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Nigerian Elites:A “domestic-diaspora?”

“Many members of the so-called elite group monitored the National Assembly elections on television, from the comfort of their homes or from far away, abroad. It will be a useful exercise to check how many Nigerian CEOs and captains of industry went out to vote on Saturday, April 9. The truth is that as Nigerians go to the polls, many Nigerian “big men and women” have since travelled out of the country. They won’t return until the elections are won and lost and they are sure that there is peace in the country. These are the same people whose businesses will be affected by National Assembly legislations. They would be quick to complain should there be unfavourable legislations affecting their businesses, and yet on election day, they’d rather stay at home, and allow their drivers, house-helps and bricklayers to be the ones to decide how Nigeria votes. In other parts of the world, it is the middle class and the elite that take the driver’s seat in determining the future of the country. In Nigeria, the rich are often too lazy to vote except when the election is like a business enterprise for them, that is a direct source of livelihood.”

The observation,quoted above,was made by Reuben Abati,in an article he published on a Nigerian website,the Nigeriavillagesquare.com.Any keen observer of Nigeria,would have noticed the same thing.The Nigerian elites live in Nigeria,but Nigeria does not live in them.They are like ex-territorial citizens,seemingly above Nigeria’s constraints.They are so detached from Nigeria,they are like expatriates:they do not send their children to Nigerian schools;they do not use Nigerian hospitals when they are stricken by sickness;they would rather bank their money abroad;they only live in Nigeria to make money.A few years ago,an expatriate acquaintance,a Dutchman working for one of the oil-companies in Port-Harcourt,told me a very revealing story.As a member of his company’s negotiation-team,he was privileged to attend meetings between representatives of the government,the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC,and those of the oil-companies.He said one of the bitterest complaints made by the NNPC guys was that,”expatriates do not invest in Nigeria;they do not use Nigerian schools or hospitals.” when he finished speaking,he looked at me,and we both started laughing.How funny.

Now,it is right that expatriates invest in Nigeria.But how can you make this point,when the top echelon of the government and the NNPC do not send their children to Nigerian schools or use Nigerian hospitals? Should they not lead by example? Nigerian elites are engaged with Nigeria superficially,and that through their economic activities,only.For them,Nigeria is useful,only for the rent-seeking opportunities it provides.As long as the government remains a captured agency,which exists only to award contracts and share the oil-money,the gravy-train will continue to churn.So why should they worry about which party “captures” power?They know that there is very little difference between our politicians,irrespective of party;these are the same politicians who jump from one party to the other,on the basis of expediency not ideology.They know that whoever wins,regulatory capture will ensure that business continues to be very lucrative,for the connected.

Of course you can argue that this indifference has a cost,as the resulting bad governance has consequences,in poor security;bad schools and hospitals;poor infrastructure and even worse power-supply.A cost that affects everybody,including the elites.Sure,it costs a pretty penny to pay for the foreign schools,medical treatment abroad,24 hour generator-power at home and at work,private security.But this dysfunctional system is contrived to ensure even greater gains for the connected.Far more gain than it’s cost.I recall that when the GSM mobile phone started in Nigeria,one of the companies claimed that,given the poor power-supply  situation in the country,it had to buy 9000 generating sets to power its system,on the basis of which it went on to charge,probably the highest phone rates in the world,with the condonment,if not the connivance of the regulatory authorities.Just a couple of  years down the road,the company had netted billions of Naira in profit.This is a typical business scenario here;in collusion with government regulators,businesses pass the cost of doing business in an uncompetitive business environment,on to the consumers,who are without any form of consumer-protection.

What is sad about this situation is not just the huge amount of money sent out of Nigerian each year,in the shape of medical or school fees,but the human capital-flight involved.Although Nigerians abroad repatriate millions of Dollars each year,most of these Nigerians sending money home are not children of  Nigerian elites.These are people from ordinary homes who are sacrificing so much,in order to send help to those at home.Children of the elites,on the other hand do not send a dime home.They do not need to.Instead,they live on money sent them by their parents,money  creamed from the Nigerian people.And as we all know most of them do not come home to work after concluding their studies,choosing to remain abroad instead;so they repatriate neither money nor skills.As far as Nigeria is concerned,sending them abroad to study is a total loss,a financial as well as a brain drain.

What is most distressing about all this,is that members of the middle class,those on $60000 or less a year,are getting in on the act.Any one in the oil-industry will attest to this fact.It is the rage now for even low-level staff,to plan for a foreign university education for their children. Where they cannot afford to send their children to Europe or America,they opt for Ghana.Imagine how much money Nigeria loses each year as it’s best paid professionals decide to hand the money over to foreigners?Think of the opportunity-cost of such huge sums.Consider how much better off we would be,if we invested such sums in our education system.If we all want a better Nigeria,scrambling for the oil-money,and then handing it all over to foreigners is not the way to go about it.


11 responses to “Nigerian Elites:A “domestic-diaspora?”

  1. Lola April 13, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Brilliant write up, so much truth. Convicting but Enlightening! Well I’m on my way home and I know of many others too…thank you!

