Donald is a medical officer at a blood transfusion agency in Ibadan. He has obtained a scholarship to do postgraduate study in public health in the United States and later he hopes to specialise in paediatrics. He wants to return home after his studies abroad. His friends are surprised. Why would you want to return to Nigeria?
Donald’s decision is the result of an incident he witnessed as a young medical officer in an orphanage in Port Harcourt. He felt the grinding poverty in the Delta region, in the heart of Nigeria’s oil industry. Often he watched helplessly as babies died for lack of basic medicines. He became a fund raiser and when the funds started coming in, he was directed to return to his clinic by his corrupt superiors who were more interested in the funds than in the orphans. But he realised that he had been able to help some children and he will never forget that.
"Rich countries are poaching so many African health workers that the practice should be viewed as a crime," said a team of international disease experts recently in the British medical journal The Lancet. But what else can you expect? A society that has failed to procreate needs willing young professionals from Africa and Asia.
The dream of most young Nigerians today is to go janding, abroad. This is nothing new. But while previous generations returned to change their country, most of today’s janders want to stay put. Nigerians are believed to be the largest single African national group in Europe and North America — about 90,000 Nigerians live in the UK.
What is there at home for them? About 70 percent of Nigerians are said to live below the poverty line. Although I've never been able to confirm this statistic, after my professional trips to cities like Ibadan, Enugu, Kano, Lafia, Onitsha, Awka, Calabar, or Lagos it seems credible. Many youths are jobless. Nothing seems to work. The country is riddled with corruption. Last year we had an election and afterwards Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was declared president. Domestic and international observers denounced it as a fraud, so clumsy a fraud that no intelligent criminal would take credit for it. Nonetheless, the Election Tribunal certified it as a free and fair election. Nothing makes the average Nigerian proud of his country — apart from football!
In any case, the pay is far better abroad. A Nigerian computer scientist in South Korea earns more in one day than in a whole year in her own country. Besides, since these countries have stronger currencies, emigrants can easily remit funds to their families.
In face of these challenges it is not surprising that many of us are continually looking up for inspiration. It’s little wonder that Barack Obama is idolised here. Locally, people like Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, architect Alex Ekwueme, political economist Patrick Utomi and labour leader Adams Oshimohole are working to bring about a change in politics and governance. They are striving to create an oasis of sanity around them and the ripples are being noticed by many.
Should Nigerians despair? No. In the stirring words of our leading novelist, Chinua Achebe, in an interview with Sahara Reporters: "Nigeria is home… It’s a very frustrating home, a very annoying home, but it is my home… I think it’s more effective, more useful, to find what you can do rather than what you can’t do. So, Nigeria has such a wonderful possibility built into it, but it’s something it never uses. Talent; it would rather use a half-baked person rather than someone who is highly qualified. But that’s the country I’ve got."
It is the job of Nigerians who have excelled in their various professions, especially those living abroad, to revive their country. Our elites abroad cannot shirk this responsibility. They need to come home and help scour away the slime of corruption and incompetence. Progress will be slow and difficult — but if Rome was not built in a day, neither will Nigeria.
The words of a Nigerian statesman, the late Sunday Awoniyi, resonate in my ears: "we may be "fed up with the present, afraid of the future. Yet we dare not despair".
Nwachukwu Egbunike is a book editor in Ibadan, Nigeria.