Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Chukwuemeka Uche Onuora



Home is where the heart is. When I argued that Andrew must go back home in my address at the NIDO convention, that is precisely what I meant. It will be impossible, in fact let me rephrase that. It would be economically suicidal for an estimated 10 million Nigerians in the Diaspora to head home in the physical sense. This is because as Western Union revealed recently, Nigerians in the Diaspora as far as their (Western Union's) network is concerned, remit in excess of $2 billion annually to Nigeria. As Mallam Nasir El Rufai highlighted at the NIDO convention, that is our economy's second largest foreign exchange earner behind Crude Oil ($10 billion). It would be foolhardy to expect these financially buoyant group of Nigerians (who collectively form the one group of Nigerians with the highest per capita and disposable income) to suddenly relocate their domiciles to the home country. It would not be in our national interest, economically or otherwise, and any over-patriotic claim that this should be the case, misses the point entirely and overshoots the boundaries of the gamut of our socio-economic aspirations. It would probably precipitate a collapse in our seriously dilapidated infrastructure and overburdened society, and lead to a recession unlike anything the world has seen.

The underlying message in the address was meant to be psychological. It was meant to stir our collective consciousness to align our thoughts, attitudes, and actions on the mental plane to a homeward bound concept. This was supposed to be a challenge to all stakeholders in Nigeria's ultimate parity with her territorial, continental, international, and societal ambitions, to play an active role in seeing her succeed. I was trying to awaken a Nigerian consciousness that goes beyond lip-service on the government's part, that goes beyond occasional protest marches and demonstrations on civil society's part, and that goes beyond mere criticism and detached agitation on the Diaspora's part.

We have to become directly involved in shaping the determinants of our society's fate. Our right to criticism and righteous indignation must be predicated on our commitment to our roles in engendering a renaissance and the unflinching discharge of our responsibilities. In as much as democracy gives us the right to disagree or protest, informed discernment and enlightened self-interest force us to play our own roles independent of government. The world's industrialized societies are not molded or influenced solely by the sanction of government fiat. Civil society and the Diaspora have roles to play, and my message to Andrew, as an encapsulation of our varied antecedents and histories as it relates to precipitators of our exile, is that he must begin to focus his efforts on reclaiming the dignity of his society and sensibilities from the clutches of scoundrels and villains.

Anyone who is old enough to remember will realize that my use of the name Andrew (lest I be accused of male chauvinism, the females in the Diaspora can substitute Andrea for Andrew) is a euphemism for our storied efforts to flee by any means necessary from the shores of our native land. I begrudge no one their decision to leave the stifled environment and harsh experiences of life in Nigeria. I live in a glass house so throwing stones will not fly in my case. But rather, I am saying that now that we have left and now that we have attained a measure of economic stability and security, perhaps it is time to cast our gaze homewards, so that we can reclaim a semblance of order and prosperity for our children. Our children will be born into an environment of arrested social development and a bamboozled psychological reality if we cannot bequeath to them a record of sacrificial stewardship and an experience of what it means to be a Nigerian. An overriding national ethos must become our guiding principle as it relates to our efforts to evoke a lasting consciousness and engender a sustainable society.

In responding to a question asked by the moderator of the first plenary session, I made the statement that we must stop asking our government for our "dividends of democracy". This was because as a friend succinctly pointed out to me, "dividends" implies that we are shareholders in the Nigerian Enterprise as opposed to stakeholders in the Nigerian Dream. We must demand a certain level of leadership from our leaders, failing which we sanction them via the ballot box. But a situation such that Nigerians scream blue murder about Obasanjo's perceived misrule in the past few years, and then when afforded the chance to "vote" him out, they do not, then they have no one to blame but themselves. We have given him a mandate to continue in office, instead of sanctioning him, we embraced him.

Regardless of Buhari's protestations (and they may very well be well-founded), the reality remains that whenever you ask the average man or woman on the street if the last elections were rigged, they will say yes, but that Obasanjo would still have won even if they weren't. That to me is an indication that of all the scores of Presidential candidates that offered themselves up for election, Obasanjo was the "best" of the field. That is a sad indictment on the Nigerian society as a whole if that is the case, because even if some people feel that most candidates in the field lacked the temperament or credentials to be President, then what of Gani Fawehinmi? His record of service is a public testament of selflessness and rectitude. I am not championing a Gani presidency, I am simply pointing out that civil society has repeatedly shirked its responsibility in demanding a better deal out of the Nigerian experiment, even if it was by way of a sizable protest vote for Gani.

