In this inspiring piece, Joe Keshi describes some of the initiatives that Nigerians in Diaspora are undertaking in Nigeria. I have repeatedly used the remittances to buttress the imperatives of a meaningful partnership for development between the Nigerian state and her Diaspora. This notwithstanding, I was and remain aware of the limitations of the remittances as a strong argument because the bulk of the remittances go to family members and assessing its impact on the economy, have been difficult.
By Joe Keshi
First was the invitation from Prof. Barth Nnaji, Chairman Geometrics Nigeria, and the promoter of the Aba IPP to the ground breaking ceremony of the $250 million power project? The Aba IPP project is the first by-product of the power reform initiative that promotes private sector investment in the Nigerian power sector. It is also the first indigenous power plant in Africa, the first to be constructed in Africa in particular Nigeria, without any government support and the first of its kind in Africa to share the benefits with the neighboring communities. At the well attended ground breaking ceremony, it was repeatedly stressed that the plant, expected to be operational by December 2008, was the efforts of a Nigerian in the Diaspora.
So also was the foundation laying ceremony of the much publicized American Hospital to be built in Abuja. This is the brain child of the New York based Dr. Ifeanyi Obiako. Like Prof. Nnaji, Dr. Obiako has been on the project for years, mobilizing resources from his base in the United States and securing the necessary permits, land etc to enable him fulfill his dream of building a five star medical centre in Nigeria. The first phase is a 70 bed hospital which will be expanded in the second and third phases to a 250 bed hospital with seven specialized units. Dr. Obiako’s ultimate aim is to make it a teaching hospital, a medical centre of excellence.
Second was the visit to my office of Dr. Iheadi Onwukwe, Chief Executive of Avo Health Limited. Dr. Onwukwe is UK based and his journey to return home began almost two years ago. Realizing that his commitments in the UK were limiting his ability to explore the opportunities he saw in Nigeria, following the first Diaspora conference, he purchased a piece of land in Abuja and has just completed a two story building which now serves as both office and home whenever he is in Nigeria. According to him, he can now stay longer in the country and has a long list of both government and private agencies which he hopes to offer his consultancy service to.
Third, was my visit to Afrihub at the invitation of Prof. Bolaji Aluko. Bolaji and I had actually spoken on his arrival in Nigeria on his efforts to assist the NUC kick start its linkage of Experts and Academicians in the Diaspora Scheme (LEADS) which seeks to encourage Nigerian dons in the Diaspora to do their sabbaticals in Nigeria. According to Bolaji sixty lecturers have registered to participate in the programme. When fully operational, the impact on ouruniversities will be enormous.
At the Afrihub, office, I met the man behind the idea, Prof. Manny Aniebonam who was kind enough to conduct me round the offices of Afrihub on the second floor of the imposing AP Plaza. Prof. Aniebonam and his associates from the United States and their Nigerian collaborators are working in two complementary directions. At the higher level is the establishment of modern IT centres in Nigerian universities. About 15 universities have benefited or are in the process of benefiting from the initiative which will see the centres being equipped with about 500 – 1000 computers in the first instance and expanding to 2000 units. On a lower level, Afrihub is engaged in capacity building, in the training of young people in computer appreciation and application. About 100 students each from schools in Abuja are selected for training and at no cost to the schools and their parents. This is being done within the context of international best practices which sees Manny and Co, equipping the future generation with the tools to survive in a world driven by information technology. Before the end of the year or early in the coming year, vice chancellors of Nigerian Universities would be guest of Afrihub, where they would learn or update their knowledge of computer, its appreciation and application.
The faces of expectations I saw among the young students tell a story of hope and confidence in the future. It was the same situation at David Onu’s Ins Enterprise. David Onu, like Manny Aniebonam is still based in the USA, specifically in Atlanta, but in a few years from now, his company might become the leading outsourcing company in Nigeria, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to Nigerian youths. While gradually building up his set up David Onu is also engaged in helping Tom Isegholi another Nigerian Diaspora and the Managing Director of Transcorp Hotel to restructure NITEL.
But perhaps it was actually the information on the remittances on this forum a few weeks back that strongly reminded me again of the article titled “$38 Billion and No Respect”. If I understand the writer, who wrote against the backdrop of the recent visits by African leaders to New York for the commencement of this year’s United Nation’s General Assembly, he, and I guess a few others, were unhappy over the arrangements made for their meetings with the visiting African Leaders. This to the publisher of African Sun Times amounted to lack of recognition of the potentials of the African Diaspora who annually remits so much money to the continent. According the Diaspora the respect it deserves, he would appear to suggest, is the only way that the Federal Government campaign for the Diaspora to come back home for example can be credible and taken seriously. Until that is done, the come home slogan remains hallow and a demonstration of government’s unseriousness. I do not think so!
