The Diasporan Perspective
Let me start this letter by openly proclaiming that the state of the Nigerian enterprise is solid and the fundamentals are strong, challenges, warts and all. I know most of you would eviscerate and lambaste me, wondering which planet I inhabit since your own take may be diametrically different from mine. While I may put some sheen and shine in my own take about the Nigerian state, yours may be defined by doom and gloom- it is perfectly normal for you to think along such lines, and I appreciate and understand your frustrations and anger, which I also share but in a more tempered tone.
So before you shoot your vitriolic arrows at me, before you begin to question my raison deter for doing this letter, hear me out first, analyze what I am saying here dispassionately and then you can either internalize the message or consign it in your memory bank, so that someday, when the full import of what I am about to say here stares you in the face, you will remember that years ago, there was a voice in the wildernesses that had attempted to create hope in the oasis of despair that you had had consigned the Nigerian state into.
For two months now, ( the longest I have ever stayed in the country in the past 14 years), I have been living in Nigeria, travelling and taking in the sight and sound of the country, the struggles at nation-building that it is currently going through, the struggle to create a modern state based on talents and competence as opposed to primordial and or geographical considerations; the conflict of identity it is currently enmeshed, where its nationals consider themselves first as citizens of a particular ethnic or geographical space as opposed to donning a national toga- an identity crises that has affected every aspect of our national life- from politics, to social and economic platforms.
I have seen hope and despair mix in a symphony of probabilities, but it is the hope that I see that I am centering this letter on. Despite the challenges that I have seen in this country, Nigeria is adopting a series of best practices on a wide range of platforms. The banking sector has been massively transformed to align its services with what obtains elsewhere, the telecommunications industry is also adapting to new realities- internet access though still low is growing in leaps and bounds. Electricity surprisingly is getting better and more stabilized. The area in ikeja where I got an office space enjoys uninterrupted electricity and if light goes off, it is restored in less than 10 minutes, my investment in generator, so far has been of minimal use. I used to hear friends tell me that light has improved in the country; I didn’t believe them, until I experienced it firsthand. Kudos to the Jonathan administration for this slow but steady improvement in electricity consumption in the country,
Despite the harrowing infrastructural and living condition conditions that exit in the country, Nigerians are still pulling water out of the rock and are living their dreams. Young men and women are starting up businesses; they are harnessing their creative energies to tap into the globalized space, using technology as a platform to create wealth for themselves. In a country of almost 170 million people, with conservatively 20 million people with easily disposable income, the smart ones are tailoring their goods and services to a niche market and they are smiling their way to the bank daily.
Nigeria is going through its own Gilded Age, as America went through in the late 1880s to the turn of the Twentieth Century, and we Diasporans should be in the vanguard of such a march, creating momentum that would soon become a tipping point, but we are not. We are content and take delight in shouting ourselves hoarse from the comforts of our abodes in Europe and America, preaching about best practices while refusing to be in the kitchen, and to take the heat that comes before the sumptuous meal.
Fellow Diasporans, Nigeria is moving forward, and those who sit here in the trenches of its development are watching us, laughing at us, especially when we take umbrage and pontificate at the shenanigans that go on in our political process without offering ourselves to be a part of the process. We are being laughed at, because, we are putting ourselves as factors, in the grand scheme of things. Do majority of us vote? Can we influence the outcome of elections here? Of course, if we were united and properly invested in the process, we could engender some changes or have our voices heard and respected after all, we remit billions of dollars to this country every year, and as they say, he who pays the piper dictates the tune, but we are scattered and are propelled by disparate and ideologically heterogeneous impulses, and our politicians know this, and they just laugh at us, as noise makers, who only grandstand on social media sites. We can change that perception by being actively engaged in all aspects of our national life.
If you want this country to benefit from your expertise and skills-sets, begin to come back gradually to this country, look at areas that you can add value and put in your all, and you will be rewarded over time. I have decided to do just that, and, that explains why I have been here for two months now. I believe that event though my love for the United States is deep-rooted and I am proud to call myself a Nigerian-American, the best I can utilize what America did for me, educating me, in some of its best colleges, would be for me to come home and add value to our collective essence.
It has not been easy doing that, for the past two months, as a matter of fact, there has been moments that I told myself I can’t do this anymore, but when I look at the success stories of hundreds of thousands of my earlier Diasporans who braved the odds and are today flourishing beyond their widest imaginations, while still retaining 100 percent, their American-ness or British orientations, I became inspired. And so my fellow Diasporans, my advice to you is simple: as you enjoy the American or European dream, don’t foreclose those that can be realized back home. There is nothing as sweet as having the best of two worlds. Think about it!
