My Nigerian Dream

A collection of personal thoughts and ideas on the Nigerian political situation.

Tag: Diaspora

Still Unconvinced? :: Why Nigeria’s Diaspora Matters

As I considered how to begin this piece, a few thoughts raced through my mind; many of them about the approach rather than the actual message I hope to convey. Interesting huh? I don’t fancy myself as a writer in the class of the field’s well-known A-listers, but I do seem to be finding a rhythm that I quite enjoy. I find that having a fundamental driving message at one’s core is the single most important factor to being able to develop a next piece of writing. It is unto such a message that seemingly humdrum facts can latch and potentially become a collection of words that is hopefully worth reading.

“Still unconvinced?” is my question to anyone who is still sceptical about what I see as the critical role of the Nigerian Diaspora in shaping our future. It follows from my recent post titled: ‘Homeland vs. Diaspora :: Which Nigeria?’. It is becoming abundantly clear that as a catchphrase, “#EndSARS”, like many before it, is carving its place in our nation’s history and vocabulary. Some of its predecessors, in order of historical age from younger to older include “June12” (1993), “AliMustGo” (1978) and “OperationWetie” (1962). If at the times of these sad incidents in Nigeria’s past, the internet and social media were what they are today, each of these ‘tags’ would surely have been among the highly trending hashtags of their day.

Sad as it is though, I believe history will judge this current time as a watershed moment, the impact of which is not immediately apparent. However, only a non-realist would fail to see that with time, its impact will indeed be felt, perhaps and hopefully in the general population’s attitude to politics. If that does happen, I believe it would be a win, but one that only just begins to dignify the sacrifices of so many heroes who took part in the October 2020 protests, especially at the Lekki toll gate.

So, back to the diaspora. The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates with a confidence interval of +/- 22,000 that there were approximately 215,000 Nigerians in the country as at 2019. Let’s ignore the interval and stay in the middle lane. To put that number in context, park it for a moment while we understand what petitions are and how they work in the UK. The dictionary definition of a petition is ‘a formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority in respect of a particular cause’. In the UK, any British citizen or UK resident can create a petition on the government’s website, and if they can get 5 people to support it and it meets all necessary requirements, it gets published by the government, making it available to all citizens and residents who wish to sign. At 10,000 signatures, a petition will get a formal response from the government. At 100,000 it will almost certainly be debated in Parliament.

It seems that exactly on 20.10.20, ‘a date that will live in infamy’, a petition was created by one Silas Ojo who is clearly of Nigerian origin. Like an ominous prison number, it was assigned “554150” in its web URL and was (is) titled “Implement sanctions against the Nigerian Government and officials”

The signatories on this petition had further increased since the above was captured.
Source: UK Parliament Website

As an experiment, I thought to play with the URL petition number and went +/-1 to see the petitions either side of Silas’. The results were very instructive and highlighted that Silas had pulled off quite a feat. Let me explain.

This was petition Silas -1 (i.e. 554149, submitted just before Silas’); it was rejected.

Source: UK Parliament Website

This was petition Silas +1 (i.e. 554151, submitted just after Silas’); it had not yet gathered the 5 supporters needed to publish.

Source: UK Parliament Website

Meanwhile, our protagonist, Silas, and his avatar, Petition 554150, galloped away speedily in cyberspace. His petition reached and passed the 10,000 mark on a date I can’t tell you. It then proceeded to conquer the 100,000 barrier and it did; finally gathering no less than 220,000+ signatures. Remember, Silas is a single individual who spoke up (#sorosoke). He kickstarted a process, and his petition became the channel through which 220,000+ other voices will also be heard through a UK Parliamentary debate – about Nigeria. The system did what it was designed to do.

Remember I asked you to ‘park’ our estimated 215,000 number (of Nigerians in the UK) so we could better contextualise it? Well, let’s retrieve and analyse that now. You’ve probably figured out my intended point. With 220,000+ signatures, Silas’ petition was signed by more people than the total number of Nigerians in the country as at 2019. This is like saying that every single Nigerian in the UK (and more) signed this petition. If you ask me, that is quite a statistic, and though I expect that not all those signatures were by Nigerians, I would assume that a large chunk were, or were directly influenced by Nigerians. Either way, the Nigerian diaspora in the UK has certainly spoken…and will be heard!

Their voices were so loud, that there does not seem to be a single constituency from St Ives in Cornwall (the southernmost tip of the UK) all the way to Orkney and Shetland in Scotland (the most northerly of the UK’s 650 constituencies) where there wasn’t at least one vote for Silas’ petition (see official map petition below). If it were an election, it would probably have been a landslide.

Map showing spread of signatories for petition ‘554150’ across the UK
Source: UK Government Petition Map Website

As I wrap up, let’s move away from the macro data and drill down to an individual perspective. Below is the email I received from the UK government, informing me that Parliament is going to debate the petition on 23.11.20. The email confirmed that my voice matters and that is a feeling that is crucial to true democracy. The debate will take place with the backdrop of a damning CNN report that implicates Nigerian authorities in the alleged atrocities that supposedly took place at the Lekki toll gate. Words like ‘alleged’ and ‘supposedly’ are not necessarily ones I would personally use to describe the incident; they sound more like the ongoing official narrative. However, thanks to impressive investigative journalism and in view of available evidence, it appears most reasonable people will conclude different.

As we approach 23.11.20 when the UK Parliament will debate this petition, one thing is clear about the influence of the Nigerian diaspora; it can cause a foreign power to take notice and potentially to act. Act how?…you may ask. Silas’ petition was clearly NOT directed at the Nigerian people but rather at individual government officials who may be complicit in or whose passive stance may have given tacit approval for the actions of SARS, the now disbanded ‘Special Anti-Robbery Squad’ of The Nigerian Police. I cannot speculate on what the UK government will or will not do, but it would be interesting to see what happens at the debate. At the very least, a light is being shone on these alarming occurrences at home, and where light appears, darkness must recede!

So what are we to take from all this? First, we now ought to be convinced beyond doubt that the Nigerian diaspora is here to stay, is relevant and has a role to play in (re-)building the nation. Second, Silas is one chap, he raised his voice and 220,000+ others followed. Where and how can you and I raise our voices against injustice and for the rule of law, especially on behalf of so many who do not even have a voice? This could be in our responses to and interventions for the poor, underprivileged, vulnerable, children, widows, unemployed, etc. Don’t limit yourself to any particular sphere of life, especially the usual family, faith and employment; expand your horizon, think deep, think wide, and you’ll surely see many areas you can impact society. Third, I played a small part by signing the petition. By so doing, I added a single drop to what eventually became an ocean, so always play your part, because (borrowing the slogan of TESCO – the UK’s largest supermarket chain), “every little helps”!

End.

Homeland vs. Diaspora :: Which Nigeria 🇳🇬?

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.

End.


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

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