By Femi Odere
It’s indeed a sad observation that what passes as development as we know it happened despite Nigeria’s brimming human capital endowment that has always been coveted by developed countries around the world. It’s also a sad commentary that the country’s political leaders have failed woefully to galvanize the talents and resourcefulness of the Nigerian people for sustainable development.
Of all the inability, if not failure of our political leaders to circle the country’s development wagon around the people, perhaps one of the most disappointingly depressing of these failures has been the exclusion of Nigerians in the diaspora (in real and practical terms) in the nation’s developmental matrix, despite several data that has proven that this highly credentialed and resource-endowed critical mass is the bedrock of development in any given society.
Thus, our leaders’ inability to properly situate the diaspora piece on the country’s development puzzle will continue to stunt the nation’s growth, especially in an increasingly globalized world, where competition for human and material resources has never been more intense, which the fungibility of knowledge happens to be the driving force of this intensity.
To be sure, there has never been a time in the history of the country’s electioneering campaigns that a presidential candidate gave prominence to Nigerians in the diaspora and the opportunity to be actively involved in the electoral process than the creation of a Diaspora Directorate by the Presidential Campaign Council, PCC of now President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
There also has never been a time that a critical mass of Nigerians in the Diaspora was so enthusiastic in supporting a candidate’s presidential aspiration as they did with then-candidate Asiwaju Tinubu to the extent that they donated themselves, time, energies, and materials to the campaign.
The political capital that has accrued to the President-elect, Asiwaju Tinubu from Nigerians in the diaspora and their readiness to holistically participate in the nation’s development as never before should, as a matter of urgency, if not priority, be translated and converted to a veritable mechanism for national rebirth and economic growth.
While there’s every indication that the President-elect will actively court the expertise and harness the resources of the Nigerian diaspora community with deliberate intensity, a good starting point in this quest is the creation of a full-fledged Federal Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.
In lieu of when diaspora voting would become manifest in the nation’s body politic – which is the political component of their overarching desire to participate in the country’s development – the shortest route by the incoming Tinubu government to addressing the multifarious socio-economic challenges it will inherit in a few months – some of which are quite unprecedented, but not insurmountable – the establishment of a diaspora ministry is the next best thing.
The ministry, as part of its core mandates, would interface the diaspora community with the three arms of government on the one hand, government’s Ministries, Department and Agencies, MDAs, for capacity building and enhancement, and resource allocation for overall national development on the other hand.
The argument for a full-fledged federal ministry for the country’s diaspora community can be predicated on three key empirical factors; and these are: population, literacy, and financial endowment by way of remittances.
Although a very close approximation of the Nigerian population in the diaspora may be difficult to ascertain, due to a lack of up-to-date data and illegal migration, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Nigeria had a Diaspora population of 1.7 million people as far back as 2017.
While this figure can be used as a base measurement to advance an argument, it’s chronically on the low ebb of the population scale, because of the spike in the emigration of Nigerians from their country of birth since the year in which the data was issued.
What’s more, it can also be said without any fear of contradiction that Nigerians who migrated illegally to different countries of the world, probably surpass those whose migration was done within the confines of the laws of their host countries.
Aside from this outdated UN population data on diasporic Nigerians, data from other sources estimate that the diaspora population is between 15 and 17 million people. This is a staggering population.
Even if one is compelled to use the 1.7 million UN data baseline, the fact remains that the Nigerian diaspora population is still far more than the population of about 30 countries of the world including: Brunei, Suriname, Luxembourg, and Montenegro, just to mention a few.
However, the 15 million population data from other sources also means that the Nigerian diaspora population outshines more than the population of 100 countries of the world including – in no particular order: the Republic of Guinea, Rwanda, Tunisia, Belgium, Jordan, the Dominican Republic, Sweden, Greece, Portugal, Hungary, the State of Israel, Switzerland, Austria, Hong Kong, Denmark, Finland, and Lebanon and a host of other countries.
From the foregoing, therefore, the Nigerian population in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, not to say the African continent, conveniently passes for a nation that would automatically be accorded its rightful place in the comity of nations and global institutions.
Nigerians in the diaspora are hardly liabilities to their host or adopted countries, even with their illegal status as they are mostly hardworking. They are a successful population that contributes in no small measure to the GDP of their host countries, because they have the highest literacy rate among immigrants from other developing and underdeveloped countries.
