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VENTURES AFRICA – Africa is the place to be! Yes, we’ re all accustomed to the arguably overflogged ‘Africa rising’ narrative. The media is quick publish lists on who’s cashing in on Africa’s success and the continent’s growing billionaire numbers. On those lists, various Nigerians hold several spots, having found their niche in the market. Still, much of the country’s diaspora remains abroad, hesitant to go back; fears rooted largely in the hypothetical issues they may face, and the comforts that they may have to give up. An article posted on this very platform gave reasons why Nigeria’s Diaspora wouldn’t move back. It gave fair reasons, but I certainly don’t find them good enough. In its place, I offer a counter argument and then some, for why they should in fact move back.
One of the arguments made spoke to the political climate, as a major reason Nigerians in the Diaspora don’t move back. A lot of Nigerians abroad can speak to having witnessed and/or participated in peaceful elections, and an understanding of what it means to have accountability in government. They are able to see where their tax dollars are going, and would quickly join a picket line, if a road goes without being fixed by their local administration wherever they may live. Nigerian elected officials, however, have the luxury of doing whatever they want without ever having to answer to the public, and some have even come out to say that is the reason they continue to pilfer the national coffers. In the diaspora, you know about whistle blowing, fact checking, checks and balances, breaking rules and their consequences. It is up to the diaspora to create, or recreate these mechanisms to keep our government accountable, while collaborating with Nigerians at home.
Necessity is the mother of invention. One can either look at the lack of infrastructure as a hindrance or a gap waiting to be filled. Take Bilikiss Abiola of Wecyclers for example. She created a recycling system that allows entire communities in Surulere and Ebute-Metta to participate, rather than wait for the Lagos Waste Management to come up with a solution; or even Kunle Adeyemi, who built the famous floating school in Makoko (the design for the floating school was recently nominated for the prestigious Design of the Year award). They saw the lack of innovation and solutions from our government as a chance to leave their mark, by looking beyond their individual selves, and create something that benefits communities of people.
Out of Touch?
Another argument was made was about Diasporans being out of touch with Nigeria. Consider this is an opportunity to regain touch. There’s that drawing that speaks of your comfort zone, and the life that’s waiting for you outside of it. Yes, getting back in touch with your Nigerian side might seem daunting, but you wouldn’t be the first one to do it. I took the step and made the leap to Nigeria, and it was the best decision I ever made, while it certainly took some getting used to, I realized that there are so many different types of Nigerians, I eventually found my niche, despite my initial thought that no one “got me.” Take the leap even if just for a little while, you may come out with some scratches, but it will be well worth it.
Whether you graduated from Harvard or University of Phoenix (no disrespect) you probably have a leg up over the person who had to pay their lecturer or, even worse, sleep with said lecturer for a passing grade. You were able to go out and get a cushy job at a top firm, as our people tend to do. Here’s your chance to take all that knowledge and transfer it back home. I am in no way insinuating that you are better qualified than your counterparts at home, but rather there is an opportunity to partner with our local workforce to create companies that work effectively within the Nigerian context through these crafted partnerships.
Diasporans who come back seeking that national cake; the fool’s gold that everyone talks about. You can make quick money in Nigeria, we are all aware of it. Unfortunately, there are those who come back, to seek that fast track to become a special adviser to XYZ governor, in order to collect his or her slice of the pie. These are not the Diasporans we are encouraging to come home, but rather, those who are ready to pull up their bootstraps, and come up with solutions for pushing Nigeria past the days of speaking about her potential but rather a conversation about realizing and surpassing her potential. If your intentions are pure but have not made the move back, you are leaving Nigeria vulnerable to those who are ruthless, and will take that spot, to satisfy their less-than-noble quest for money and power.
There has been a long-held belief that the Diaspora is the missing link in getting Nigeria on the straight and narrow. The mediator that understands the culture, but has had a taste of what could be. There is perfect sense in this call to action. The problems, issues, and questions are waiting for someone to see them as an opportunity to create a solution. It is a classic case of “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” I would be foolish to paint Nigeria as Eldorado, roads paved with gold, waiting to be mined (Shell did that already). However, working hand in hand with Nigerians who have stayed at home and dealt with the unaccommodating climate, we can come up with real life solutions based on local knowledge of problems.
Your time overseas must have no doubt allowed you to build friendships and networks where you lived, and you must hold on to these. The world is operating through globalization, and I believe that while there must be transfer of knowledge back home, there is equally the opportunity for reverse knowledge transfer. International culture has permeated through Nigeria, from Bollywood films, to American music, British comedies, and Telenovellas (don’t we just love Telemundo!). Maintaining the highway to your contacts overseas will allow local culture, from music, to movies, to businesses to make inroads in other countries. This will not only broaden business opportunities, but also allow us to export our own image, and gain control of our contemporary history, as opposed to allowing western media to do that for us.
So, are you going to go for the opportunity, or wait for the window to shrink?
* Nosarieme Garrick wrote in from the US