I have repeatedly used the remittances to buttress the imperatives of a meaningful partnership for development between the Nigerian state and her Diaspora. This notwithstanding, I was and remain aware of the limitations of the remittances as a strong argument because the bulk of the remittances go to family members and assessing its impact on the economy, have been difficult. This does not in any way diminish its contribution especially to the maintenance of social cohesion and harmony. Even now that many Africans in the Diaspora particularly Nigerians are investing feverishly in the stock markets especially in the banks, the benefit accrues more to the individuals and their families than the larger society. This may well explain, in my view, looking for respect from the remittances is not a good argument to pursue and should not be the main reason for Africa’s desire to build a meaningful relationship with its Diaspora.
We need to go beyond the remittance and look at the bigger picture bearing in mind that the Diaspora is not all about remittances. Indeed, this point was made last year, at the Annual Indian Diaspora Conference, where the India Diaspora protested that unnecessary attention was being focused on their remittances to India to the detriment of the India Diaspora’s more significant contribution to the development of India, especially in the area of Information Technology.
The strength of the Diaspora lies in its skills, expertise and in its ability to attract capital for development, for the production of goods and services, expansion of jobs. It is in helping to build capacity and strengthening institutions, in transforming the management systems by the infusion of best practices into the way we do things in Nigeria. Every indication since 2004 is that the country’s economy is on the rebound, for the first time since the early 1980s. Equally, every international report on Nigeria and indeed Africa while recognizing the gains of the last few years continue to express apprehension about the sustainability of maintaining the process and forging ahead. Why? Because of limited capacity, weak institutions and this is where the Diaspora can make its impact felt.
Go to Aba and you will appreciate the air of expectation as well as the magnitude and significance of the project which will certainly propel the Igbo courage and industry into the centre of industrialization in Nigeria. Stop by at Hilton and see how people look in admiration at the picture portrait of the American Hospital wondering if truly the America hospital will be built or its a pipe dream. When the Aba IPP, the American Hospital and many other projects which a number of Nigerians in the Diaspora are working on come on stream or become functional, apart from jobs, the transfer of skills, expertise and international best practices in many ways they would impact positively in changing the environment in which they are situated.
I believe that it is the collective efforts of Barth Nnaji, Ifeanyi Obiako, Bolaji Aluko, Manny, Aniebonam, Harry Sokei, David Onu, Iheadi Onwukwe Diuto Esuiobu, Emmanuel Onyekwere, Rex Ajayi, Eugene Nwosu, James Momoh, Wole Shoboyejo, who is leading a group of African Professors in the development of the African University of Science and Technology one which is being built in Abuja, Abiodun Adeoti of the Outsourcing Foundation and their associates and the many efforts of others like those engaged in medical missions that will earn the Diaspora recognition, appreciation and ultimately respect.
Like Kalil Gibran said. “You give but a little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
To believe otherwise is to miss the essence of the African Union and indeed the Nigerian government’s efforts and commitment to reach out and engage the Diaspora. Those, who do believe otherwise, are those who have no idea of what to do to help in the transformation of Nigeria. They are the ones who live in high and false expectation that the call to “come back home” means the Federal Government laying out or giving them the red carpet treatment, and according them preferential treatment. Many others sit on the fence hoping that things would improve for them to return home. A few, like some of my friends on this Forum believe that dwelling on the negatives, disparaging the country, is the hall mark of patriotism and contribution to national development.
Against the backdrop of skepticism, African governments have kept faith in their commitment. This weekend, the AU ministerial meeting to prepare for the AU-Africa Diaspora Summit early next year would meet in Midland, South Africa. It will deliberate on how to mobilize the Diaspora for the development of the continent. Five years on, the Nigerian government remains unflinching in its belief that the Diaspora has a role in the efforts to transform the country. In July, 2007, President Umaru Musa yar’adua challenged the Nigerian Diaspora professional’s in IT and Health to work in tandem with the Federal Ministries of Science and Technology and Health to fashion out how they can be meaningfully engaged in the acceleration of IT development in Nigeria as well as improve the health system. Almost six months after, not a response yet from the Diaspora. We all need to get serious.