AN OPEN LETTER TO NIGERIANS IN THE DIASPORA
I came across an article by one Professor, May Akabogu-Collins, entitled, “A Nigerian Spring—Long Overdue”; after reading the article, I was constrained to write this open letter addressed to all Nigerians in the Diaspora. I was one of you but have returned home, and I have no regrets. It was in 2005 when I had a long discussion (or should I call it a debate?) with a friend, who was then residing in Germany, about my decision to return and take a teaching job at the newly established American University of Nigeria. He did not conceal his anger at my decision, even as he assured me, “I give you just six months, and you will regret your decision to go back to Nigeria.” I have been teaching (both African and non-African students) at the American university of Nigeria since January 2006, and I have no regrets.
Akabogu-Collins, a visiting professor at the American Business School, Paris, wrote how he was ashamed to disclose to his students on his first day in class, that he was a Nigerian; rather, he confessed that he told them he was an American! He also said how a planned family union with his aged mother and family members in Nigeria was called off to the chagrin of his daughter in the US only because of the news of the lack of safety of life in Nigeria. He concluded by asking who would lead Nigeria in a mass uprising, which he thinks, is the best way for a rescue of Nigeria. I am at a loss here? If a scholar is ashamed of his Nigerian roots, he has no message for the youths. Mr. Akabogu-Collins declared he would prefer to be associated with Niger Republic! He left Nigeria for the US in 1980 after his first degree at the University of Ibadan, and, according to him, he has stayed back since. This gentleman should be older than me, and people like me should learn from him about genuine patriotism. There are many things that make us unhappy about our country Nigeria, and I have written quite a bit about some of those. But we must not descend down the path that makes us ashamed of our nationality.
You may have a second nationality (US, UK, Australia, etc.), but you remain at best second-rate in those countries when the chips are down. A mistake some Nigerians make is to blame everyone else but themselves for Nigeria’s problems. A nation cannot develop beyond the intellectual reasoning of her intellectuals. Who should build Nigeria for you to come and enjoy? Americans built America. Europeans built Europe. Japanese built Japan. Nigerians must build Nigeria. Nigerians who are ashamed of Nigeria, ashamed of any association with Nigeria cannot build Nigeria. There is no African student that completes a semester with me who would bear the inglorious sense of shame for being African. There are Nigerians in the Diaspora that have risked their reputation and even life by publicly advancing the Nigeria cause. How can we even start solving Nigeria’s problems when we are too ashamed to be called Nigerians? We quarrel about poor governance in Nigeria, and we should and proffer solutions. But we must not tolerate obscenities against Nigeria where we are. Where I am, such obscenities can never go without appropriate response and some education about Nigeria. Wherever I travel in the world, I brandish my Nigerian passport with pride. When I read about some Nigerians being ashamed of holding a Nigerian passport, I burn within. No man can make you ashamed; you accept shame as a choice. We must tell the Nigerian story, for our glory is in our story. And this is the Nigerian story.
In seeking to enthrone democracy in our public conduct in Nigeria, we have been most outspoken in the past 13 years about the best path to follow. Our democracy, in principle, is the closest to America’s in Africa. But an error we are working at correcting is that we have refused to be creative. We must create a system that works for us. Some of us have called for a sovereign national conference, where we shall talk at the table of brotherhood in order to ensure three things— justice to all constituent parts of Nigeria, fiscal independence to Nigerian regions, and removal of waste in our governance systems. Ours is work in progress. But I would not join foreigners to take up stones against Nigeria. The Nigerian electorate is becoming more enlightened. They are beginning to understand the powers they have, and this makes electoral fraud more difficult to commit. In some Nigerian States, good governance practices are being established, and this shall continue. The grand designs of impunity we observe at the federal level and in some states of the federation have come under the lenses of Nigerians. Unlike in the past, Nigerians are reacting to weird and fraudulent budget proposals, questioning dubious expenditures of government, and putting a lot of pressure on government officials to explain their conduct in office. More transparency means growing confidence that we shall eventually have good governance, by which I mean public conduct that guarantees the most good to the majority of people.
Nigeria has had issues of insecurity. Nonetheless, the news we read in the newspapers and the stories we hear from family members at home should not make Nigerians in the Diaspora to think the worst about their country. Gun shootings are not as common in Nigerian schools (including children schools), movie theatres, and public places as they are in the US. Assault weapons are not common on our streets and in people’s homes as they are in America. Every country has their challenges at certain periods of history. But the citizens must not thereby be ashamed of their country.