Ekerete Udoh writes for ThisDay News
THE inadequacy of budgetary allocations to offset capital expenditures, especially infrastructure developments may have compelled the Federal Government to fast-track processes for the proposed Diaspora bond.
Besides, the move would also serve as measure to build the nation’s debts yield curve.
The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who made the disclosure, explained thatNigeria is planning to raise debt abroad regularly as Africa’s largest oil producer seeks to develop a benchmark for borrowers.
Nigeria returned to international debt markets for the first time in two years in July, issuing $1 billion in five-year and 10-year Eurobonds. Presently, plans are underway to raise $100 million by selling so-called Diaspora bonds, targeted at citizens living overseas.
“If it succeeds, we’ll do more,” Okonjo-Iweala said on the sidelines of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund meetings, adding that the sale will take place in the first quarter of next year.
“We intend to enter the market on a regular basis because we’re trying to build a yield curve.”
“Nigerians abroad would have sent $21 billion home by the end of 2013, according to World Bank figures, and the government wants “to tap some of that,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
The nation is stepping up debt sales to finance infrastructure as it faces inadequate budget allocations for capital spending. Meanwhile, the yield on Nigeria’s $500 million in Eurobonds due July 2023 dropped 18 basis points this month to 5.94 per cent yesterday, the lowest level since July 23, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The nation’s economy is projected to expand by 6.75 per cent next year, compared with an estimate of 6.5 per cent in 2013, the minister said. “The budget deficit will stay little changed at 1.9 per cent of gross domestic product. The outlook is reasonably good.
“We are keeping a tight fiscal balance. We believe in fiscal consolidation with growth. Whatever fiscal space we create we’re going to use that to tackle the bottlenecks, and for us, they are power and infrastructure,” she added.
The Guardian Nigeria
At the 2013 Diaspora Day conference held in Abuja last Thursday, I saw, once again, the beauty and diverse endowments of our nation in terms of human capital assets. The conferees came from all over the world. They were among the best and some of them were among the most celebrated in their chosen fields of endeavour. These are Nigerians who “think home” and who seek opportunities for involvement in the serious and demanding business of nation building and national transformation. The events of last week and the track record of the Federal Government under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in harnessing the skills and resources of Nigerians in the Diaspora has reinforced my personal conviction that the strength of every nation lies not just in the quality of its human capital, but even more in the ability of the government of that nation to give everyone a sense of belonging and create a clearing house for all who want to be part of progress.
As I joined the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, and the Chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, to welcome dignitaries and our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, I thought of the fact that they all sacrificed time and resources to be part of this conference.
Then my mind went to how the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) and the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora worked together, along with other stakeholders, to make the event possible. The synergy was evident and what we should see in all of this is the emerging national culture of service, selfless patriotism and commitment to national transformation. As we know, the NNVS was established in 2003 under the political Affairs Office in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. It has the mandate to coordinate the effective utilisation of the skills and expertise of Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora, for the development of the nation and to promote voluntarism.
The focus of the NNVS is to find ways of utilising the skills, knowledge and expertise of Nigerians. Such expertise and skills may have been gathered during their career in the public/private sector, or after retirement; but it must be Nigerians who are able and willing to offer national service through volunteer work. Needless to say that it was in recognition of the worthy contributions of Nigerians in Diaspora to national development that the Nigeria Diaspora Day was instituted in 2005. This was government’s own way of creating an even more contemporary platform for Nigerian professionals and experts abroad (and their counterparts at home) to come together for productive dialogue, effective engagement, and useful professional interaction. This is all aimed at enabling everyone contribute to finding solutions to some of our developmental challenges.
Besides the continental chairpersons and members of the Technical Committee on National Diaspora Policy present at last week’s event, I have had occasion to interact with our brothers and sisters in Diaspora under various platforms. Each time I am deeply moved by the depth of the love they have for our dear country, as well as their eagerness to contribute to efforts to transform it. I want to use this opportunity to thank them most sincerely for their patriotism and to also appeal to some of their colleagues who are yet to identify with the Diaspora initiative and the noble contributions it is making to do so.
