Homeland vs. Diaspora :: Which Nigeria 🇳🇬?
by Ayobami Akinyode OLUNLOYO
The world is a “global village” – a phrase you almost undoubtedly have heard, but let’s think about it for a moment. Under ‘typical’ (who knows what is ‘normal’ these days?) circumstances, the words “global” and “village” are probably two that have no business sitting side by side. How can anything have ‘global’ presence and yet resemble a ‘village’? I picture or rationalise this with the analogy of an octopus, or a spider. What do these have in common? A central body structure from which multiple ‘limbs’ extend. For the Arachnologists (who study spiders) and Teuthologists (who study cephalopoda e.g. octopus, squid) amongst us, I know this is quite an over-simplification, sorry. However, borrowing from your fields of study has greatly helped to articulate my passion for the subject of this piece, which by the way was inspired by two good friends of mine, SA (the accidental protagonist) and MO (the willing dissident). Their identities have been protected here for privacy, but to them both I extend my profound appreciation.
So, similar to how Christ revealed the meanings of His parables, you’ve probably guessed it; the octopus, or spider if you prefer, is Nigeria. All citizens who are currently based in the ‘homeland‘ (by choice or otherwise) form the central body, and all those who are based abroad, the ‘diaspora‘ (by choice or otherwise) are the extended limbs. You see, a key point in this analogy is not just that these limbs are numerous, it is that they have a long reach relative to the body’s position at any point in time.
Bringing these two principal ideas together, I have an argument, and it is this; there is only ONE Nigeria and there is only ONE set of Nigerians. Why? Simply because the body of an octopus or a spider cannot move 2 feet without the limbs, and vice-versa. If the limbs were to go their separate ways from the body, it would mean the destruction and death of both! The limbs extend the capability of the body and represent its will, by reaching out to surroundings far and near. However, at no point do they ever become two separate entities, and that, dear reader, is the reason the ‘village’ (of our nation) can also have a ‘global’ presence. Otherwise, Nigeria would be worse than the most reclusive state you could imagine; the diaspora plays a necessary function in avoiding that.
Having established the obvious presence of these two groups, and hopefully having convinced you that they are in fact two sides of the same coin, we should discuss why this point had to be made in the first place. It is worth reminding you at this juncture, that by reading this piece, you are essentially accepting an invitation into my mind and personal thought processes. In there, you may find some things that resonate and others that do not; that’s fine, just remember that it is the mutual exchange of ideas that enriches us both, not so much whether or not we agree or disagree. OK, let’s carry on.
We are here because I have heard it said, perhaps more often than necessary, that Nigerians in the diaspora, for whatever reason, are not placed to feel about or speak into matters pertaining to situations on the homeland. Often cited are reasons such as ‘you don’t know what we’re going through’, and frankly it is tiring. From my perspective, we as Nigerians, have simply found yet another way to divide ourselves. Why must we? Is it ingrained in us or do we train, or perhaps even force ourselves to see differences? It is a genuine wonder of mine. Lest we restrict this phenomenon to mere citizens, let’s think about one of Nigeria’s greatest human exports – The Super Eagles – our men’s national football team. When they are not giving us good reason to unite (and hopefully rejoice) as one nation, even they have squabbles about ‘home-based’ vs. ‘foreign’ players. Yes, I realise there is more to it than that, especially in a team sport like football, but on a simplistic level, is it not possible that we as a nation just try to blur the lines of division and get on with it?
We are definitely stronger as one, but more to the point, if we are not one, we do not exist at all. Any other perspective is not only flawed, but baseless. Nigeria’s diaspora encapsulates her various outposts around the global village, each one as unique as it is diverse on its mission to integrate our nation with the wider world. If every Nigerian were in Nigeria, where would our voice be? Who would protest at the UN, Downing Street, etc.? How would thousands of Nigerians have prayer walked the streets of Central London at the peak of the #EndSARS protests, possibly helping to add volume to the many voices against police brutality in the homeland. If we have a government that ignores the groans of the people, who would be aptly positioned to bring this to the attention of the international community, to whom such a government might listen?
