Today, I attempt once again to reason with our brothers hurling fighting words at those of us in the homeland from their abode on the other side of the great river. The brothers I wish to address live across the Atlantic, specifically, North America and Europe. The vocal ones among them continue to talk down on those of us who have not emigrated, lashing out with stinging adjectives such as docile, stupid, foolish, narcissistic, mediocre, complacent, greedy, corrupt, and many more. Oftentimes, we are forced to reply in kind, leading to a diatribe of recriminations that currently govern our interactions in the social media.
Diasporans hold three trump cards in the interaction, namely, our endless devaluation of the naira, a relatively stable system to acquire quality education, and our continued misuse of resources that nature endowed us with in the homeland. Armed with these advantages, they enter each conversation with paternalist condescending postures, which, unfortunately, limit rather than expand, opportunities for joining efforts to resolve what we both see as a common challenge of good governance.
In 1978, I was given admission to read Economics at the University of New York. I could have travelled to America from my village and reached the campus at Oneonta with only N600 in my pocket. Today, this amount cannot buy a kilo of fish for one to make stew in Nigeria. On the other hand, any diasporan today with $1,000 spending cash (the equivalence of N600 in 1978) could live comfortably for two weeks in the homeland! The serial and relentless devaluation of the naira, arising mostly from our inability to become a production-driven nation, appears to be what gives vocal diasporans an illusion of wellbeing in relation to their poor cousins back home. The power relationship becomes amplified each time a $100 is wired to rural family members back home, knowing that this is more than entry-level monthly salary of a fresh university graduate.
Again, the diaspora system assures quality education for those that can afford it – and for others that are brilliant or imbued with natural skills that could earn them scholarships. Compared to Nigeria, where public school teachers, particularly the rotten eggs in our tertiary institutions, traumatize undergraduates, the average diaspora student in a diaspora public tertiary school will finish stronger and faster than their homeland cousins. Armed with this education advantage and watching homeland kids struggle against formidable odds, vocal diasporans routinely launch stinging social media abuse, often dictating what we must do to confront and surmount the dark forces ranged against us.
Finally, can anyone blame a concerned diasporan brother from expressing frustrations about the country whenever they see our leaders driving the Nigerian economy aground (which is often) while the rest of the world takes flight in the unending race for human progress?
Before we continue, it is important that we pause here to give our Diasporans their due. We admire their commitment to the Nigerian project. It is a matter of record that, every year, they wire an estimated $25 billion of their hard-earned income to the homeland to assist parents, siblings and relations struggling with economic hardship. In the South East, for instance, we know that many of them support worthy causes designed to get their communities to a higher state of being. Some give scholarships to brilliant but indigent students or help them cross over the Ocean to begin a better life. There are many that have set up their relations in business, providing them much-needed seed capital. No doubt about it, Nigerians would have fared much worse without the timely interventions of a concerned Diaspora population.
Consequently, no one in their right minds would suggest that Diasporans should stay away from discussing issues that affect their country, our country. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives was clearly on his own with his garrulous rant the other day; we do not believe he was speaking for his colleagues. Nigeria belongs to us all, Diasporan and local national residents alike.
We understand how frustrating it can be to live in a country where human rights are given and enforceable and from there watch as family and friends in the homeland are treated like beasts. Our only concern is this bile that drips from fingers of a vocal minority that insists on launching abuses and dictating impractical solutions to the complex situations that face us as a nation. Most of those who receive and read these abuses in the homeland are educated, honest and hardworking middle-class Nigerians. Do they talk down on us as a way of making us wake up from what they imagine is a life of docility, complacency and cowardice? Or are they happy to harass us into confronting with our bare hands, and without a thoughtful strategy, the posse of economic adventurers currently holding Nigeria hostage?
Do we need to convince our brothers on the other side of the great river with stories of how a powerful but tiny minority oppresses the majority population in Nigeria, aided by awesome security firepower and loopholes in the legal system? Haven’t they read, for instance, of powerful pastors who use security agents to shut up female congregants that dared to accuse them of sexual molestation? Don’t they remember that there are rotten eggs in our public tertiary schools who live the good life by forcing students to buy antiquated handouts and by arranging hotel trysts with vulnerable female students? Are they aware that there could be 419ers and drug kingpins that have been crowned Igwes or Obas, after cowing their communities into silence? Have they not read of subsistent farmers whose crops are destroyed by wandering cows but are powerless because the herders were nearby with AK47 rifles? The assault of ordinary Nigerians is complete from every side, not only from elected public officers ready to teach a lesson to those who “disturb” the system they are milking dry.
How do we expect the diasporans to engage?
My view is that not much can be achieved without the diasporans teaming up to launch a united and concentrated force for change in Nigeria, rather than continuing to support disparate local efforts that fizzle out when guns are whipped out. Also, little progress will continue to be made as long as we do not tone down the harsh rhetoric we reserve for ourselves. Finally, both sides must try to strike trans-Atlantic collaborations that will force the local national change we desire.
A united front for change creates a force that transcends what diasporans have in place today – organisations championing and supporting divergent cultural and ethnic agenda. Members of these quasi- ethnic organisations, when not organizing cultural shows, pour their hard-earned cash into the pockets of individuals fighting self-concept ethno-religious battles back home. A workable solution would be to support the emergence of meta-organisation(s) solely devoted to issues of good governance in Nigeria. The focus should not only be on the politician (even though he is central to the problem) but also to challenge endemic corruption eating into our social institutions.
Think for instance of pastors of mega churches, owners of controlling shares in banks and other quoted companies, 419 kingpins, and those who sponsor purchases and shipments of arms to bandits and insurgents. Diasporans will have access to information on these actors who, for the most part, are partners in criminal enterprise.
The advantages of collapsing disparate ethnic diaspora organisations into a national movement for good governance in Nigeria – or forming an entirely independent meta structure – is self-evident. Diasporans coming together as a united community to concentrate their forces will show that, unlike those of us back home, Nigerians living abroad are resolved to walk the talk by disregarding fault-lines that keep citizens divided and conquered in the homeland. Massive funds can be generated from the resulting mega association to invest in media, NGOs and other local support efforts that can cause change to happen. Such funds can be invested into sensitizing two key stakeholder groups that do the voting and secure the votes in an election – rural women and unemployed youth. The funds can also be deployed to support the right candidates or sponsor those we trust to change the country, rather than they and their cohorts.
To solve the challenge of underdevelopment, diasporans need a different, well-thought-out strategy that works for all, while counting the costs. Although we commend them for unflagging support to the Nigerian cause, some of us actually believe they can do more than intermittently jumping on popular bandwagons that end up driving our local Nigerian youths to avoidable deaths, and their families to grief. Exploring a new plan of action, therefore, trumps continued investment of their hard-earned dollars on quasi-national organisations that are fighting a war of blame, as the Igbo would put it. And, as long as we continue with hauling abusive words from both sides of the Atlantic, diasporans will not see the need to engage with the people with local knowledge, connections and skills who will enable them concentrate efforts to win our joint battle for good governance.