Obi to Nigerians in California: Don’t be weary in contributing to nation building

I enjoin you never to despair or be weary in contributing your quota towards nation-building in Nigeria. Despite the present state of insecurity and parlous economy, I am certain that with your avid prayers and contributions in both human and material terms, Nigeria will recover.

By Peter Obi

(Being the text of a speech presented on “The Role of the Nigerian Diaspora in Civic Leadership in Nigeria” in California, USA)

1. Thank you for inviting me as the guest speaker to this event. I thank the organisers of this Lecture and Dinner, especially my dear brother, Senator Annie Okonkwo.

2. It is always a pleasure to meet with my fellow Nigerians and the many friends of Nigeria when I travel. And what better a city to meet in than in Los Angeles. I thank all those who have come out here on a Monday night. I can’t take your support and kindness for granted.

3. This evening, I have been asked to share my perspectives on “The Role of the Nigerian Diaspora in Civic Leadership in Nigeria.”

• Role of Global Diaspora

4. Diaspora communities constitute an integral part and indeed, a critical mass of the development trajectory of their respective home countries. In that context, Diaspora communities are increasingly part of the foreign relations architecture. They now serve as informal ambassadors and help with in advancing development in their home countries.

5. While some countries see their Diaspora community as an asset; others see them as a loss, more so, in terms of brain drain.

6. World Bank estimates put global pre-pandemic Diaspora remittances at a record-high of $719 billion in 2019; including $548 billion to low-and middle-income countries. With $20 billion in remittances in 2021, Nigeria ranks 6th behind the top five recipient countries, namely; India with $89b; Mexico with $54b; China with $53b; the Philippines with $37b; Egypt with $32b and Bangladesh, with $22.07b.

5. Beyond their renowned role of sending foreign remittances back home, the Diaspora are increasingly critical in advancing technology and skill transfer, strengthening democracy, opening up global supply chains, trade and foreign direct investment, education and research as well as healthcare.

• Role of Nigeria Diaspora

6. Diaspora Remittances now outstrip foreign direct investment for most low and middle-income countries, Nigeria included. In most cases, such remittances now constitute three times the volume of Official Development Assistance (ODA) received.

7. Nigerians in the diaspora constitute the first line of representation and the first line of defence. They have been flying the national flag high, in contributing their quota towards the development of the country across various sectors.

8. Nigeria Diaspora remittances now augment and support education, promote entrepreneurship and stimulate businesses, and investments in healthcare in addition to foreign remittances.

7. It is noteworthy and commendable that Diaspora remittances to Nigeria have surpassed oil revenue for some years now, hovering between 3.8 to 6.1 percent of the country’s GDP. The impact is equally huge.

8. The diaspora community can be effectively mobilised as true assets for the rapid development of our country. The Nigerian diaspora can play a major role in helping Nigeria transform its education sector.

9. The diaspora community can help set up and administer endowment funds in the Nigerian Universities. Recently, Dr. Phillip Ozuah took a catalytic lead by donating $1m to the University of Ibadan.

10. Endowments can also be used to provide support for students to go on exchange programmes that add value to their skills and motivation. It can also be used to support Faculty research and research and development (R&D) in general.

11. It is important that our spiraling exodus of Nigerian medical practitioners abroad should start yielding some dividends back home through improved quality of healthcare delivery, infrastructure and personnel, arising from skill transfer.

12. Opportunities also abound for proactive collaboration between the Diaspora community and the Federal and State governments in expanding healthcare delivery; improving the quality of our healthcare system, as well as ensuring skill transfers to locally-based practitioners.

13. Nigeria can no longer afford to remain a consuming economy. While meeting local demands, she must transition into trading with manufactured and finished goods, and playing in the technology in the export market.

14. No country thrives economically merely by exporting its raw materials and importing virtually everything. Such a disposition weakens our economic base and employment capabilities.

15. Nigerians in Diaspora when effectively engaged can act as important ‘trade ambassadors’ and ‘negotiators’ for the country, especially at the level of attracting small-scale boutique businesses.

16. In the New Nigeria we seek, we must think out of the box and at times, disruptively. As government and as Nigerians in Diaspora, we must henceforth contemplate those global best practices that will confer comparative advantage on us, and replicate known successes that can move Nigeria from consumption to production.

17. One of Nigeria’s best brand Ambassadors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, offers an excellent example of promoting our country and Nigerian brand products abroad. Beyond her excellence in telling stories that promote Nigeria in irresistible fashion, she has proudly and constantly promoted made-in-Nigeria fabrics and outfits through her social media channels; and by adorning them on various global stages that she has shared with some of the most prominent personalities in the world.

18. A diaspora bond could be an innovative option for raising finance for am extremely stressed economy like ours. Bonds can also help reduce reckless government borrowings, while making business sense for the investing diaspora.

19. Besides voting, a citizen’s most coveted role is holding an elected government accountable. With your education, exposure and understanding of government responsibilities in your host country, and collective leverage, it is your duty to help hold your state and national government accountable back home.

20. You have the network and numbers to be able to negotiate the priorities of the government, especially during the election period as the one we are embarking on soon. You should be able to place pressing issues on the agenda of the candidates and subsequently, on the front burners for new government that will be formed.

21. If you contribute as high as 6 percent of the nation’s GDP, the very least you deserve, is not to be disenfranchised from being able to influence the leaders that govern the country.

22. Patriotism cannot be imposed; just like respect, it must be earned through dedication, responsiveness, active engagement, orientation, and prioritising of Nigerians in Diaspora. The ripple effect will be rapid and will rub off positively on the country’s economy.

• Way Forward beyond 2023

23. Thinking through 2023 and beyond, we must think seriously about a leadership that is imbued with competence, capacity, credibility and commitment. The 4 Cs, will be required to turn Nigeria around.

24. It can only take one visionary leadership and disruptive thinker for Nigeria to be put back on the right trajectory. Our vision and mission is to give full expression to our democracy by moving our country from consumption to production.

25. We will pursue intangible assets of good governance, rule of law, security of lives and properties, through an aggressive increase in personnel and equipment and inclusive training of operatives in our security agencies. We will emphasise patriotism, national interest, and national morale, quality of government, political will and character, which are all complimentary to the other assets. We will ensure that we have these assets in place and stress asset optimisation.

26. We intend to lay special emphasis on critical infrastructure, especially Power to ensure a clear measurable increase of 200% of today’s generation, transmission and distribution within the shortest possible time through public private partnership.

27. We will pursue aggressively modalities for raising the national internet penetration, as well as increased contribution of ICT to overall economic growth aid national development.

28. Africa will remain the centrepiece of our foreign policy. We will improve Nigeria’s diplomatic sphere of influence via peacekeeping, trade, and investment initiatives.

29. We will aggressively pursue human capital development in the education and health sectors within available resources, with a view to adopting pertinent global best practices in both sectors.

30. We will have zero tolerance for corruption, and will cut the cost of governance. Our total commitment to transparency and accountability in government business is the only credible way to achieve limited to zero corruption.

31. I enjoin you never to despair or be weary in contributing your quota towards nation-building in Nigeria. Despite the present state of insecurity and parlous economy, I am certain that with your avid prayers and contributions in both human and material terms, Nigeria will recover.

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