.Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Saturday 9th September, 2000

At the First Diaspora Dialogue

Address by
At the First Diaspora Dialogue

I address you this morning not only with much pleasure and privilege, but fully seized of a deep sense of history and a vibrant feeling of confidence in the bright promise of a process that we are starting here today. For here and now, Nigeria is taking the bold first step to enable Nigerians living outside the country to participate fully in the process of visioning, planning and pursuing the political well being, the economic development and the sound governance of their country. They are being brought back to the fold, not as a response to any expediency, but as an overdue development, as it were, to bring all hands on deck in the refitted and highly seaworthy Noah's Ark of Nigeria.

Atlanta is, for many reasons, an appropriate venue for us in Nigeria to hold the first Diaspora Dialogue. It was in this city four years ago, 1996, that Nigeria distinguished herself in the Olympic Games as the champion of the world in football, the most popular game ever. This is also the city of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., the acknowledged leader and martyr for the advancement of Black people, particularly in this great country. Besides, the City is richly endowed with other illustrious sons and daughters who distinguished themselves in leading the long struggle for human rights and civil rights; among them, my friends former President Jimmy Carter and former Mayor, Ambassador Andrew Young. For good measure, the Atlanta area is populated by a large number of Nigerians of all ages and stations in life. It is a rich ecological zone of the Nigerian Diaspora.

Atlanta apart, the United States is the logical place to commence and focus our diasporic activities. For obvious reasons, when people from many different nations all over the world refer to their Diaspora, they are very likely first and foremost referring to their indigenes living in America. Rich endowment in natural resources combined with the democracy, freedom and free enterprise have made the United States of America very attractive to all progressive people all over the world who have something to offer to come and actualize their dreams. In this gathering today, my fellow countrymen and women came from all parts of the United States, because this country has one of the largest Nigerian communities outside Nigeria. The recent visit to Nigeria by President Clinton clearly demonstrates that this booming community of our people has a meaning and purpose.

My political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, and my government, indeed, all Nigerian governments have always expressed commitment to giving full opportunity to all Nigerians to contribute to the development of their country. That is consistent with our Constitutional Directive Principles of State Policy. But, this particular issue of a formalized participation of Nigerians in the Diaspora in the affairs of their country has been an issue gnawing my mind for a very long time. The more I thought of it, the more it became imperative to do something about it as soon as Providence afforded me the opportunity to do so. Those here who are old enough to remember, will surely that our preoccupation with the political programme and national security did not allow us to embark on long term processes like this one during the period that some call Obasanjo One. By the Grace of God, we have been favoured with the second chance to act and will do so.

My Fellow Countrymen and Women, all of us are deeply concerned about the prospects as well as the problems of our dear country and we have surely agreed on the need to move forward to maximize our opportunities, decisively solve both our political and economic problems and to develop into a united. Great and benevolent nation to bequeath to our children and to Africa and the world. In that formidable task, we shall require all our will and all our wits. As they say, we need to get our act together. In this task, we thank God that we have the freedom to take our own decisions.

Then, we must mobilize our total resources. That has wide connotations, including imaginative planning, cutting out waste and inefficiency, exorcising corruption as completely as possible, keeping more of our earnings instead of bleeding to the payment of unfair debts, and gathering as much supplementation as possible from our friends and well-wishers disposed to do so. We are doing all that, with new resolve and firmness, and are determined to make a difference.

Manpower is the most vital component of resources. The mobilization just referred to cannot take place in the absence of high quality manpower. But, manpower has to be properly understood and applied as a resource. Far too often, labour and capital are applied as inputs to the development process without much tangible result, even if the intentions are noble. So, what could be wrong?

It is now accepted that improvement in productivity is very much dependent upon, as I said, the proper understanding of human capital, in its very fine and profound aspects. The most important distinguishing element of the human capital is knowledge. Knowledge and the ability to diversify, expand and spread it, is an attribute that divine Providence has showered on Man. Knowledge is spread through education. Knowledge should thus be expanded through investment in education, skills and research. Knowledge should be understood as the intangible that reflects the power of God. You give as much as you have and are still left with all that you have.

Understanding knowledge must be followed by properly applying it to the economy. Job satisfaction, for example, is necessary for the optimal use of acquired knowledge and skill. For all that, knowledge should be used and not feared or shunned. Anti-intellectualism is a very poor economic strategy. That knowledge, or human capital, as the keyword in today's development economics is a World Bank concept that I fully subscribe to. We all recollect that the United States Senate passed an Act introducing Gifted Education in the United States as a shocked response to the Soviet launching of the first Sputnik in 1957. This was a sharp and timely resort to the development of human capital, which no doubt contributed to some of the spectacular space achievements of this our host country.