We must become stakeholders, playing our roles effectively and judiciously in the delicate détente that our relationship with our leadership has become. We have gone from our leaders being our public servants, tasked with serving our interests, to them becoming our plenipotent sovereigns, masters of all they survey. We must reverse that reality, and demand the keys to the engine that powers our ship of kismet. Engaged participation is the only way that we can crystallize enough patriotic men and women to offset the detrimental effects of the parade of vultures, jackals, and parasites that our government has become. With a few exceptions to the rule, the latest one being Nasir El Rufai, Nigerian government and public service has become a focal point for charlatans and psychological hemophiliacs, consumed by their insatiable desire for the depths of perfidy and mediocrity.

Either way, Nigeria's visions of greatness have become mortgaged on the assumption that if all else fails then the dismemberment of the Nigerian project will be our recourse, either via a bloodbath or as a result of amicable discussions. But this concept that most of us hold at the back of our minds is precisely the problem, because it presupposes that ultimately Nigeria cannot succeed. I am saddened by this argument because it inherently fortifies the resultant or inferred postulation that a black nation as diverse as ours cannot work. Either because of our ethnic loyalties or religious affiliations or other selfish interests or physiological/psychological inferiority, we have resolved to live with a one-leg-in/one-leg-out mentality that is disastrous to say the least. We must disabuse our minds of the school of thought that says that if wahala starts, then we will all run away from Nigeria to comfortable, stable, and orderly societies in the Diaspora, leaving those who cannot leave to the Dogs of War.

The Nigerian Diaspora must become an empowered stakeholder in the determinants of our society's fate. We must coalesce around the notion that we can and will effect a change in our immediate environment in the Diaspora, and from there work to channel our efforts (in tandem with country-resident progressives) towards transforming the S.O.P of our current dispensation. Andrew must go back to a place called home, and that place is where his heart lives, because ultimately the only way he can avoid going home is to rip open his chest and cut out his heart, and rip it to shreds. What is the Nigerian national interest? What is the Nigerian consciousness? What is it that makes me a Nigerian? What is the Nigerian dream and can it bring an end to the Nigerian nightmare? How can we realize Nigeria's Visions of Greatness? These are questions that Andrew must ask himself. He is on a sojourn, but even in his domiciled detachment from a Nigerian reality, he must ask himself if his children will remain in exile, and eventually become diluted into the mainstream of an alien consciousness, in America or any other Diasporan enclave.

Beyond that, is it too much for the government and our society to ask for a return on their investment? Most of us are products of the soundest and most thoroughly detailed educational foundation that the world has seen. The government subsidized my education to the point that I paid a total of N1, 082.70 for my entire education at Federal Government College, Enugu between 1990 and 1995. If you doubt it, I will fax you the receipt. I graduated somewhere in the middle of my class, but I suddenly found myself at the top of my class in these United States, outpacing even my closest competition to the point that I was breaking the "curve" in most of my classes. I am not saying this to brag, but simply to point that even though I was at best a mediocre student in Nigeria, and even if I may have been distracted from schoolwork by other less than noble pursuits, I was finding that most often than not, my educational foundation at home had "over-prepared" me for the perceived "rigors" of college in the US. I could only imagine what students that were perpetually at the top of my class in secondary school would have done to the American educational system.

So even though I was forced out of Nigeria by circumstances beyond my control and by an overriding goal to better myself, how can I (in conscience) refuse to repatriate some of my knowledge and expertise in my field, which was built on the solidly laid foundation of the Nigerian educational system, back to my native land? Either in the realm of entrepreneurial pursuits or charitable contributions to strengthening institutions and organizations that are tasked with the burden of educating the next generation of Nigerians, we must contribute something, much more than a token to our society. A failure to do so would be a crime against our humanity by our selfish inhumanity. I have decided to play the Lion in the fable to my society's Androcles (the Roman slave who was spared in the arena by a lion from whose foot he had once extracted a thorn). When I needed help and when I had nothing, my society ensured that I was equipped to compete effectively in the real world. She educated me, taught me street smarts and book smarts, both of which have become invaluable to me in my sojourn in these United States. Now the tables have turned somewhat, and it is my responsibility to remember the help that was rendered to me in the past, and aid my society in whatever way that I can, in reclaiming her dignity. The alternative is to leave her in her death throes, gasping for breath and begging for help; my heart cannot endure such heartbreak.

The goal of NIDO must therefore become to harness this latent potential and the dispersed resources of Nigerians in the Diaspora into a precise tool for influencing policies and initiatives that are of interest to us. This to-your-house-oh-Israel approach to issues cannot work; in fact it has failed woefully to achieve a semblance of influence and the modicum of respect amongst the movers and shakers of the societies in which we are domiciled. I cannot remember the last time a local politician in my area came to ask me my thoughts on issues that concern me as a Nigerian living in America. I don't think that the politicians here or anywhere else in these Americas regard his/her Nigerian constituents as anything other than another group of immigrants, less important on the scale of precedence than Mexicans, or any other Latin American sub-nationality.

