Africa in the 21st Century and Role of Diaspora Nigerians in its Trajectory

Adetunji Omotola in file photo

The millennium saw the emergence of Africans in the diaspora as a force to reckon with. Some served in the highest levels of government and many returned to Africa particularly in Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria.  Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, and Minister Godfrey Onyeama are some Diasporans who have made it to cabinet level.

Nigeria leads sub-Saharan Africa in terms of diaspora remittances with $23billion in 2019 followed by Ghana ($3billion), Kenya ($2.8billion), and South Sudan ($1.3billion). On the global remittances index, Nigeria is in sixth place with India in the lead ($79billion) China in second place ($67billion) Mexico third ($36billion), Philippines fourth ($34 billion) and Egypt fifth ($29billion).

 

Despite these positive contributions by diaspora, there is a sense that those who diaspora feel extremely marginalized and hard done by. Diasporans still cannot vote is in my view a grave injustice when other African countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, and Rwanda practice diaspora voting as well as seventeen other African nations.

Nigerians in diaspora’s remittances through nine times higher than second-placed Ghana still does not guarantee any inclusion into the Nigerian landscape. It also seems clear that despite having a newly minted diaspora commission there seems to be no determination on embarking on a census on the numbers of Nigerians abroad. Research led shows that the United States, UK, Italy, Germany, and Canada have the largest numbers of Nigerians followed by South Africa, France, Ireland, China, and the Netherlands.

These are the top ten countries with Nigerian populations. At the top is the USA (380,785) UK (190,000), Germany (56,000), Italy (71,000) Canada (51,800) France (30,000), South Africa (30,000) Ireland (17,542) China (10,000) and Netherlands (9,453). Difficulties exist in determining numbers in various African countries due to a lack of data. According to Statistics South Africa in 2015 there were 10, 334 Nigerians who got temporary residence permits 25% of which were visitor’s visa and 355  permanent residency permits. A country that does not know its population and its composition cannot leverage it.

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Despite the success of Nigerians in the diaspora which has been buttressed in the preceding paragraphs and the fact that there is still disconnectedness on many levels is painful and disheartening. There is no national policy to absorb Diasporans into the broader national landscape beyond remittances and investment. There ought to be a shift in the current haphazard methods in place for diaspora inclusion.

It is a travesty of gigantic proportions that a large body of Nigerians is ignored in a manner that creates deep concern and misery for Nigerians abroad. There also exists a bias by those in authority towards Nigerians in the United States, Canada, and Europe which only serves to create a two-speed diaspora with one in the fast lane and the others in the slow lane.

The issue of not voting is one of the most notable examples of the failure to absorb Nigerians in diaspora into the political and economic development of the country. So many flimsy excuses are given by the members of the National Assembly and INEC regarding lack of data and costs and also who will vote and which countries will be involved. This lack of political will is like a knee on the necks of Nigerians in the diaspora who observe voting by Diasporans in Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, and eighteen other African countries.

Nigerians in the diaspora are the most educated migrants in the US. Most African doctors in South Africa are Nigerians. There is a Nigerian Doctors Forum (South Africa) A Nigerian holds the world boxing heavyweight crown and there is NBA most valuable player Gianni’s Antetoukoumpo.

There is Ngozi Chimamanda-Adichie (a superstar) and a slew of Hollywood actors such as Chiwetel Ejiofor and more. There are Asa and John Boyega and Bayo Ogunlesi who owns Gatwick airport and was Trump’s adviser for some time. With all these observations it is clear that Nigerians in the diaspora have ossified across many diaspora formations and professions?

It is not being bold to say that it is Nigerians in the diaspora who will provide Africa’s upward trajectory. What is missing at this stage is the inability of planners and African leaders to realize same and work very hard with various Nigerian diaspora groupings to access bodies like the African Union, the African Development Bank, the Pan African Parliament and regional bodies to build capacity and leverage the professionalism and skill sets of Nigerians in the diaspora.

The best-kept secret that Nigeria and Africa by extension have in terms of human capital is Nigerians in the diaspora. This past week Lt. Victor Agunbiade was given an award for his extraordinary accountability. Agunbiade received the Navy and Marine Corp Development medal for managing $68 million well. The amount represented 70% of its overseas disbursing volume. Agunbiade who was in charge of the money while he served as a disbursing officer, comptroller department, Camp Lemonier in Djibouti (Horn of Africa) from October 2019 to July 2020 achieved 100% accountability among six rigorous inspections and independent audits with zero discrepancies.