Finally, understanding knowledge is to know that it can be accessed and used without necessarily amassing manpower for the purpose. This is because of the great advances in communication technology like the e-mail, Internet, satellite broadcast, etc. In other words, we can tap the knowledge and skills of many of our fellow Nigerians, wherever they are, provided they are willing to oblige. Time was when a professional had to be physically at home before one can use his or her skills. It is no longer necessary, in many instances, although we would still prefer to have them home.

We can now summarize the foregoing outlining the scenario. Nigeria is a country in dire need of economic development and the improvement of the standard of living of the people. The country has invested much in education. Access was expanded at all levels, particularly since the Civil War. Oil was converted to knowledge. The quality of the education received was high. That is why many of the nationals were able to leave the country and find greener pastures elsewhere. Many of them did and achieved positions of eminence in the adopted countries of residence. For long, for various un-edifying reasons, not much was done to try to tap the knowledge and skills of these Nigerians outside. Part of the reasons arose from the limited understanding of the concept of human capital as just manpower, and it was assumed that there was sufficient manpower available since there was a considerable amount of unemployment at home.

With advances in science and technology of communications, and with a new approach to economics as being necessarily knowledge-based, drawing on intellect and skill both near and far, it became not only morally right but expedient to seek for and utilize the knowledge and skills of Nigerians wherever they are. That is precisely what we are setting out to do, starting from here. Fellow compatriots, that is the movement we are asking you to patriotically enroll in and work with us to the Glory of God and our Fatherland.

I know that some refer to me these days as a preacher. While I do not deny doing that in my spare time, I dislike preaching to the converted. I shall, therefore, not spend any time giving you here, and all those anywhere in the wide world, who are not here, reasons why you should participate in this Project, more than to say for the Glory of God and our Fatherland, because I know that we are on the same side of the divide on this issue.

I assure you that I do take encouragement that you are already part of it. Your presence here and your hard work since yesterday bear eloquent testimony to your affirmative response to our call. I thank you very much, but posterity will thank you more. I, therefore, propose to devote the rest of this address to the mechanics of the process: how to get the best results in the shortest time in an affordable and sustainable way. We have no doubt that you may also have been thinking of how to proceed. What we suggest here should be used to guide or supplement whatever you may have elaborated in your discussions.

Let me start by expressing to you what this movement is not, in order to avoid misunderstanding. First of all, we are not embarking on a massive recruitment drive or scholarship sponsorship exercise. We are expanding the job market at home by the totality of what we are doing, and these new jobs will be accessed in the normal fashion notwithstanding the fact that we shall from time to time be conducting "head hunts", seeking for particular individuals to fit into appropriate super-skilled jobs. We would not like to convey the impression that we are out to promote a homeward exodus.

Secondly, this is not a new public relations exercise, like a number of failed past national mobilization initiatives each characterized by the structural defects of the binge element, by the defect of undue publicity with heightened personality cults and expectations of instant political dividend, and by the defect of being the opportunity to expend or siphon away public funds. We have hopefully left for good that blighted phase of our life as a people. This is a serious movement that we hope will elicit the best of patriotic motives, one that will develop its own momentum and become a regular part of our system, sine qua non.

Finally, this is not another manifestation of the mentality of big government, wanting to do everything for everybody in an unrealistic Santa Claus fashion in order to increase its grip on society. We are very much believers in the political and economic reforms that seek to transfer much power and function to the civil society, in this case, precisely to the private sector. It does not in anyway mean abdicating responsibility. We shall be there to give every help that may be required of Government. But, the activities will be initiated and promoted by the private sector which we are grooming to be weaned off and even become the dominant partner to Government.

It is important to accept and use the reigning concept that Civil Society has, within the past decade, become the stakeholder in development. In traditional capitalism, the company or firm is the investor. But in the human capital theory, individuals are regarded as investors, and demonstrate investment faculties throughout their lives in the choices they make in their education, choice of place of abode, choice of partners, choice of occupations. All these are regarded as investments aimed at maximizing returns in the form of livelihood. That is why, in this initiative, Civil Society is a more appropriate agent than Government.

It is envisaged that a Foundation shall be established as a Non-Government Organization (NGO) to promote the attainment of the goals of the movement. The NGO will establish structures and networks that will promote the use of special skills of Nigerians in Diaspora. This can be reimbursable service with the promise of a handsome return. Being a professional practice, the NGO will establish data banks of expertise using the latest tools of technology.