Nigerian professors in the Diaspora should in large numbers start taking up visiting positions in Nigerian universities. This is one way the Nigerians in the Diaspora can help. In terms of conditions of service, Nigerian professors are living very comfortable lives comparable to the standard of living of their counterparts in more prosperous economies. If Nigerian professors in the Diaspora can organize themselves and come in their hundreds to teach undergraduate and graduate students, supervise graduate theses and projects, and contribute to university governance through committees, they would be inspiring confidence in their country. Listen, it is always greener on the other side. I would be careful to accept a teaching position in some universities in the USA if it were only for salary and conditions of service. There is no safe place on earth; your safety is only conditional. How do you live? What are your offence scores? I visit my hometown freely without any police escorts, and I am a public commentator who says some things that obviously don’t sit well with public officials. I should think that hiring police protection only draws unnecessary attention to yourself. You cannot fully explain the joys of interacting with the local people until you have experienced it. Do you care for your community people, or better still, do they perceive you care for their welfare? I think sometimes we are too conscious of our self-importance or status. We are simply Nigerians; that remains the truth.
What is government? In your family, you are government. In your local community in Nigeria, you are government. If you have got lost in the Diaspora and have cut off all interactions with your local society, how should they react when you suddenly appear with police escort? One, it is an insult on them. And even if they should ordinarily ignore you, they would not. Two, you should be inspired to return at least for a season, like the biblical Nehemiah did, and help take off the reproach of Nigeria that you have so much heard about. Come build these broken walls. Don’t be ashamed of Nigeria; be proud that the same Nigeria has produced you. Some of you got a leg up with Nigeria’s petrodollars that enabled you to have cheap but qualitative university education in Nigeria. You left and refused to come back. You owe Nigeria. Some of you left your university jobs on study leave with pay. You still owe your Nigerian universities monies you are yet to pay back. Return and pay your debt.
Nigerian public universities have some of the best students you can find anywhere in the world. It is not easy to get admission into a public university in Nigeria due to high demand and intense competition for the few available spaces, and that is partly why not a few Nigerian students are forced to study abroad. We have what they call “The American education.” We can create the Nigerian education that prepares the student to be aware of his or her nation—her challenges, position in Africa and the world, history, and prospects. Nigerian professors at home and in the Diaspora can collaborate on this. We must be adaptive but not conformist. Not everything American, for instance, is the best. We are forced to accept what is not the truth. Expressions such as “collapsed Nigerian university system”, “unemployable Nigerian graduates”, “half-baked PhDs in Nigerian universities” are too general and not specific. We have fallen for this. Even the federal government is carried away by this and has instituted in the twenty-first century a scholarship program to assist every year 100 graduates with first-class degrees to study in the “top 10 universities” in the world. In spite of our acclaimed education, we have failed to discern the global politics in education. We must build and can build the “best” system of education we want, and cut down on this huge capital flight and invest the savings on education at home. It has gotten so bad that some universities in the Middle East offer money to some American professors to publish affiliations to them in order to improve on the world’s university ranking even if those professors only pay occasional visits. This is fraud! But the western media would not put this in the public. I don’t have to speak like Americans or Europeans. I don’t have to live in America, Europe, or Asia to understand how to build a nation.
We are being brainwashed, and we must speak up against this mental slavery of Africans in this twenty-first century! Accreditation agencies in the US require a university to have the preponderance of American or American-trained professors in its employ as one of the conditions for US accreditation. This tips the scale in favor of American professors for global university faculty hire. With the huge size of Nigerian professors teaching all over the world, it would be a rebuke on our acclaimed education if we fail to see through this and instigate a global campaign to redeem the Nigerian (and by extension, African) university education. Perception in our world trumps reality or facts. If we fix our education and its global perception with deliberate collaboration of and with Nigeria Diaspora professors, we shall all be pleasantly surprised at what we shall achieve. There was a time when Nigerian public universities were centers of study for many international students. It is now time for Nigerians who once benefitted from such interactions as students to now give back rather than being ashamed of Nigeria.
Our forefathers in Africa created inventions to make yarn for clothes, which they produced on locally-fabricated looms. They brewed local liquor through their inventions; they made musical instruments, etc. We have refused to improve on these. We look down on our heritage and brand “local” whatever comes from our land in preference for “imported stuff”, even as Nigerian professors prefer “imported education” without any known efforts at improving on what our fathers left behind. Thus by our intellectual laziness we have confirmed the superiority of our forebears. How they turn in the graves! Every decent father wants his children to accomplish more than they did.
Finally, I must ask: Who is Nigeria? Nigeria is not political leaders with time-bound mandates. Nigeria is not Obasanjo, Atiku, IBB, Jonathan, Buhari, Tinubu, Bankole, Ibori, David Mark, Suswam, etc. Let us not ridicule ourselves if our education is worth anything. Where were some of those people in 1999 or 2003? Did we not complain at that time about corruption in Nigeria? Nigeria, some say, may expire in January 2014. Whether this happens or not is not the issue. But why are our colleagues in the world so worried about Nigeria? Why are we so hated? If scam letters come from Nigeria every day, who writes them? And the victims, why do they fall for such cheap scams? Why is Nigeria so attractive to those foreigners who pretend to loathe us so much while falling head-over-heels for our money (scam or not)? I think we are smarter than we are showing. We will overcome our challenges together. We will redeem our country together. Both the sower and harvester shall rejoice together. But where are your dirty hands from the labor?