This year’s Diaspora Day celebration is special, as it took place in the midst of on-going activities and programmes to celebrate Nigeria’s 100 years of existence as a united country. The Federal Executive Council approved the concept document, which outlines the focus and structure of Nigeria’s centenary celebration. Detailed planning, the buy-in of various stakeholders and the resolute support of the private sector, built up to the events of the 4th of February, 2013, when Mr. President, in company with former presidents and heads of state, commenced the Nigeria centenary celebrations at the State House Banquet Hall. It was a very colourful ceremony, capturing some of the most essential defining moments of our national historical evolution and our nationhood.
But beyond the ceremonies, the centenary programme has some important legacy projects. One of the most outstanding of these legacy projects is the proposed Centenary City, which is located on a virgin land along Airport road in Abuja. It is designed as a contemporary efficient “mixed-use” city, emphasising modernity. But it is a modernity that draws from, and does not play down, Nigeria’s unique cultural heritage.
The centenary City Concept captures the best mix of activities, as it is designed to promote leisure, tourism, commerce and sports with only a 20% residential component in a master planned environment. It will, at the same time be a centre for the preservation of Nigeria’s political history as well as a monument for documentation of our contributions to the advancement of global peace and security and the political, cultural and economic advancement of humanity.
This city will be regulated and well secured, with world-class security infrastructure that will make it re-introduce Abuja to the world. In terms of its actual ambience, the Centenary City will be a green city, with a natural buffer, ultra-modern public facilities and zero waste management. This city will reduce waste to zero through a combination of modern measures for maintaining a clean environment. Domestic waste will be incinerated as an additional power source, while other wastes such as plastics will be recycled or re-purposed for other uses.
The Centenary City shall have a prominent cultural core, with various symbols of Nigeria’s unity and strength, parks and galleries. On the whole, the city shall have an aesthetic appeal matching any of the world’s most celebrated cities today, with a central park that provides the green-spirit. This will give orientation, clarity and iconic power to the city as a whole, while accentuating, in particular and most powerfully, the city centre. Part of this package is an urban grid, with a super-block system that is modular and organic. This will yield an organised framework and resulting grid of arteries, streets and pathways will deliver an efficient intermodal traffic system where pedestrians, cyclists, automobiles, trams and the monorail can co-exist in a friendly human way.
Another major feature of the centenary city is that it will have an independent power source,with a gas-fired power plant connected directly to a gas terminal, to guarantee constant power supply. Water management will be planned in an environmentally sound manner; where approximately 60 per cent of the water used will be recycled and waste water reused as many times as possible.
The residential component of the city is expected to accommodate only about 100,000 people, who will be resident in the city to maintain round-the-clock human presence. There will be more of elegant, people-friendly high-rise apartments and apartment towers, than villas. Sports shall be given prominence in the Centenary City, with top-of-the range sporting facilities, which shall include a signature golf course and tennis centre. The city will also be the preferred ‘business centre, as destination for multi-national and domestic businesses where the topmost corporate bodies in Nigeria will have their show rooms. Then there is the presidential archives, which will warehouse the history of our political development and the contributions of our past presidents/heads of state and the Nigerian Institute of Federalism.
Perhaps we should now look at the investment opportunities in the Centenary City. In doing that, we should first note thatthe city is purely a private-sector-driven project. It has been incorporated as a public limited liability company (PLC), after the response by a number of individuals and corporate organisations to the invitation to participate in the Centenary City as promoters and investors. They have also accordingly paid the first capital call of a minimum of US250,000 and a maximum of US5,000,000. The promoters and investors met on Friday July 26, 2013, to begin the process of constituting the board. It is the board that will in turn start the process of appointing members of the management of the Centenary City Plc.
As I invite all Nigerians in the Diaspora to take advantage of the wonderful investment opportunities that the Centenary City offers to own profitable businesses in Abuja, I wish to particularly challenge the medical professionals among them to take up the hospital project in the city. This will reduce capital flight through Nigerians who are often forced to travel all over the world in large numbers and spend huge amount of money on medical tourism every year. With our large population, it is obvious that any investment in a world-class medical facility in Abuja will bring returns in less than no time.
Finally, let me mention the Nigerian Diaspora Centre, which will be one of the iconic structures in the Centenary City. I enjoin everyone to be part of this endeavour and to take up the challenge of helping to build the centre. It is only in this way that our joint dreams, concepts and ideas can be accurately incorporated and concretised in the centre. I have no doubt that Diaspora Nigerians will become more visible as promoters and investors in the Centenary City. More importantly, I urge everyone to embrace the spirit of voluntarism, take seriously the consolidation of our indivisibility as one united nation and wave the flag of unity as “One Nation” with “Great Promise.” It is Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora that will develop Nigeria and ensure her future greatness.
