their votes being counted and be seen to have counted would be a major propelling impulse. Candidates will speak directly to the concerns of the electorate and minds would be changed and persuaded. The Nigerian Diaspora community must be ready and able to play critical roles in the evolving democratic process in Nigeria.

Instead of accepting the condescending dismissal of  our community as being electorally insignificant  within the Nigerian electoral process, the community should rise up and demand its voice to be heard and heard loudly too. A community that remits 3.27 trillion to the economy of Nigeria cannot and should not be dismissed as inconsequential. Time to wake up guys!

ICPC Chairman Seeks Partnership with Nigerians in the Diaspora

Nigeria’s Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is committed to establishing a partnership with the Nigerian Diaspora in fighting corruption in Nigeria. Mr. Ekpo Nta, Chairman of ICPC, stated this last Sunday in New York at a Quarterly Community Dialogue organized by the Akwa Ibom New York Community Forum.

The Forum is committed to encouraging dialogue between the Akwa Ibom Diaspora in New York and senior Nigerian public and elected officials. Among other objectives, the Forum seeks to make a difference by promoting a healthy relationship with top Nigerian Public officials and leaders at home, a good understanding of their mission and values, the Diaspora perspective, and how both can work together to narrow any differences consistent with their shared values.“I invite you to serve as ICPC Volunteers”, the Chairman told the audience, who gathered at Buka- an upscale Restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn, across the bridge from Manhattan.

Elaborating on how members of the Diaspora can collaborate partner with ICPC, the Chairman explained that, “as volunteers, you can promptly notify ICPC by phone or email the moment any one seeks to extort money from you at the airport, in the course of official duties, and the person will be promptly arrested.” Elaborating further he warned travelers to desist from offering bribes, or giving tips, to airport officials in Nigeria since they don’t do that outside the Country. In its fight against corruption, ICPC detectives will arrest both the person offering and the person taking the bribe.

Explaining the menace of corruption and the damage it has done to the common man and the polity, the Chairman outlined the steps his Commission has taken to control corruption, which include among others, System Studies of Local Governments, Lands Administration, partnership with the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC) to clean up tertiary academic institutions, because of its implications for young people who are the long term casualties. Mr. Nta stressed the important role that the Diaspora can play in support of the fight against all forms of unethical practices in public life in Nigeria.

The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission or Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission) according to a listing in Wikipedia is a Nigerian agency that was inaugurated on the 29th of September 2000 following the recommendation of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The mandate is to receive and investigate reports of corruption and in appropriate cases prosecute the offender[s], to examine, review and enforce the correction of corruption prone systems and procedures of public bodies, with a view to eliminating corruption in public life, and to educate and enlighten the public on and against corruption and related offences with a view to enlisting and fostering public support for the fight against corruption. The Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000 governs the committee’s activities.

Nominated by President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Nta was confirmed by the Nigerian Senate and sworn in October, 2012, as substantive Chairman of ICPC. He is the third substantive Chairman appointed to the post since the establishment of the ICPC in 2000.

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