Time to partner and tap the skills set of our Diaspora

23 Feb 2013

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By Ekerete Udoh

Last weekend, I was invited by a top Nigerian born physician to a party to celebrate the 40th birthday of his wife, who is also a physician in Uniondale, Long Island, New York. The chief host had told me most of the invitees are regular readers of my weekly column in this newspaper, and I should thus come prepared to be peppered with questions about the state of things in Nigeria, given the regularity of my trips to Nigeria and some insights I may be willing to share, as a member of the Nigerian punditry class.

As I walked into the expansive living room I was impressed by the assemblage of the Nigerian Diaspora high-achievers.   Relaxed and taken in by the conviviality of the moment were physicians of different specializations, lawyers, scientists,  pharmacists, nurses, engineers-practically every profession was represented , and most of them were men and women below 50 years. Discussions soon devolved around the Nigerian state, the challenge of development, the severance of the bond of the social contract, promotion of parochial and narrow interest over national, the use of religion as a wedge issue to sow distrust and create the other,   a public policy formation that lacks continuity but relies on the whims and designs of a new president or governor- or what Dr. Okorie a neurosurgeon called the public policy by  trial and error, or one that relies more on ad-hoc arrangements , the promotion of an out-dated governing mechanics predicated on zoning, which according to Engineer Akpan of Manhasset, Long island, promotes mediocrity over talents and skills and where accent is unnecessarily put on geography instead of proven ability and the capacity to promote the common good.

On every issue germane to our national development, these group of highly skilled Nigerians had solid ideas on how the country could be moved forward, and their ideas pretty much align with some of the best practices available today and they all expressed deep sadness over a lack of concerted efforts on the part of government to appropriate their skills- set toward national development.  

We have been eminently blessed by this country- we have gotten the best education money can buy and have subsequently been materially and professionally blessed. Most of us here are not asking for hand-outs from government, we are not asking for any outlandish gratifications, all we are asking is that we be allowed to use our knowledge base and exposure to new ways, new ideas to help in the developmental efforts of our dear country Dr. Mahmud- a Kogi state physician had stated.

One thing I took away from the party which got me wondering aloud as I drove back slowly on the Long island Expressway (LIE) back to my home in Queens, New York, was why Nigeria has not appropriated the skills set of its Diasporan community a community that in spite of deep frustrations some of its members have vented on social media and other mainstream media platforms are none-the-less ready and willing to be co-opted into its national development. I have made this point several times and at the risk of sounding like a broken cord, India and China in particular have crawled out of poverty and emerged as economic or soft powers because it partnered with its Diaspora population. Why are we afraid to do same?

President Jonathan two years ago had appointed the delectable widow of the late Biafran leader- Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu as the Special Assistant on Diasporan Affairs and the Diaspora community was eagerly looking forward to working with her to mutually appropriating the skills set of our Diaspora community and to add value to certain aspects of our national development. Unfortunately, given the deteriorating health of her then husband- the late Gen. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu did not spend enough time on the job to carry out some of her bold initiatives. She is currently the Nigerian Ambassador to Spain.

As we speak, government has not appointed another Special Assistant for Diasporan Affairs. It is bewildering that a community so important- which according to the recent World Bank report on Remittances, the Nigerian Diaspora community remitted over10 billion dollars to the Nigerian economy has not been embraced by the Nigerian government. A community that parades professionals in all facets of the human endeavor, a community that plays critical role in American health-care delivery, a community that has  its citizens in virtually every profession that demands intellectual curiosity and rigor, a community that according to  a recent U.S. Bureau of Census, is the most educated of all recent immigrant groups in the U.S with an average family having at least a bachelor degree, a community where at every gathering and social events, the citizens  display such deep rooted  love and  faith  and are eternally  hoping and praying for the day the nation will truly fulfill the essence of its founding- government must partner with this community.

India and China knew the role their Diasporans would play in its developmental efforts and moved quickly to incorporate them into their developmental plans. We should do the same. The first step is to appoint a Special Assistant who will work and meld the intellectual and financial resources of this proud Diasporans in our developmental efforts. All over the United States, Nigerians are willing to endure some of the challenges that exist in the country because they believe Nigeria tomorrow would be better than today. I have seen young people who are thoroughly American-born, raised and bred here, but who are ready to jump to Nigeria and contribute toward national renewal if the opportunity presented itself.  Some, already employed in Fortune 500 companies have asked me to put in some words on their behalf to certain people in government, to facilitate their relocation to Nigeria. These are patriots- who are not asking for anything outrageous from government, but just to be given a chance to help move the country forward. At socio-cultural organizations, I have been asked to use this platform to tell government to interface and work with our vast Diaspora community, and I think it is truly shameful that a country that has over 10 million of its highly trained nationals has not found ways and means of doing so.

The interest to contribute to the development of Nigeria is not restricted to Nigerian Diasporas alone- African -Americans and those form the Caribbean have asked me about how they can relocate to Nigeria. At an event last year organized by a former New York Television legend-Bill Mcreary to mark Black History month and where I, along with Kenton Kirby-the Publisher of the largest Caribbean newspaper in the United States-Caribbean Life were honored by the New York State Senate, many of the highly accomplished Caribbean and African American professionals who attended the event peppered me with questions about investment opportunities and how they can buy summer homes in Nigeria.

Last year, during a trip to Jamaica, from Kingston, to Run-Away Bay, to Monte-go-Bay and Ochio-Rios, most people I met and introduced myself as a Nigerian were excited about Nigeria and their hopes of visiting and exploring investment opportunities.

Government must seriously begin to think up ways of harnessing this pool of talents out here. The start should be to have an individual whose job it would be to work with this group of talented nationals and others who believe totally in the Nigerian project and are willing to give it their all in aid of our developmental strides.

Liontel Provides cheap calling plans to Nigeria
Liontel Communications- a calling card service provider promoted by the Liberian born Sonny Adadi and his  Benin-Edo state born wife, have taken the calling card service by the storm. Since introducing Liontel services to the Nigerian community, the service has exploded exponentially.  Now, Nigerians with family members in the United States can call their loved ones, for pennies. All they have to do according to Mr. Adadi  is to download into their blackberries, Android, Symbian, Nokia, Ericson, Pc, I pads etc the apps by visiting and save the Liontel access number of 1-7182696200 on their phone and they will be on the way to enjoying hours of talk time with their loved ones that cost pennies.

According to Mr. Adadi, since technology is changing the way we live, we felt we should provide this feature to our people in line with what is happening in so many other communities. There is no reason  why we should be paying too much to call our loved ones, when other communities have since figured out the cheapest way of doing such, without breaking the bank.

The service according to Mr. Adadi is already a hit in Liberia and Nigerians should avail themselves of this great service too.

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