Ripples have been felt around the world, due to a statement made in the USA by a Nigerian minister recently. In a series of town hall meetings, the minister met up with folks of Nigerian heritage who are based in American cities and he intimated that the Nigerian government is keen for Nigerians based abroad to return to the home country, to make contributions towards nation building and development.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with the minister’s actions or statement. The brain drain from Nigeria and other African countries to other parts of the world in the last two or three decades is probably comparable to the enforced migration that happened to African people in previous centuries. The circumstances are different in this more recent migration, because the migrants had a choice in the matter, but there is no doubt that African nations have lost considerable human resources as a result of the exodus.
The question that hasn’t been openly asked or addressed in the minster’s gambit is “Why has it taken the Nigerian government so long to come to the realisation that the brain drain is unhelpful in the long run?” At one point, the current president was quoted in public to say that Nigerians living abroad should stay where they are, because the nation’s infrastructure was incapable of dealing with the needs of extra numbers – hardly the sort of statement that inspires confidence in the government’s vision for the future.
Perhaps the government feels prepared at this stage to deal with an infusion of energy and expectations from Nigerians based in other countries. Another possibility is that it has run out of ideas and realises that there are many potential allies living abroad who can help its functionaries to map out new plans.
There is however, another side to this issue that wasn’t addressed in the minister’s statement – what do those people in the Diaspora stand to gain from upping sticks at this point in time, to live in Nigeria? Is it enough to mouth platitudes about nation building and love for the motherland?