As Ambassador Howard Jeter so brazenly pointed out in his address to the NIDO convention, even Liberia has a more influential and coordinated interest group in Washington than Nigeria does. He also pointed out that not one member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the US Congress, or any other official of the US government or various state and local governments showed up. He was there in his private capacity as a friend of Nigeria, and so was Miguel Pardo de Zela (formerly the head of the Commercial Section of the US Embassy in Nigeria). This was less a fault of NIDO's as it was an indication of the emasculation of Nigeria's influence and stature in America, and a startling indictment of our people as a whole. Estimates place the number of Nigerians in the US variously between 1-2 million, however, we remain an unseen and insignificant ethnic minority as far as America's political calculation goes. Even beyond liaising with the CBC, there is no reason why Members of Congress (Senate and the House) from the home states of companies with huge oil concessions and interests in Nigeria cannot be lobbied into passing laws or initiating policies that are of significant interest to us here, and that affect the Nigerian homeland.

We must all join hands and channel our resources to ensure that NIDO succeeds because it is an encapsulation of all our aspirations to live as Nigerians in the Diasporas, secure in our identity, and cognizant of our influence here and at home. Lend your time and efforts, lend your money and your investments, but make sure that you have played your role effectively as a member of your immediate Nigerian community here in the Diasporas and at home before you criticize or condemn the machinations of our government. We all have our roles to play, in whatever profession, in whatever station, wherever we find ourselves, play your position. As the Nigerian-born Mayor of East Cleveland (Emmanuel Onunwor) charged us at the convention, "handle your business". Andrew, please handle your business or your business will handle you, it is your choice.

In that sense going back home does not necessarily mean the physical realm, it means thinking on a conscious level of our contributory quota to Nigeria's socio-economic development. It means thinking with a consciousness that puts our country first. Home is where the heart is, we have to put our hearts back in Nigeria, and conduct all our actions in tandem with a strategic realignment of our priorities. It means going home on the psychological level, becoming engaged and participating actively. It means for example, answering Ambassador Jeter's clarion call to invest in Nigeria, because according to him the Nigerian Stock Exchange is rated as the most profitable in the developing world in terms of returns after taxes and currency devaluation effects are taken into consideration. It is even more profitable, dollar-for-dollar than say the NYSE or FTSE or DAX or CAC or Nikkei, but because of the low volume of transactions than any of these, it cannot compete favorably in terms of capitalization. Abuja FCT has been rated as having the most profitable real estate market of the world, but still we put all our capital in mutual funds etc. in the Diaspora. The IMF estimates that Nigerians have an estimated $170 billion stashed in foreign banks abroad, and from what they have been able to determine, most of it is not pillaged loot.

I'm not asking Andrew to withdraw his entire life savings and reinvest same in Nigeria, but I am saying that a cautious but growing investment profile in various sectors of Nigeria's economy is not such a bad idea. Various experts estimate that there has been an infusion of $2 billion into the Nigerian Telecommunications sector since 1999. Though the services in this area (especially the GSM services) are not perfect, the reality is that there has been a marked improvement in this regards. I can attest now that I can reach my parents with relative ease and reliability at home or on the road, than was previously the case. This explosion in Nigeria's terrestrial and wireless capacity has been because of a huge infusion of capital and resources from outside. As Nigerians in the Diaspora perambulate and mark-time in stagnant comfort, South Africans, Lebanese, Indians, and other sundry nationals are capturing huge swathes of Nigeria's economic pie.

Like the young, enterprising, and dynamic Vice President of BGL Limited (Chibundu Edozie) said to me at the NIDO convention in Atlanta;

"Nigeria's economic wheel is turning, whether the Nigerians in the Diaspora like it or not. And the sooner they get involved financially and otherwise, and turn the wheel in the direction of their choosing, the less their chances of being run over by this wheel of change."
Nigeria's economic reality is being forged right now by pioneers and prospectors from other countries, the last great frontier of economic expansion and consolidation is up for the grabs, the question is, what side of the fence are we going to come down on?

I will be pissed off if a few years from now, I start hearing Nigerians, in the Diaspora and at home, complaining that the Nigerian government has turned over our economy to foreigners. The playing field is even, especially for Nigerians in the Diaspora and other foreigners who both have significant financial resources which can be leveraged into prudent but lucrative investments in Nigeria's economic revolution. In other words, Andrew doesn't have to go home physically, but his money can warm his seat for him, sustaining and fortifying his attachment to his native land, until he is ready for that momentous step. He should borrow a leaf from the Chinese Diaspora, the Indians, the Jews, and the Irish; perhaps he may yet buy his way back into reckoning with our government. That is the only thing they understand, money and financial muscle, these are what get you access and influence. Eloquent speeches and articles are a dime a dozen, I can testify. Excuse my French, but real change will only come when we are willing to leverage our substantial financial wherewithal to make shit happen! Enough said.


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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.