Political Ambitions in Diaspora

Political Ambitions in Diaspora

Political Ambitions in Diaspora: ‘Obasanjo Say Make I Come’

Between 1999 and 2007 there was an acute frenzy of political aspirations occurring among Nigerians in the diaspora. It was quite an evident wave. The frenzy was about Nigerians seeking to return home to go successfully into politics. Or hold office or get lucrative contracts from the government. Pre-1999, many if not the majority of Nigerian males in the diaspora were quite content to live indefinitely overseas. But after the 1999 return to democracy, it was rare to find a Nigerian male who was ‘away’ that did not want to return to Nigeria to make it big. That was the birth of the “X say make I come home” era.

For ‘X say make I come home’ the X was either, Obasanjo, Ibori, Igbinedion, Tinubu, Duke, Akande, Odili, Omene, Makoju, Clarke. Or any other leading politician or technocrat in power. ‘X say make I come home’ had a stilted drama to it. It was said in a smug, self-congratulatory, ostensibly humble, ‘I have arrived’ manner. ‘X say make I come home’ was perhaps the most prestigious thing a Nigerian in the diaspora could utter to his fellow compatriot expatriates at the turn of the Millennium. Nigerians were returning home in large numbers to make it big or have a comfortable life.

Many that went home to ‘the call’ experienced a mixed bag of fortunes and outcomes which could be classified into four distinct groups. The “Winners” went home and landed great jobs or won major elections. Or they got juicy contracts without much ado or with a bit of a struggle. Some eventually became ministers, governors, state commissioners, directors in government agencies, local government chairmen, assemblymen, representatives, and senators. Others became personal assistants, special assistants and unofficial proxies to the winners, sharing in their often fabulous good fortune. Then there were the glorious contactors.

The “Runners” were the hustlers who had to work very hard to get any income or privileges to could secure. It was usually tough for runners but they eventually got lucrative contracts from their contacts in government. The fortune of the most successful runners was “win big, lose big”; their actions always had high stakes. More often than not, non-payment or severely delayed payments for contracts executed and completed was their Achilles heel. Payment and employment uncertainties did crush many.

The “Testers” were the ones that went to Nigeria with resources that would last them for up to eighteen months. That is while they were prospecting for position and contracts in Nigeria. It appears that for this group of prospectors were quite pragmatic since many returned to their bases in diaspora when their resources ran out and the success of the ambitions remained unfulfilled. However, the testers were also a major feeder group for the winners and runners who eventually made it (big).

The “Shock Absorbers” we call them because they appear immune to the consequences and awareness of failure to the point of being rescued back to diaspora by third parties. A few shock absorbers did make it to the rank of winner and runner. The tales of the experiences of shock absorbers were often tragic and sometimes fatal. We leave it at that.

While the winners constituted (max.) 5% and the runners (max.) 15% of those who had said ‘X say make I come home’ the other 80% was a mix of unsuccessful Testers and Shock Absorbers. Most of the all the winners and most of the runners have remained in Nigeria while nearly all the unsuccessful testers and shock absorbers are back in the diaspora. In a nutshell, at best only 1 in every 5 made it well enough to go to Nigeria and sustain themselves enduringly there but only 1in every 20 fulfilled their dreams of “making it big in Nigeria.

These days we no longer hear guys in diaspora uttering the line ‘X say make I come home’. Most who got the call were disappointed by the patrons who “invited” them home. Some of such patrons strung their invitees along till they ran out of resources to fend for themselves. Then dropped them. Some invitees lacked the skills and acumen to make it in Nigeria even though they had sufficient opportunities to succeed presented to them. Others fell out with or lost the favour of their patrons. Quite a number had impatient wives back in the diaspora who were impatient with the delays in their husbands earning a repatriate-able income and pressured them to return. There were other factors too.

While the winners and some runners are smiling to bank many in the diaspora now realise that the days returning home was bound to bring a man success and financial independence just because he was from the diaspora or had very high ambitions are no longer here, they are gone… for most. You can still find people going home to make it big but in small numbers.

These days many Nigerians in the diaspora are content to earn their pension there. Or do so grudgingly without any recourse to go back home.

Grimot Nane

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