Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blame Nigerians Abroad for Nigeria's troubles

Prof directed me to this conversation on facebook and I thought to share it with you. I have seen this conversation going on in various contexts but I loved the perspectives these commenters brought.
It stared withTaulpaul Oselen posting this as his facebook status

''The guilt of my generation [Nigerians who received quality education in the 1960s, ‘70s and early 1980s at little or no cost, courtesy the Nigerian Govt is a big one. It is not the misleading of Nigeria. They were not around to do that. The guilt of my generation is that education did not give us enough character to stay and fight those who did not realise that the duty of every generation is to make its shoulders available so the Generation Next can better see tomorrow to make it better than yesterday. Instead of fighting off those who took power in the 1960s at age 30 so we can make ready a better place for the generation Y to build on with their ICT know-how and technology savvy disposition, we simply said these guys don’t take prisoners and left town.''
Prof. Pat Utomi

What generation is he talking about? Exactly how many members of his generation "left town", and why should it be those few who left rather than the so many who stayed, like him, that should shoulder the responsibility of fixing the roof that they sleep under? Shouldn't people devote more time to mapping out and sharing strategies for correcting things, instead of always scouting around for some phantom group to blame?

While I see Prof Olu Oguibe's point of not shifting blames, there is something to take from Prof Utomi's statement. Each of us (both those that left and those that stayed behind) need to find a way of helping those travelling with us and those coming behind us. I believe each of us has something that we can use to impact the world around us. I feel we each have something that can change somebody's world.

Taulpaul Oselen Yes. We all (those who left and those who stayed back) have a role in fixing our leaking roof.

Olu Oguibe
Frankly, I'm tired of the blame the expats game. Throughout history, people have left home and gone elsewhere either to fend for themselves or simply to explore, and from there make whatever contribution they care or can. Leaving is a right, not a betrayal. Many of these folks who "simply left town" are doing things back there that Prof. Utomi is not. They're building schools, they're building Internet cafes, they're helping family members set up businesses, they're doing what they can. Yet, none of that will ever register with these blame the expats buffoons because they don't ever actually sit back and think and ask themselves: is it really the case that these people are not contributing in any way? I'm tired of it. I've mentioned elsewhere that my late friend Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem who died in a tragic car crash in Nairobi three years ago, built a secondary school in his hometown in Northern Nigeria even while struggling abroad to feed not just his wife and daughters, but the host of extended family members as well. What better contribution to the future of the next generation could anyone make than build a school. Yet, I don't recall that these loudmouths are building any secondary schools for the next generation. What they do is once they get into government, the most radical among them suddenly turns apologist and petty thief. No, Utomi has no point because he fails to acknowledge the contributions that people are making in their own way. Anyone who does not acknowledge those contributions, and simply shoots his or her mouth about people leaving town has no point whatsoever. I think it's push back time. People should show what extraordinary contributions they're making that no one abroad is equally making, if not besting. The idea that his generation did not fail Nigeria because they're busy mismanaging and robbing it blind, but that they did so because a few of them left, is preposterous nonsense. Enough of it.

Taulpaul Oselen
 Abeg Prof. Olu no vex too much o!
I guess what he's trying to say is that the 'FIRST ELEVEN' of his generation, who were trained and nurtured by the Nigerian Football Academy left our national team and went on to play for European teams, winning trophies for them... While our team suffered.
Of course, they send football kits to the Academy now and then, but you'd agree that it's not the same thing as playing for the national team.

Olu Oguibe
Yes, but is it true? Is it accurate, or is it simply a lame conjecture in the service of trying to find someone else to blame? The other thing that is so pathetic about this meme that you guys have become so enamored of is that it actually also fails to acknowledge the individual circumstances under which people left. Take Professor Niyi Osundare, for instance. He was merely on a sabbatical research trip abroad when his child took ill. It wasn't mere malaria, but a terminal illness that would require life-long care. There are no facilities in Nigeria to keep that child alive. Against all his heart's desire, Osundare decided to find a means of livelihood in the US and stay to make sure his child did not die. Prof. Osundare and his family were living in New Orleans when the Katrina disaster hit in 2005. They lost everything. Everything except the clothes on their back. Every book, every pen, every house appliance, every memory, every possession, everything. In his late fifties, Osundare had to start life all over from absolutely nothing except gifts from friends. No home, no possessions, no books, no research papers, no precious manuscripts, no car, no spare pair of slippers or underwear, complete nothing. That's part of the story of those who "simply left town". If you read Utomi's nonsense and all that crock that you guys are filling your heads and hearts with, you'd think that people like Osundare simply woke up one morning and like Andrew said: men, I'm checking out. Which is simply intolerable.
Obiora Udechukwu left after he was jailed in Enugu for no good reason. He lost his job, he had children in school, he had a family to feed. It was friends that stepped in and helped him find a job in the US. Chika Okeke-Agulu who is now a professor at Princeton University, was a bright, young lecturer in Nsukka when he was sacked from his job in 1996 because he dared speak up for other lecturers. He had several siblings in school to take care of. For a whole year, I supported him in Nigeria by sending him a meager stipend. I was myself only a struggling artist trying to make ends meet in London. In the end, I had to bring him out and put him back in school so that he wouldn't continue to waste away in Nigeria with no means to support his family. These are the stories. People didn't just check out or leave town. People have reasons, personal stories, individual trials and circumstances, yet all of that is waved aside as if none of it matters, just so that the Pat Utomis can avoid blame and instead put it on those who "left town". Is there a shortage of professors in Nigeria? Is there a shortage of educated people? Is there a shortage of radicals, organizers, civil rights campaigners, educators, scientists, medical doctors, researchers, lawyers? Why is Nigeria's failure the fault of people who're living abroad? Does it really make sense to keep blaming a handful of people who left under different trying circumstances, instead of taking responsibility for saving the street you walk everyday?

