By Nengak Daniel Gondyi
I have read Prof. Soludo’s reflection on the threat of Nigeria losing its diaspora. I am aware that some diaspora communities trace their emigration from Nigeria to the slave trade, but in this piece, I use ‘first generation’ and ‘second generation’ in order to match the same categories used by Professor Soludo.
I begin by joining other commentators to express reservation to Soludo’s estimate which placed the total size of the diaspora as 17 million. Considering that Soludo’s piece was not an academic paper, one could not expect detailed citations and notes accompanying each fact. Yet Soludo has failed to convince me how he arrived at this figure or why he refused the estimated 5 million which one finds in most academic sources including de Haas, a leading expert. Also, since Soludo refers to Wikipedia on other points, it is conceivable that it was not Soludo’s intention to present a thorough and rigorously researched dissertation on the subject but instead, a ‘food for thought’. That is fine and appreciated; but Soludo is a Professor with vast experience, many readers would accept and later cite his words as authoritative. It is not known exactly how many people live inside Nigeria, so it would be hard to know for a fact how many live abroad. However, estimates should not swing from 5 to 17 million!
Away from the mysterious figure of 17 million Nigerians in the diaspora, Soludo is right in his questioning of cash remittances. Some analysts even claim that as much as $2 out of every $100 remitted in the world goes to Nigeria. What such analysts ignore is that money is moving in both directions; some of the huge remittance figures are actually repayment of loans – for example repayment of huge migration (or smuggle) related expenses earlier borne by family and friends as well as repayment of school fees. So it is not new money that could revive the fortunes of families. There is also data that shows clearly that remittance is often used for flamboyant projects (such as marrying additional wives). Frankly, I think remittance in cash is less important than it is currently touted to be.
It is true as Soludo notes that the migration corridor is tightening in the west and there could be fewer Nigerian’s arriving into the diaspora over the coming years. But there is another way that Nigeria could lose its diaspora: it is through the integrative processes at work in host nations. The emergence of Barack Obama as President of the USA is perhaps the clearest example of a trend in which western political parties are competing to present candidates with migration backgrounds. In the years to come, we will see more Nigerians gaining political offices abroad and many more (whom we might not hear about) would join political parties abroad and emphatically shun Nigeria and Nigerian affairs in order to gain the support and acceptance of the political machinery of their host countries – this could be the most significant dimension of ‘bleaching’. Eventually, there will be less and less ‘diasporans’ sending remittances to Nigeria and then there will be none. Obviously, Americans no longer remit to England.
To cut some slack for the first generation of the diaspora, Soludo should appreciate how hard it could be to teach Nigerian languages to the second generation when the family could be of a mixed race or inter-ethnic. It is also the priority to earn money and support the family and give children career education rather than learn Nigerian languages. Personally, I really don’t see how failure to speak a Nigerian language makes one less Nigerian; and failure to speak ethnic languages is unlikely to be more severe in the diaspora than it is inside Nigeria.
So from available signals as Soludo rightly concludes, the Nigerian diaspora is an endangered species that is staring extinction in the eye. This is unfortunate yet the situation is not beyond help, it is wholly reversible. I will propose 3 ways this reversal could be achieved:
First, there are Nigerians who left because they are bitter about events in Nigeria and there are those who fled persecutions of different kinds. It could be hard to have such emigrants themselves to contribute to the development of Nigeria especially through remittances. It would be harder still to get their children interested in Nigeria since it is conceivable that they will grow up reflecting on the unhappy circumstances in which their parents left. I don’t foresee that we could have a state that makes 160 million citizens happy at the same time, but we must strengthen the judiciary and the justice system so that there is less persecution and injustice and so that more Nigerians are able to seek redress and achieve reconciliation at home. Tackling impunity could only reduce emigration from Nigeria by a small (perhaps insignificant) degree. But it is crucial. It would ensure that those who leave Nigeria do so with happy memories and would tell tales of Nigeria that the second generation would find hard to ignore.
Secondly, if Nigeria is interested in growing and retaining its own diaspora as well as even appropriating other black people as proposed by Soludo, then it is crucial to reach the second generation of the diaspora. Examples from the Cape Verdean diaspora indicate that the remittances of the foreign-born generations could be directed to charities and to investments rather than to families and friends. This shift is wholly sustainable as family connections wane over the years. To achieve this in Nigeria, we need to have, for example, the Calabar based ‘Afterschool Peer Mentoring Project’ talking to Nigerians in Shanghai – of course, ‘state of origin’ or ‘state of residence’ should be a taboo in this kind of conversation. It suffices that both parties acknowledge each other as Nigerian or at least interested in Nigeria.
The kind of advocacy that requires the second generation to join the Kiev chapter of the Ijaw National Congress for example, could prove counterproductive among those who may wish to define themselves as actively Ukranian and Nigerian. To be Ukranian and Nigerian is conceivable and accepted by laws of dual nationality. But requiring individuals to be Tiv and Danish at the same time could, if not carefully approached, result in deep identity crises. Soludo mentioned a second generation who prefer to think of themselves as African rather than Nigerian. But there are many who insist they are ‘human’ and would not subscribe to any kind of bounded [political] communities – conceivably, mobilizing a diaspora would be harder among the latter!
Finally, I think that the most efficient method to keep the diaspora involved with Nigeria is likely to be franchise, the possibility for Nigerians to vote and be voted for abroad. Findings from Cape Verde, again, show an unprecedented surge in diaspora activism when the external or diaspora vote was approved in 1991. If every Nigerian of the second generation in the diaspora receives a voter’s card from the Nigerian state on their 18th birthday; they are likely to find out what it implies (if their parents did not teach them). And there are many political activists in the diaspora who could educate their fellow citizens on the core issues in Nigerian elections. Also, some Nigerian political parties have overseas branches that could recruit and campaign among the diasporans while online outreach could do the rest of the voter sensitization. It is very logical to think that a citizen who votes is likely keep abreast with news coming from Nigeria and also send in financial contributions when they are able to do so. But it is also likely that we will see more of the second generation coming home to contribute if they were given seats in parliament.
In the next decade, will the Nigerian diaspora as we know it wane and become extinct or will it surge into an active economic and political community? The direction of policy in Abuja will determine this; especially the ongoing constitutional reform.
About the Author
Nengak Daniel Gondyi is a graduate student of International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö Högskola in Sweden. He is also a Senior Programme Officer of the Abuja based Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD. Nengak is a researcher, writer and a ‘public affairs analyst’ interested in broad themes including citizenship, migration, populations, human rights democracy and other topics in the news.
On his job at CDD, he led the ‘West Africa Insight’ – a research project that monitors futures and trends in West Africa. He also worked on other projects including on citizenship and belonging in Nigeria.
He maintains a weekly blog with youthhubafrica.org and his articles have been published on the West Africa Insight project as well as by other reputable blogs, websites and newspapers while his academic writings have been presented in international conferences and seminars. He loves cycling, asking questions reading and writing.