According to the Financial Times, in the United States, where there is a higher concentration of Nigerians in the diaspora, among the developed countries, Nigerians are the most highly educated of all groups, with 61 percent holding at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 31 percent of the total foreign-born population and 32 percent of the US-born population.
The publication went further in its analysis that “more than half of Nigerian immigrants – 54 per cent – were most likely to occupy management positions, compared with 32 per cent of the total foreign-born population and 39 per cent of the US-born population. Similar Nigerian literacy successes are reflected in the UK, “where many highly-educated diaspora works in financial services, IT, and the legal and medical professions among other high-end professions.
A reasonable deduction can then be made that if the population of Nigerians in the diaspora is so significant that it can constitute a country with its high literacy rate, it goes without saying that they would be imbued with higher incomes which would translate into increased financial receipts for their country. And this is where their remittances come in.
According to World Bank data, as of 2018, the Nigerian Diaspora remittance was $24.31 billion; it dropped to $23.81 billion in 2019 and in 2020 it fell to $17.21 billion. This means that the Nigerian Diaspora population remitted $65.34 billion in three years to boost economic activities in their country of birth.
At the US-Africa Leaders Summit on December 13-15, 2022, in Washington, D.C President Muhammadu Buhari, while addressing a town hall meeting of his country’s citizens, said that “Nigerians in the diaspora remitted more than $20 billion in 2021.”
The President added that in this same year, “our diaspora home remittances through official channels stood at $20 billion< which is four times more than the value of our Foreign Direct Investment.”
Please pay attention to the “through the official channel” phrase by the Nigerian President. This phrase implies that the amount remitted to Nigeria in 2021 was certainly far more than $20 billion. But because there’s no mechanism with which to record the remittances from the unofficial channels, hence the $20 billion figure. And these unofficial channels are multifaceted.
Aside from the fact that diaspora remittances have in most cases been recorded as significantly more than the country’s oil receipts, it should also be recalled that the remittances of Nigerians in the diaspora were the most significant foreign receipts that kept the Nigerian economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic that lasted for more than a year.
From all development indicators, Nigeria is still classified as an underdeveloped country. There is therefore no excuse for an underdeveloped economy such as Nigeria not to have had a ministry that’s solely dedicated to its diaspora, given the aforesaid when ‘first world’ economies such as the State of Israel and South Korea have cabinet-level diaspora ministries.
Other countries with stand-alone ministries for their diaspora citizens, although with different nomenclatures include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, Indonesia, India, Jamaica, Morocco, and Senegal to name just a few.
One hopes that the creation of the United States Diaspora Advisory Council by the Biden administration – the first of its kind in US history – is not another strategic, long-term national interest to put the African continent in a sleep mode now that there’s an increasing number of the African diaspora in the cabinet position as well as the policy environment of the US government. Barring this conjecture, this is an opportune time for Nigeria to actively engage its diaspora citizens to positively influence the policies of developed economies toward Africa.
It should be stressed that the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, NiDCOM, which is currently spearheaded by Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa would most likely have been moribund by now if not for her personal exertion and exemplary leadership quality, because the commission was erroneously subsumed – perhaps deliberately so to make it ineffectual – in the domain of a pathetically uninspiring and lethargic Foreign Affairs Minister, who could not craft any futuristic and development-driven foreign policy objectives in his eight years in office. If Nigeria must play in the big league of the global diaspora network that’s currently unfolding before our own eyes in the race for resource mobilization from all angles, then the country needs not only a Diaspora ministry but an indefatigable personality of cabinet rank to push its diaspora envelope.
In conclusion, considering the enormous socio-economic challenges that the incoming Tinubu government will inherit and the fact that some fundamental changes must be made not only to the country’s structure, but also its governance system for superlative performance, as well as meeting the people’s expectations, the establishment of a Federal Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is sine qua non to the realization of the Tinubu administration’s economic objectives and development aspirations.
Nigerians in the diaspora have demonstrated the wherewithal to positively affect the development of an underdeveloped economy like Nigeria, as they have done – and continue to do – in their host countries around the world. The time to deliberately and strategically include them in the nation’s development paradigm is now. Anything short of this move would not only be counter-intuitive, but would be patently uncivilized.
•Odere, former Senior Special Assistant, SSA, to former governor if Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, on Diaspora Affairs; Chairman of States’ Diaspora Focal Point Officers and former Head of Media and Publicity at the Diaspora Directorate, APC PC, lives in Iropora-Ekiti, and he can be reached at email@example.com