*Senator Anyim is Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Nigerian senate president.
Recently New York Times published an article about the increase of U.S. immigrants going back to their native countries to start up their own businesses. It is safe to say over the past decade the countries grouped in the BRICS have been fortunate to receive a brain-gain, as many of their best and brightest have seen their own countries as land of opportunities.
On one of my social media networks I spotted a comment that said “By the time Africans get featured in an article like this the gold rush will be over.” Of course you can easily interpret this statement in several ways but it spoke volumes about how Africans tend to always be last in everything.
As a Nigerian in the Diaspora I would love to go back after I finish my education to pursue my own dreams but realistically we are faced with obstacles that cause many diasporans to become reluctant to return back to Africa to start up a business. Here are my reasons why…
The Political Climate
The political climate in Nigeria is one of the number top reasons why the Nigerian Diaspora refuse to go back to Nigeria. Despite a democratic society, the political system is still full of corruption and lack of transparency.
If we compare our political history to a developing country such as Malaysia you will see some similarity as both countries received independence two years apart from each other from British rule. Even in the 1960’s Nigeria was ahead of Malaysia economically wise and had vast more natural resources. If we compare both countries as of today, Malaysia has been able to pull ahead in terms of development. In Malaysia, a person can literally start a business in less of week versus Nigeria which is 30 plus days. Interestingly enough there is an increasing Nigerian base in Malaysia. In other countries hard work can actually turn into a successful business like Chris Aire who has created a jewelry empire or Kase Lawal a well known business man in the oil sector. In Nigeria there are many businesses thriving based off their own work, but as well just as many growing because of ties these companies have with the government.
Lack of infrastructure
It is 2012 and Nigeria still does not have a stable power for companies to run businesses. Many companies in Nigeria use over 10% of their income to run power from day to Night. In other countries running power for the company is the least of one’s concern and normally amount to 1% to 2 %. Besides the power, roads are an eyesore and connectivity is still a problem among businesses. These issues have stifled Nigerians for decades who dream of building a business. Many Nigerians in the Diaspora have great ideas but are held back simply because Nigeria lacks the infrastructure to turn their idea into a viable business.
Out of touch with Nigeria
Let’s face it some people in the diaspora are just simply out of touch. They have no clue what is taking place in Nigeria and some do not even want to know. Other countries do a great job of connecting their people in the diapora to their home countries. In India a person from the Diaspora sits on parliament. Chinese have groups in the Diaspora that actually have influence in Chinese affairs. If we look in Liberia they allow they citizens in the Diaspora to vote in government elections. Yes, we can say we have “people” in the government who are suppose to handle Diaspora affairs, but what can we say they have done. We have groups in the Diaspora who are there to help Nigerian entrepreneurs invest back into Nigeria, but instead it becomes a power struggle of who will lead the group. In this area the Diaspora affairs must improve in order to create a better bridge between those in and out of Nigeria.
The comfort of being overseas
Time and time again I meet Nigerians who continue to say I want to back to Nigeria one day and it never becomes a reality. I remember jumping in a taxi cab on my way to a meeting and coincidentally the taxi driver was a Nigerian. He was telling me his journey from Nigeria and how he wishes to go back but he is just use to his routine in the US. Many people aspire to be entrepreneurs but some rather deal with the comfort of 9 to 5 rather than going back to Nigeria to deal with the headache. Nigerians who have left to go back to Nigeria get there to discover a pile of empty promises. People who said they will connect them with so and so end up being dead ends. Staying in the Diaspora may not be the ideal route, but to many Nigerians it is considered the safe route.
Despite all of these roadblocks to go back to Nigeria I am still moved by the vast opportunities to try my luck and move back to Nigeria. There are many Nigerians who have gone back and have made a successful name for themselves. Nigeria is growing by leaps and bounds ripe for development. It will be difficult to assimilate back into the country, but anything great is not easy to obtain. The challenges of Nigeria should not discourage people in the Diasporas; it should in fact encourage us to transfer our skills to build up Nigeria. As a wise man once told me, “Nigerians are walking on money; the opportunities are far too great to not see them”. I call on Nigerians in the Diaspora to migrate back to Nigeria to take advantage of these opportunities. Do not wait for the gold rush to be over tap into Nigeria’s potential.
Are you a Nigerian in the Diaspora? Are you willing and ready to return home? Or are you a newly returnee? How is your experience? Leave your comments below!