Government will assume two roles. The first is that of a facilitator to enable the process to take off. We think that this will justify the limited use of public funds. Secondly, Government will be an end user of the service of the NGO, on a reimbursable basis. In other words, Government, like any other user, will assign the NGO to undertake activities, each for a given fee. But, Government does not have to be the sole user or even the principal user. Government will facilitate the work of the NGO by its direction of public policy and establishing the proper economic framework, both as part of its constitutional responsibility and its implementation of the programmes in its political manifesto. Besides, the availability of such a service can, for example, stimulate Government to embark on the human capital audit of its programmes and projects in order to take good stock of the availability of such a resource. This widens legitimate and beneficial assignment opportunities for the NGO.

The activities of the NGO should prove very attractive to foreign companies, as well as multilateral agencies and other Governments. The current problems of staffing technical cooperation agreements with expensive expatriate staff, and the continuation of such projects after the expiry of the cooperation protocol...All those will be addressed by the NGO on a win-win basis.

The possibilities are limitless. A large and accessible pool of high skilled Nigerians driven by patriotism, and encouraged by just remuneration for their skilled services, is potentially an efficient engine for accelerated development of a sound, reliable and affordable basis.

Naturally, much consultation and planning are required. We need the seed of core investors to set the ball rolling. We also need to sensitize our fellow Nigerians all over the world to this idea. Of course, we need to convince the potential end users: Governments, at all tiers and levels in Nigeria, the multilateral agencies like the World Bank, IMF, WHO, UNDP, USAID, European Union and others, as well as all cooperating foreign Governments in particular programmes, like those of ECOWAS.

One thing is certain. The Federal Government we are privileged to head will leave no stone unturned to help in the capacity we have here outlined.

It is my hope that our First Diaspora Dialogue will elucidate the scheme and the mechanism further, highlighting areas of emphasis and drawing attention to potential difficulties that need to be preemptively addressed.

Later this week, I hope to hold another Diaspora meeting in London, England. It is our intention to hold as many of such meetings as possible, in the next year or two, to cover all areas of concentration of Nigerian skills. For example, it is our hope to hold more of such meetings here in America in other cities, as time goes. But, it is my feeling that this movement will gain sufficient momentum for the necessary structures to be set up without the necessity of huge preliminary meetings, certainly without the necessity of the President being in attendance.

There is a Standing Committee at home, made up of Ministers of the appropriate ministries and, for now, headed by the Minister of Education. We are also receiving advice from different expert sources, among them our very good friends here in the USA. Besides, I assure you that during this formative period, all reports of preparatory meetings and other activities will end up on my desk to receive my personal attention. My interest is not a flash-in-the-pan fleeting fancy. It has been long standing and consuming, and will not flag until our noble objectives in the Diaspora Movement are achieved.

Before I conclude, my fellow countrymen and women, let me try to clear in advance any charge of over-simplification. I am quite aware that I have been talking to Nigerians in the Diaspora who have acquired high level marketable skills. Clearly, it cannot be so for everyone. There are different classes of expatriate Nigerians, for example here in the USA. Some were students who came on their own, or on scholarship and then defaulted. There are also professionals who may still have a bond or contract on them at home, while many may be free. There are family entourage migrants and some were transported in the first few months of their fetal lives to be born here as American citizens. I am also aware of the self-made refugees. Some were justifiably political refugees, although we can no longer see any justification for such a status now. Others are economic refugees or fugitives from justice.

Finally, there are entrepreneurs in politics and in economics, both types to varying degrees of success. I note with pride that a Nigerian, Mr. Emmanuel W. Onunwor, is the Mayor of East Cleveland and there are many holding positions of eminence, trust and responsibility in the American Federal and State Governments, in large companies, multilateral agencies and even in the Silicon Valley.

All of you can contribute to the development of your country. I know that some of you are already doing much privately, particularly with their families. I urge you to continue with all the good things you are doing. Just build on that the goals of our new Diaspora Movement, and work with others.

Some of you can contribute better by remaining here to take advantage of the vast opportunities in the USA. Others will contribute better by going home. All those with scholarship bonds and contracts should go home. All those who are here to spoil the good name of the country through trafficking in drugs, 419 fraud or other crimes should also go home. There is nothing on earth to justify your ruining the good name and image of your country for your illegal personal gain. To those who think that they have done so well here, that they have forgotten Nigeria, I say, East or West, Home is the Best. But to those who are prepared to give a chance, by jumping in and participating positively, to the ideas discussed here, I say, WELCOME BROTHER, WELCOME SISTER.

I thank you for your kind attention. Let me now declare this meeting formally open, and thereby launching, at the same time, our Nigerian Diaspora Movement. God bless you all.


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