These days it is not uncommon to read in the newspapers and on online publications the role that members of the Nigerian community abroad – Nigerians in Diaspora – have carved out for themselves. Indeed they have become one of the foremost voices in admonishing our leaders to uphold the principles of rule of law, practice good governance, run free and fair elections, deepen political and economic reform etc. This is a positive step in the continuous efforts to strengthen and deepen our democratic values. As a matter of fact, the recognition of this group of Nigerians, as a factor in national development has at various times been highlighted by the Federal Government as it continues to woo them for higher levels of participation in the nation’s development.
All these are very good signs that there is increased recognition of the potentials of our brothers and sisters abroad vis-a-vis the nation’s progress. Minister for Science and Technology, Professor Turner Isoun recently told us that there are about 17 million Nigerian experts living abroad. This goes to show us that there is a massive resource pool from which the nation can still tap for all kinds of good and positive initiatives. Researching for this article revealed that there is actually an umbrella organization of Nigerians living abroad known as NIDO (not the powdered milk!). It is an abbreviation for Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation, a group that was launched in 2000. NIDO aims to “draw resources from the synergy of all Nigerian Professionals in the Diaspora, to instil ethical consciousness and civic responsibility that will enhance the socio-economic advancement of Nigerians and humanity in general.” Sounds noble enough. It demonstrates a willingness to be a part of the Nigerian project and the approaches that are being created in this direction. The role of Nigerians in Diaspora in influencing their host country’s policies towards the nation and indeed in Africa however still leaves a lot to be desired. An oft-cited example of how communities abroad can influence events in their home countries is the role played by the well-known “Jewish lobby” that operates in the US. The Jewish lobby is reputed to be so powerful and influential that it is widely believed to be responsible for America’s policy on Israel.
Although this has been subject to criticism, the point here is that the lobby is able to make sufficient impact in the affairs of its home states. Nigerians in Diaspora can and should continue to engage more actively in the affairs of the nation, stay well informed and participate fully in strengthening our democratic institutions. But their voices should be heard on international issues too. What stops NIDO from lobbying for more concerted action on the Darfur issue for instance; continue to highlight the issue of the important fair trade with Africa and removal of the subsidies by the US and the EU nations? NIDO and similar organizations should be a sustained voice of advocacy in all these issues. There are lots of ways in which Nigerians abroad can positively contribute their quota to nation-building. The point is not lost on the Federal Government, which never misses an opportunity to highlight it. Speaking in July 2005, at a conference on “Bridging the Digital and Scientific Divide: Forging a Constructive Relationship with the Nigerian Diaspora”, President Olusegun Obasanjo called for “cooperation and support to stay the course and deepen the reform process”. Still projecting this view at a seminar organized by NIDO Europe last June, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr Frank Nweke Jnr said: “as professionals, you need to take concrete steps to liaise with your professional kith and kin at home to ensure a symbiotic strengthening of capacities needed for the challenge of development”. It is very clear from these kinds of statements about the expected roles of Nigerians abroad in their moral duty towards their homeland.
Hence it should no longer surprise anyone to see our professional brothers and sisters from abroad transporting various creative ideas and expertise from their bases back to their native land. The upcoming elections provide this group of Nigerians with an opportunity to contribute constructively to the on-going debates as part of the desire to consolidate our process of democratization. Interestingly, enough we have seen some US and Europe based Nigerians return home to contest for political posts and use their wealth of (and?) knowledge to try to create an inroad into the political landscape through the ballot box. Others have remained in their foreign bases but have participated through the media in discussions and reviews about political events. As with all good measures, there is the opposite number as it were.
There are some rogue elements that have attempted to infiltrate the ranks of the genuine compatriots and seek to cause unnecessary uproar at the expense of Nigerians. Ill-informed and ill-advised they parade the streets of foreign countries professing to be upholders of democratic values and masquerade as democrats at heart. What is worse is that they employ bully boy tactics to spread malicious and misleading information about what is going on in some parts of Nigeria. A recent example of this sort of unwholesome behaviour was when some for these individuals clearly not in full-time employment and on the prowl for easy money allowed themselves to be seduced by a few pounds and dollars from the hands of some based politicians to embark on obnoxious campaigns against Ogun State.
The rage of some members of the opposition over the performances in Ogun continues to manifest itself in various forms. A clear crime of stealing and doctoring of official documents is being dressed in political garb by the opposition. Having failed to get the desired result at home, they have resorted to using some Nigerians based abroad to continue the dirty campaign. The attempts to apply tactics of political activists such as petitions, placards and protests by a group of misled individuals pretending to be democrats should be out rightly condemned. They should not be allowed to penetrate the ranks of well-meaning Nigerians democrats living abroad who truly seek to build a better Nigeria as opposed to fringe elements who are simply being used by the opposition for political reasons to hoodwink the rest of the world. Majority of the Nigerians in Diaspora are hardworking and law-abiding citizens. Over the years they have expressed their willingness to work with their brothers and sisters at home to build up a strong and viable nation through service to their communities. One is by no means against the constructive criticism of those we elected into office, the ongoing reforms and the impact on the ordinary Nigerian. Leadership is all about upholding the principles of transparency and accountability.
This is all part of the values of democracy, which are being enthroned in our society. What is frowned upon is the distorting of information as part of a broader campaign to tarnish the image of a Government that is widely believed to be hardworking and focused in its steward to the community. Preying upon the vulnerability of a few Nigerians based abroad, and luring them to perpetrate nefarious activities under the guise of democracy has no value whatsoever. This style of practising “democracy” could perhaps be one of the many issues addressed by NIDO as it prepares for its worldwide conference scheduled to hold January 2007 in Canada.