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Nigerians have become notable in the US. with Dr. Bennet Omalu being the first to discover and publish on chronic traumatic encephalopathy on American footballers, actor Will Smith played him in the 2015 film Concussion. In the legal space, ImeIme A. Umana is the first black woman to be elected President of the Harvard Law Review in its 131-year history. Pearlana Igbokwe is the President of Universal Television and the first woman of African descent to head a major US studio.

There is also a very successful lady from the very successful Onyejekwe family in Ohio, United States. Dr. Jacqueline Nwando Olayiwola. (Nee Onyejekwe) an Associate Professor at the University of California, she is also the author of Papaya Head which speaks to first-generation African Americans. Jacqueline’s siblings are Okey Onyejekwe, a medical doctor, Meka Don, a lawyer turned rapper, and Sylvia Onyejekwe, a lawyer. Jacqueline and her brother Okey frequently undertake two mission trips to Nigeria every year.

Far afield in the Netherlands, there is circular migration between Nigerians in the Netherlands and the UK. Most are employees of Royal Dutch Shell and some work for ABN Amro, Nike, Celtel, IBM, and CMG. There are about 500 Nigerians with Dutch passports. In Russia, there are 2100 Nigerians on Facebook. The Nigerian diaspora population is the biggest African population in all the countries where you find Africans in the diaspora except for French-speaking nations.

Nigerians in the diaspora also contribute the highest in terms of remittances. The remittance figure of $23 billion is almost the same size as the GDP of Africa’s bottom ten countries namely: Togo, Burundi, Eswatini, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lesotho, South Sudan, Djibouti, CAR, and the Gambia. Is it not ironic yet all these countries have Presidents, budgets, and military and they all have a say in continental African Affairs.

For example, each country sends five members of its national parliament to the Pan African Parliament in Midland none of whom are Diasporans yet diaspora contributes significantly to each of these countries. South Sudan’s diaspora remittances are 36% of its GDP while Nigeria’s is 8%.

The failure of the Nigerian government to deepen its relations with its diaspora and include them in politics and business and other sectors of the economy is probably the biggest oversight in the last three decades. The current model of meeting a few Diasporans who are handpicked by diplomats abroad has not yielded any meaningful results in the past two decades. With the rampant corruption happening in the country it may be wise to draft Diasporans who are used to living according to their means and are not desperate to buy land in Ikoyi or Maitama in a matter of months.

Yes, there is a Diaspora Commission and there are also committees in both houses of the National Assembly but the Diaspora Commission board is yet to be constituted and the committee members in both houses are not even known to diaspora stakeholders and their impact has not been felt in any significant manner…

There is a sense that Diasporans are not given the seriousness that they deserve and until major steps are taken with diaspora Nigeria will not grow into the true economic and political giant it can and should be. One can go as far as to suggest that the diaspora ought to have slots at the National Assembly and each state house of Assembly in the same manner that women participation is desired and factored into the equation.

The following recommendations are proposed. Firstly, all Nigerians in the diaspora who are aged 18 and over should be allowed to vote by 2023. Secondly, Nigerians in the diaspora need to be on a database at every or high commission. The missions should see the registration as their most sacred duty. Thirdly, Nigerians doing business in the diaspora and the professions should be encouraged to join chambers of commerce between the host countries and Nigeria. It is also important to engage in positive branding about Nigeria in the countries with big Nigerian populations.

A country with 200 million people should be branding the nation weekly, monthly, and annually. The embassies can work with the community and the media to do so. There can be no doubt that countries such as South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and the United Kingdom have had their fair share of Nigerian scams and fraudulent activities so it is wise to promote Nigerians who are doing very well in those climes or face stiff visa restrictions when traveling to these parts.

Nigerians in the diaspora are one of the most marginalized Nigerian group and this needs to change very quickly. No nation will reach its full potential while it ignores its most productive grouping.

Written by Barrister Adetunji Omotola — Founder at Guild of Nigerian Professionals in South Africa. He is an alumnus of the Henley Business School, Executive Speaker Programme. He is a Bloomberg Certified Financial Consultant and Founder of 12 Disciples Leaders. He is an African Media Personality and Founder of Afrospace. He blogs at www.winelawandpolitics.wordpress.com

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