Do returnees have an obligation to help ‘fix’ Nigeria?
When I tell people I’m in Lagos for the long haul, the response is usually positive. They say things like: ‘You’ve come back home, well done’ or ‘Welcome home!’Usually followed by something along the lines of: ‘It’s good so many of you [returnees] are coming back, you people will be the ones to help us build Nigeria.” A few people add stuff like: “Because you people have seen how to do things the right way.”
After the ‘brain drain’ trend of the 80’s and early 90’s, the swathes of returnees ‘moving back’ to Nigeria is often touted as a ‘brain gain’ or as proof that the country is turning around for the better, because how bad can it really be if people from the Diaspora are coming back in their thousands? Nigeria is getting better! Africa is rising!
Statements like this always give me pause.Nigeria may be rising but for who? Lots of people might be moving to Nigeria, but what does that actually mean for the country? Are things actually improving for the majority of the 180 million people who live here? Are returnees, like myself, actually helping to move the country forward or are we simply ‘adding our own’ to the wahala?
It’s something my friends and I discuss a lot. In particular, whether we have an obligation to inspire and create change. Not the slogan kind, the real kind. Do we have a duty? There are always lots of questions, it’s a conversation that never really ends. I’m obviously not a spokesperson for returnees but in my opinion the short answer is: yes.
I’m a believer in doing your best to contribute positively to whatever society you find yourself in. Even though not all returnees are not created equal, there’s a certain privilege we enjoy, an undeserved advantage if you will. It’s important we remain aware of that and check ourselves when necessary. Nigeria might be rising for a small percentage, but for millions things are getting worse, and we all know this. Unless you’re a special (and not in a good way) person you can’t be aware of such things and be content with the status quo.
The longer, more boring answer is: it’s not that straightforward.So to state the obvious, returnees are obviously not messiahs or superheroes. Like with every group of people, there’s the good, the bad, the ugly, the uglier etc. People move back to Nigeria for all kinds of reasons; some to pursue an ambition or start a business, others to try something different and explore the country, there are the people who move back simply because ‘visa ti expire’ and they have no choice. So the weight of expectation has to be realistic, in an ideal world everyone living in Nigeria would be working towards its success. But we don’t live in an ideal world. There are returnees, just like there are Nigerians and others, who don’t really care if this country thrives or implodes, their concern is to make as much money as possible and keep it moving. Is it ideal? No, but to quote M.I. “it’s allowed”
I also don’t buy that returnees have sole ownership of ‘doing the right thing.’ Living in or having some experience of the Western world may expand a person’s horizons but it doesn’t give them special authority over what’s right or wrong. This kind of thinking propagates the idea that Nigeria is just waiting for someone to step in and make everything right, first of all, that’s never going to happen. Second, there have been and are lots of people at work to try and institute positive change. For us (or anyone else) to assume we, who have either been out of the loop for years or never been in it to start with, can just swoop in and save the day is disrespectful, arrogant and just a bit ridiculous.
Then there’s also the uncomfortable truth. The vast majority of people do not actually like change and the Nigerian system isn’t exactly set up to support those who do the right thing. You may move to Nigeria with lofty idealism but Naija will slap you into the realm of reality.
Because, let’s be honest, if you complain about something or try to explain why are certain thing is wrong you’re ‘blowing grammar’ or ‘talking too much English.’ If you refuse to pay a bribe in certain places, will you ever actually get what you need? If you want to report something, who will hear you? What will be done? Even if you have good intentions, it can be disheartening and straight up exhausting trying to create change within a system that seems to be actively fighting against it.
There are other questions too. Like what kind of change, big sweeping change or small, imperceptible- at- first type change? How do you go about it in an informed, non-patronising and impactful way?I’m sure there’s a longer and more boring answer, I just don’t know it yet.