Taulpaul Oselen
Hmmm. Sir, I get your point... But if every good Nigerian that faces some form of difficulty or persecution decides to leave the country, who then would stay back to build the nation? Or wait to receive support from relatives abroad?

Also, these countries we relocate to at one time in their history had to be built by their citizens, who were determined against all odds to make them the beautiful and accommodating havens we run to.

Olu Oguibe
But, Taulpaul, not every good Nigerian left Nigeria, unless you'd like for us to believe that, and not every Nigerian that left is good. People leave. Or is Nigeria an iron-curtain communist state where it's now a crime to leave?
The people who founded America left Europe. They were not branded traitors. Whole communities in Italy, Poland, and Ireland sent their family members away to America. People leave. People must reserve the right to leave if they please. A country is the responsibility of the people who live in it, not those who left. People must be free to leave like humans have always left throughout history, without being branded traitors or blamed for the country's failure. Nigeria is a failure because of the actions of people who live in it. The incompetent governors and legislators that you elect. The stupid presidents that you elect or allow to usurp power and rule you. The collusion of millions of people there who cut corners, demand and offer bribes to corrupt every single transaction, do their jobs with supreme mediocrity and criminal abandon and no desire whatsoever for excellence or longevity, invent nothing of worth, cheat or steal every opportunity they get, fail to make wise investment in their communities and in the country that they live in, loot public funds to enrich themselves, collude with looters and thieves and organize praise and worship Sunday services for criminals, and bring no creativity or vision to their lives and no plans for their future. Nigeria is a failure because of millions of such people who live in it, not because of a few professors or Omata shoe traders who left. You want to tell me that if your child was dying, and your only option to keep that child alive was to take him or her abroad or remain abroad to take care of the child, you Mr. Oselen would prefer for the child to die rather than take the opportunity? What are people talking about here? You think there is something noble about staying in jail in Nigeria rather than finding refuge abroad and finding the means to feed your family, including those in Nigeria? That that is somehow heroic and wise? That it were better for Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem to remain in Nigeria and waste away, than for him to go abroad, finish his education, raise a family and then build a school in his hometown? People must take responsibility for their lives and circumstances, and not blame others for their inability to take charge of their own destinies. Again, every country is the responsibility of the people who live in it, and there are more than enough people living in Nigeria to take responsibility for saving Nigeria. If 150 million of you won't do it, then, leave the few thousand abroad alone; they're doing their best while struggling like everyone else to make a living. They're not the ones corrupting and destroying and looting Nigeria, you folks living there are. Save yourselves from yourselves for yourselves. That's how it's done.

Yomi Okusanya 
It's blame Nigerians abroad season for Nigeria's woes I guess. At this rate I might be needing a visa or resident permit to visit or reside in Nigeria soon. Olu Oguibe thanks for your erudite contributions here. Nothing to add. But like you postulated already, nothing beats a scapegoat apologies to Dbanji. If we are not crying more than the bereaved, we are unpatriotic. Nigerians abroad are the flavour of the moment that's all. N'abania. So I beg of you am already distraught from my part and role in helping destroy Nigeria. So leave me alone.. Nigerians abroad that don't give a damn about happenings back home have their heads in the right place it has to be said.

Afolabi Oghafua
Please permit me to add to this discussion... The psyche of the Nigerian mind has been battered and re-conditioned by our collective failures over the years both leadership and follower-ship. You see this manifestation in our daily lives, the quality of leadership on display at all levels, the expression of the citizenry in the various social media outlet on issues such as this one and the list goes on and on.
Until an individual, family, community, state and Country gets to the level of naturally accepting responsibility for their short-comings, failures or successes (as the case may be), then the chasing of shadows and ovoid cycle becomes inevitable. It is unfortunate to even consider blaming people for leaving Nigeria to better themselves elsewhere in the world. Athletes, artistes, academicians, professionals of all shades and flavor bust their behinds, learn new languages, new technologies, new cultures to become a better person and valuable to the environment and spheres of influence.... This to me, needs to be praised, encouraged and commended. If the present Nigerian space is unable to provide people with opportunity, a platform of expression, a lifeline, and people choose to seek these elsewhere, then how have these people become the main source of Nigeria's woes? When they were in our midst, we never acknowledged them nor gave them a chance. The founding fathers and most successful Nigerians have at one point in their lives lived and trained abroad (better themselves) and they returned to contribute to National building (A continuous process). The ostracizing, unpatriotic labeling, blame game on diasporans is counter productive. Rather, we should be encouraging and providing the means for folks outside to add to our rich and diverse composition for our collective good.