Rather than think of Nigeria’s diaspora as a group of long-lost children who are perhaps even on the verge of losing their culture and language, think of the diaspora as millions of ambassadors, globally positioned to champion the interests of the nation. According to a 2019 PwC report titled “Strength from Abroad – The Economic Power of Nigeria’s Diaspora“, Nigerian emigration to the United States and the United Kingdom stood at 280,000 and 210,000 respectively in 2017. More recent estimates put the figures as high as 400,000 and 215,000 respectively, which means that for every 1,000 Nigerians, 3 are either in the US or the UK (based on a current population estimate of 206 million by the United Nations). That’s without counting other ‘hotspots’ such as South Africa, the UAE and Canada. Additionally, unofficial estimates put the total number of Nigerians in the diaspora at up to 15 million. This is roughly about the same number of people who voted for the winner at both of Nigeria’s last two Presidential elections in 2019 and 2015. Considering the relatively narrow margins of victory in both elections, if diaspora voting was not unconstitutional (which is a whole other discussion), then even if only half of that number voted, and they all voted for the losing candidate, they could have swung the election potentially to the extent of a landslide.
Nigeria boasts a well-connected, highly achieving body of so called (but wrongly called) ‘foreigners’ who have surely proven their economic worth and commitment to the nation. According to PwC, remittance flows to Nigeria in 2018 stood tall at US$23.63 billion, which equated to 83% of Nigeria’s Federal Government Budget, 6.1% of total GDP, and 11 times the Foreign Direct Investment into the country in the same year. Who says Nigerians abroad are not committed to the homeland? It is mindful to mention that unless you’re a parent supporting a child in education abroad for example, monetary flows between the diaspora and the homeland tend mostly to go in one direction, and we have Nigerians’ sense of family to thank for that. Surely, a recognition of the strength, impact and importance of the diaspora must have something to do with why the Nigeria Diaspora Commission (NDC) headed by Abike Dabiri-Erewa was established.
It may be true that many Nigerians, more than ever today, seek an ‘out’ from the nation of their birth, in search of pastures green, but this was not always the case. Like me, my father, as a young undergraduate, also had the privilege to study in the United Kingdom, but unlike me, not a second later than he finished, was he on his way back ‘home’ to commence his professional and family life – because back then, Nigeria was where the greater prospects lay. Life for me took a different turn, as by God’s grace, I met my darling wife in the UK and we stayed to work and had our daughter. However, my father and I do have one thing in common in our journeys, our final destinations are the same – the homeland – for to our mission, we must stay true.
As a nation, we have real and serious battles ahead, all of which are against common enemies, against whom we must unite – for example, corruption, the forerunner of poverty (at least in our context) – and such major battles are not even worth attempting without the fundamental basis of unity. Until we realise that every limb is required to move the octopus or spider forward, then we better be prepared to stay put. I choose however to end this piece on a positive note, for what else is the purpose of hope? So, let’s end it this way…I have been encouraged and challenged (via amazing feedback for which I am deeply grateful) to always draw out the “call to action” from within my written pieces. Well, here’s one for you, yes, YOU. How about you make it a personal goal and decision to erase those mental, cultural, ethnic, religious and …wait for it… ‘geographic’ lines of division that often plague us as Nigerians? If I do that and you do that, I dare say we would both have taken a step closer to ‘Our Nigerian Dream’. Besides, if you’re currently on the homeland, one day you may become the diaspora, but sometime soon, I fully intend by God’s grace to be exactly where you are, for to be truly at home, is to daily walk the land of my fathers. Most importantly though, even if we swap places, you and I will always only ever be ONE Nigeria.
God bless you and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Sources and further reading:
Strength from Abroad – The Economic Power of Nigeria’s Diaspora // https://www.pwc.com/ng/en/pdf/the-economic-power-of-nigerias-diaspora.pdf
Nigerian Diaspora and Remittances: Transparency and Market Development // https://imtconferences.com/nigerian-diaspora-remittances/
What makes Nigerians in diaspora so successful // https://www.ft.com/content/ca39b445-442a-4845-a07c-0f5dae5f3460