It is commonplace for any citizen of any nation to aspire to return home from sojourn in the diaspora to assist in the task of nation building. Lots of people have retreated back to their motherlands and really made their marks positively on the sands of time, bringing in workable management styles acquired in more organised societies to their less endowed nations in sustainable development.
After the brain drain of the 1980’s and the 1990’s occasioned by uncomfortable policies of the then military administrations whence massive unemployment and economic incapacitation held sway and bestrode Nigeria like a collosus, the cream of the nation’s professionals and academics literarily left its shores in droves for more hospitable climes.
Unofficial estimates put the figures of Nigerians in the United States alone as close to 5 million. The European Union especially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and others also have a sizeable population of Nigerians residing within their boundaries. Many got citizenship through various legitimate and sometimes not so legitimate means. Marriage to white spouses or citizens of the host countries became rampant. Italy specifically welcomed lots of teenage Nigerian girls to serve their burgeoning sex-petites even though the Italian authorities have now outlawed such trafficking in human beings and many are seen to have been repatriated back home to Nigeria.
All sorts of means were employed by desperate Nigerians to get out of the cauldron of economic downturn mostly as a result of the Draconian Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) of the Babangida Administration which made the strong Naira so worthless that those who had any foreign (mostly western or G7) currency had bigger purchasing power. The value of the Japanese Yen which was largely infinitesimal compared to the Naira became so shored up that the formerly decimated exchange rate became overturned in favour in Japan.
People made brisk business by specialising in forging travel documents through ‘Oluwole’ a term coined from Oluwole street on Lagos Island. Oluwole street was notorious for all sorts of forgery of documents ranging from those used locally and those needed for international travels. One day however, the bubble burst. A group of forgers manufactured the signature of the ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on some documents as was reported and the end of ‘oluwole’ became pronounced as security operatives loaded their trucks with hundreds of forgers and erstwhile oluwole specialists.
Another factor noticed in the decade of the late 80’s and the late 90’s was the respect accorded to anyone living abroad even if they could not write their names. Why not? They had foreign currencies which when changed into the Naira could buy more things in Nigeria. People began selling things including landed properties for their plans to go abroad in search of the proverbial golden fleece. Any nation whose currency was more valuable than the naira became a sought-for destination, not caring to check out the lifestyle or language spoken. Things that never happened before 1985 when visa requirements were re-phrased by many foreign embassies in Nigeria as a result of the fear of drug-trafficking by Nigerians, began to happen. Embassy frontages became places of night vigils as would-be visa seekers slept over night to wake up earlier than others to be in front of queues. Touts, food vendors and even mattress sellers made brisk business with these situations. Many were duped and the mattress sellers sold small picnic sleeping materials for the intending visa seekers.
Not all who went abroad were actually in search of hard currency as it were. Some were fugitives who after looting the resources of their fatherland needed refuge in more hospitable climes. Some took money meant for development of their societies but have the effrontery to accuse those back home of not making things ‘work’. Some others who fronted for their looting masters joined in the fray, seeking the same good life they, through their nefarious activities, deprived others of. Another group was made up of those born in western nations when the naira was far better and their parents brought them back to Nigeria since there were better opportunities here then, mostly before 1985.
But things changed after 1999 when Abdulsalam Abubakar, the last military head of state of Nigeria handed over to a newly elected democratic government led by former military head of state, Obasanjo. A new crop of millionaires emerged as political affiliations trumped up a new breed of economically empowered Nigerians who need not go abroad to feather their financial nests. Those who were in the diaspora noticed that the pestering to send home dollars and pounds had reduced drastically. In fact, many of those abroad are beneficiaries, oddly enough of big-spending Nigerians who visited the more developed western countries, sometimes for a shopping spree and sometimes just for vacation, and in many cases gave monetary gifts to their Nigerian hosts. ”What is going on?” many asked. Some came back to see things for themselves. It was no longer the old story as Personal Assistants to political office holders drove about in state of the art cars and jeeps. Some lived in mansions which would have cost a fortune to acquire in the western world. Many of these scenes are showcased in Nollywood movies and with the recent global meltdown a.k.a. credit crunch, people have decided to return home to join in the fray..
With all the complaints about our corrupt holders of political offices among other things, these returnee Nigerians in the diaspora seem not to care a hoot about how the money will be made and are gearing up to either contest in elections or connive with others to put their cronies and paddies in government with the sole aim of getting closer to the treasury. When many finally make it back home after lambasting the running of government here in Nigeria, they chicken out when they lay their hands on parts of the economic pies.
This writer has had a recent experience with some pals who just came back to look for golden geese and were intent on conniving with some office holders to further perpetrate the heinous crimes we are looking for ways to make a thing of the past, telling me I was foolish not join in the evil bandwagon. One of them from the UK actually ran off with a substantial part of mobilisation fees for a water borehole project given to him, to pay off his mortgage in London. It is appalling therefore to note the rate at which Nigerians abroad are returning home to come and partake in the looting of our resources through their cronies and relatives already in governance, and this is becoming sickening.
Nigeria will certainly benefit from well-meaning contributions of its returnee citizens to enhance its dwindling economic status, but will be worse off if the intentions of some other returnees are to come home, add to our woes and retreat back to pay off their debts, still leaving us in the journey to the land of Erehwon!