BTW, have we observed the ongoing Olympics in London... quite a number of Nigerian names in other nations colors... and we are getting mad at them! We can choose to blame the outsiders and ostracize them or creatively blend them into our total brand and package. Every Nigerian (everywhere) on earth has a unique role and place in Nation building. If I am playing my role well, blaming anyone will be the last thing on my mind. We must not tear apart, waste away and discard, but rather we must gather and build.

Ginger says Amen to that!!


  1. Olu Oguibe spoke my mind and this statement alone is hits the nail in the head---> "People must take responsibility for their lives and circumstances, and not blame others for their inability to take charge of their own destinies."

  2. I say amen to: Every Nigerian (everywhere) on earth has a unique role and place in Nation building. If I am playing my role well, blaming anyone will be the last thing on my mind. We must not tear apart, waste away and discard, but rather we must gather and build.

  3. hmmm a lot of dimensions to this argument o... lol everyone has a part of play but no point assigning blame.

  4. Gather and build. That is the key. There's no need to trade blames or insults. Those that have no more ties to the country can just press ignore or delete. Otherwise, if Nigeria still tugs at you, whether you're living in it or out, you have to build. And it starts at the individual level.

  5. I need to be Olu Oguibe's friend. Ndu m choro odi enyi a!

  6. Now this IS intelligent conversation! Word after word from both sides full of wisdom. The truth is most people will think of themselves first before they think of their country. Let me make that most Nigerians. My generation. That why even with something as mundane (I don't think that's the right word but...) as. NYSC everyone wants to "work it" to a good place. Public schools never fall under "a good place". We would rather serve in Chevron than teach! It's us first before Nigeria so anyone that is lucky enough to get a better life outside Nigeria will even testify in church first then pack his bags and family and leave. It is what it is.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I was happy reading Olu Oguibe's response. He hit the nail on the head. Nothing more, nothing less. All I can add is, Charity begins at home..

  9. @Adura: There are a few million Nigerians in the UK alone. All around the world, "few thousands" sure doesn't cut it.

    That said, we all have a role to play. I think however Pat Utomi was referring to the fact that the government gave scholarships to many in that generation for the express purpose of employing them towards nation building.

  10. I like conversations like this. Olu Oguibe's points are valid and I am with him on this. Blaming people who left is convenient, so it's not hard to see how the Utomi's of this world choose to do so.

    The more important lesson for me though, is how easy it is for us to jump into conclusions about others without knowing their stories. The Examples Olu gave show that each of us has personal struggles that people who observe us from a distance may not be aware of.

    Before you write a person (or group of people off), consider the possibility that there are angles to their story you just might not be aware of and cut them some slack.

    PS. I mistakenly deleted your comment on my blog :(
    I have only given up sewing temporarily. It's only a matter of time before my passion for it finds expression again. Thank you :)

  11. Whilst I enjoyed the banter and pontifications, I found the ping pong of the pointing fingers is just as futile as wallowing in self-pity and guilt. And it epitomises, what frustrates me the most about Nigerians talking abut Nigeria - "the problem with Nigeria is...". I was disappointed that the debate didn't move past the usual, and something new and different did not emerge. For example, how to bridge the divide between the diaspora and Nigerians at home. Are we really still advocating a nuclear approach?

    Other diasporan communities work together to make sure that their meagre contributions can go alot further and have a more lasting impact than an empty, grandiose school building. Locally, grass-root associations are set up in villages and towns and cities and people agree to start, establish and run initiatives that empower their own communities.

    But somewhere along the way, Nigerians seem to have lost the ability to work together and personalised the 'divide and conquer' mentality. That social capital is slowly coming back, eg leaps and bounds made in the last few years, and is only sustained by inspiring and trustworthy leadership, which is actually being demonstrated by Nigerians in Nigeria and abroad.

    A Nigerian is still a Nigerian, no matter where in the world they are. What we should be focusing on is what we can achieve together as this will always make a greater difference than our individual efforts.

    *sorry went on for a bit*

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  13. That Olu Oguibe is taking this very personally lol. Honestly, Nigerians need to start blaming themselves instead of everybody else. We even need to find out if we really want things to change cause so many of us are enjoying the way things are now.

    Dear Ginger, how have you been?

    Much love!


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