…while it is hoped that Nigerians will someday appreciate the universal value of scholarship, professionals in the diaspora will continue to work hard in their chosen professions and allow posterity to judge who is actually helping Nigeria the most.
There is this particularly popular, albeit erroneous, thought peddled amongst many educated Nigerians that any successful Nigerian professional who does not live in Nigeria does not contribute to the development of Nigeria. To these folks, to contribute to the development of your country, you must live in your country. In other words, contribution to Nigeria means physical presence/availability within the geographic space that is Nigeria. According to this newfangled nonsensical belief, whoever doesn’t live in Nigeria is not a patriot and must not take credit for Nigeria’s success.
Folks who advance this argument may ask a professor of say, medicine, who lives in America, what his contribution is to Nigeria, his original country. They seem not to have the capacity to think through and acknowledge the fact that to become a professor of medicine, ideally, a person must have been involved in the synthesis of new knowledge in medicine. They assume that a professor of Nigerian descent, who is living and working in America, who is involved in medical research to find the cure for a particular ailment plaguing the world is only helping America, where he lives, and Americans, his host. They do not understand that most times knowledge, whether of the physica, the practica, or the semeiotike, is not to be localised to a particular geographic establishment or institution, and that any advancement in knowledge is actually a benefit for humanity in general.
Recently I heard the story of a world renowned professor of pathology who teaches and researches in a top medical school in America. The professor is originally from Kano. In a radio interview in Kano, the professor was asked by the interviewer if he had contributed to the development of Kano State since to whom much is given, much is also expected. He—the professor—was asked if he contributed to the development of the secondary school he attended back then in Kano. I do not know what the professor’s reply was to this obviously vacuous interviewer, who didn’t know that to be a world renowned professor in pathology, your contributions to the world is in fact, in principle and in practice, unquantifiable. It is evident to surmise and reckon, that by contribution, and like most Nigerians would often think, the interviewer meant that the professor was expected to bring money from America and give it to his alma mater’s management board, or to build a classroom or buy and install laboratory facilities for the said school. It didn’t matter to the interviewer that a professor is not a custodian of wealth for building and for equipping schools but a custodian of knowledge and a master in the depth and breadth of understanding about both the foundational and the complex processes of his discipline. It didn’t matter to the interviewer that the responsibility of fixing a dilapidated government secondary school in Kano lies with the government itself—the federal, the state, and the local. It didn’t matter to the interviewer that if fixing a secondary school in Kano is a dire need, the people to confront are Nigerian government officials who are paid to oversee education in Nigeria. It didn’t matter to the interviewer that to fix a secondary school in Kano, the professor who lives in America was actually a wrong call, and that the right call to make was to invite the president of Nigeria, or the minister for education, or the state governor, or the state commissioner for education, or the local government chairman—people whose duty it is to make education work, to make Nigeria work.
This is not to say that Nigerians resident in Nigeria do not contribute to the development of their country, but as wrongly perceived by a lot of Nigerians, it could be argued that in order to make meaningful contributions to humanity, the best place to be is often not Nigeria.
It is even possible to broaden this conversation by extending the discourse onto a novel, yet productive territory which is rarely explored when Nigerians resident in Nigeria question the contributions—to Nigeria—by Nigerians in the diaspora. Further to the well pronounced scholarly, programmatic, and public intellectual contributions, there is also the inspirational contribution, which, in itself, might look intangible and quite difficult to estimate. In this context, it is perceptible how, for example, Nigerians do not often bring to the fore of the discussion how many people may have been inspired through the international acclaim and accomplishments of successful Nigerian professionals in the diaspora. It is through these type of inspirations that people at home are able to easily rise above their circumstances and emulate one of their own who equally rose from similar circumstances and achieved professional distinction.
The same may not be said of a sundry of successful professionals in the homestead who could simply fold their hands and spark no curiosity for inspiration and mentoring of the country’s younger generation. For instance, when talking about the academia, a simple google search of the names of many home-based academics might turn out to provide little, if anything, as evidence of contribution to quality knowledge even though Nigerians at home may be found complaining about and lamenting the horrible standard of education in the country, without seeing their hypocrisy in advancing such complaints and lamentations by discouraging—through what could be described as cheap diatribe—brilliant educators in the diaspora from imparting free knowledge and inspiration to young folks at home. Needless to say, ours is just a consumer economy such that even the knowledge we consume at home is produced in Euro-America and other countries, sometimes by these diaspora professionals who we disparage for not being physically present in Nigeria.
This is not to say that Nigerians resident in Nigeria do not contribute to the development of their country, but as wrongly perceived by a lot of Nigerians, it could be argued that in order to make meaningful contributions to humanity, the best place to be is often not Nigeria. Of course if a person wants to contribute to a tribe or ethnic group, or to the country in a much traditional way, the best bet is to remain at home. But if one’s aim is to make significant contributions to the body of knowledge or progress for humanity, it’s quite better not to live in Nigeria where almost nothing works.
But while it is hoped that Nigerians will someday appreciate the universal value of scholarship, professionals in the diaspora will continue to work hard in their chosen professions and allow posterity to judge who is actually helping Nigeria the most.
Mohammed Dahiru Aminu (email@example.com), wrote from England.