Two years ago I left the shores of Nigeria after completing my policy training at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, Jos. It was not the type of migration many of you made, in pursuit of the higher degrees, years earlier. However, my stay in the UK and at the United States, both stays in institutions of global leadership in research and policy development, prepares me to appreciate enormously what great resource we have in our Diaspora.
Today we are all at home, so the pattern of our discourse ought to take a different complexion especially since your interest is keenly around the question of electoral process.
Why the Diaspora Matters:
For far too long we have come to define our Diaspora mostly around the narrow pecuniary issues of the cash cow that makes financial remittances. Nigeria is not alone in this perception of its Diaspora. Such remittances far outpace the inflows from official development assistance. Figures are not readily available but in countries like Bangladesh, for instance, an estimated $2.2 billion was remitted in 2005, a figure that was almost 100% of the $1.4 billion that came in by way of international aid that same year.
Looking closer home in Africa, for the same year, the Kenyan Diaspora remitted about $464 million, a figure that is only slightly lower to the $635 million in flow from international aid.Â More proximate to us, however, official figures from the United Kingdom tell us that Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Ghana are the three leading countries that receive large volumes of remittance transfers from the Diaspora in the UK.
The intellectual labour of the Nigeria Diaspora is contributing immensely to the development of many countries across the globe, and in the most diverse fields from music, through the arts, sports, to medicine, computer sciences, teaching, engineering and space science. This is amazing.
Today official figures in Abuja put the demography of Nigeriaâ€™s Diaspora to a massive 17 million, making it the fourth significant and potential power block in relation to the politics and social life of our country.
From what I hear, work is currently apace to set up a Diaspora Commission that will coordinate the potential gains and value from this massive constituency and highly resourced skill-pool, but some preliminary tips are perhaps appropriate at this point regarding the Diaspora agenda for Nigeria.
Moving a little bit ahead from the preoccupation with financial remittances, what is paramount at this point, to my mind, is how to evolve a mechanism that taps into, and re-inject, the potential social remittances of the Diaspora in terms of skill sets and competences to fire up the frayed nerves of many sectors of our national life.
Such a mechanism, nourished broadly as social and political capital, will help us rebuild many local institutions through the transfer and mediation of ideas, skills, attitudes, technologies and cultures. A lot of what is attributed to modern Asian technological progress has been explained through this process and it only makes sense if we calibrate aspects of our strategy for progress on the eve of our 50th anniversary around this framework.
Diaspora and the electoral process:
The truth is that our Diaspora has always played significant roles in the political and electoral process of our country.
Political parties at home often depend on Diaspora supporters for international outreach and for strategy development. Our Diaspora have also been noted for their roles as access points for parties to global media, international organizations, and powerful host governments.
As we have seen not too far back, our Diaspora have also been leading agents in advocating for electoral reforms, supporting opposition platforms, and generally providing intellectual leadership regarding electoral issues and analysis. The last elections also witnessed international monitoring teams from the Diaspora, and I believe they candidates are already reaching out to them now for resource mobilization.
But we have not treated this Diaspora well enough and with adequate respect. Nigeria, at the eve of its 50th independence anniversary and the largest black nation on the earth still has not fully enfranchised its Diaspora. This is both a shame and a poor score sheet. Why do we want to earn the financial and social remittances of our Diaspora without giving them the power to elect those who govern their homelands? What sense of equity are we promoting?
I join forces with those who ask that the electoral status of our Diaspora be reviewed as soon as possible to give them the vote.
As the basket of some of the best intellectuals that we have today, the future growth and development of this country will not be possible without the active collaboration, engagement, energy, and resourcefulness of our Diaspora.
We must however challenge the Diaspora today on a number ofÂ critical issues here: first, there is need to promote a thriving culture of volunteering in the country without which the context for mentoring, for leadership training and experiences for the management of institutions that our youth badly needs will be unavailable in the type of number that we must provide.
Secondly, it is important for the Diaspora to give urgent consideration to the need for direct participation, through physical presence, to return home as candidates, or as campaign managers, or just even as analysts of the process. In these roles you can help give the electoral process more verve, more vision, and certainly more quality. It is no longer enough to out-source your trust and hopes in leaders who almost certainly will quash the trust.
In relation to these two challenges, our Diaspora will need to give leadership as a way of helping to refine our democracy and culture of freedom.
We are at the threshold of a great turning point in our history. This phase calls on us to take our freedom more seriously. The way I see it, the two critical actors that can shepherd this process to success are the youths and Nigerians in the Diaspora.
The connection is obvious and logical. They are the receptacle of energy, drive, learning, and vision of a new Nigeria. In my recent speaking engagements, I have called on our youths to take over the running of all segments of our political, economic and social life.
I want to repeat that call again today by spelling out the immediate challenge for youth engagement in the country. It isÂ a triple process to rally out young Nigerians to register en mass, to rally them to vote en mass, and to organize them to defend their votes.
Youth empowerment however is a big challenge to be mediated with high sense of responsibility, impeccable sense of accountability, and above all a deep sense of social justice. I trust that our Diaspora community will help promote this message and vision and also offer effective leadership.
I thank you for the opportunity. God Bless our country. Thank you all.
â€¢Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, AIG (retd), Former Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, made this remarks at the Nigeria Diaspora Dinner held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja on Sunday 25th July, 2010.