  2. henryik2009 April 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Hi Lola,
    Thanks for your comment.I hope you find plenty of success at home.Good luck.

  3. dapxin April 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm


    Q. so how does all of these play into the need to redefine what it means to be nigerian ?

  4. codliveroil April 16, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    The elite class of Nigeria are exemplify the attitude Nigerians have to their country. It is something to drained until nothing more can be extracted from it, with no thought of what the fate of future generations will be.

    The second paragraph where the NNPC representative (NNPC should be a flagship of what Nigerian industry can achieve, but instead they are hardly worth mentioning such is the low esteem by which they are regarded.)

    The role of the elite and middle class is to provide a focal point to challenge the nation and ultimately drive it forwards. In Nigeria , the elite have settled largely for a parasitic existence. The fact that the NNPC representative, laughed when he realised he was as guilty as the foreigner of the accusations levelled against them, shows more of what sort of person he is. Do you think anyone else in their own country would be happy to categorised in the same group as people who have next to no loyalty to the country in which they reside? The answer is a definite NO. I am glad that you have raised this to open the eyes of those who are sleeping.

    I will compare what is occurring in India. I’ll give a few examples.

    India not too long ago, had a poor healthcare system. Some doctors who were overseas decided to return home and revamp the medical sector. Today the high end of the medical sector there is of world standard, that foreigners as well as overseas resident Indians , return to India to have surgery which is too expensive for them elsewhere. I know of two colleagues at work who did that, and the outcomes have been positive. What do Nigerians do? Those who can afford it, leave the country, those who can’t manage or prepare themselves for death.

    In Nigeria, as we all know corruption is no big deal, it has become as part life as the litter that covers the urban landscape, it is embraced as part of life ie “no big deal”. India as we all know has issues with corruption. Yet the middle class and elite of India have not simply and placidly accepted it, as they recognise that is retarding the nation’s development. One social activist by the name of Anna Hazare has gone on a fast until death if necessary to ensure that an anti-corruption bill is strengthened. He has been joined by thousands of his fellow enlightened citizens across the country.

    Click here

    Click here

    Regardless of the outcome, this action indicates a number of things:
    1) There is that consciousness that corruption can’t be allowed to fester unabated.
    2) He and everyone else have a vested interest in not seeing the country jeopardise the gains they have made in material development over the last 20 years be eroded by the scourge of corruption.
    3) They are concerned about the plight of their country.

    I’ve yet to hear of any significant politician in Nigeria raise the corruption issue, take such a principled stand against corruption. Why? Is it the case they all don’t care? Or are they all too mired in corruption to be able to say something about it.?

    Nigeria is not India, but there are some important lessons that can be learned. Namely we should learn to value ourselves and treat Nigeria as our home, not a refuse dump. That way things will slowly begin to improve. The elite should be working to uplift Nigeria not suck the life out of it. It is India 330 million middle class that are driving the internal economy (with strong demand), which allowed their economy not to be adversely affected by the recent global downturn in the economy. The economy needs to have a strong internal market as well as a significant export component, spread across a number of sectors.

  5. Ibezim Okehie April 18, 2011 at 12:44 am

    The analysis is all well and good to read, even if it’s focused as it is on the symptoms rather than root causes.

    Nigeria and most of Africa are simply de facto RESOURCE EXTRACTION COLONIES of more powerful Caucasian countries. The CEO of Shell said as much on the Wikileaks cables, that Shell practically dictates what happens in Nigeria. Seeing that we can’t beat these powerful countries and corporations, the best choice left is to join them, each of us in our own little way. For example, the Nigerian doctor or engineer that gets a subsidized Nigerian education and runs away to practice in the UK is only treating Nigeria the way Nigeria exists – to be exploited.

    The choice facing most Africans is to either FIGHT these colonizers or SUBMIT to them.

    Zimbabwe, China, India, Vietnam, Iran, North Korea and some others have made the choice to fight.

    Most of us Africans, including Nigeria, have made the choice to submit. If you try to resist like Ggbagbo in Ivory Coast or Sankara in Bourkina Faso, you’ll be put down WITH THE HELP OF YOUR FELLOW AFRICANS.

    It’s about convenience and it is NOT limited to the elite. The poor who can’t physically travel to foreign lands live in the spiritual diaspora of foreign religions – Islam & Christianity. There’s nothing to agonize over in all this. The African finds it easier to accommodate and even collaborate with foreign domination than to fight it. We’ve made our choice.Collaborate or die.

  6. henryik2009 April 18, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Hi Dapxin,
    Thanks for your comment.The challenge is for us to redefine how we engage with Nigeria.We need a government which would create the necessary conditions,to motivate Nigerians to engage more positively,and productively,with Nigeria.

  7. henryik2009 April 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Hi Codliveroil,
    Thanks for your comment.You are quite right that the elite and middle class should provide the vision for the country.The difference between Nigeria and India is transformational leadership:leadership that challenges citizens to do great things.With the leadership we have had in this country,it is no surprise that our people have chosen a parasitic existence.Our people do not believe in virtue,so cynical are we,that we automatically reach for the mediocre.

  8. henryik2009 April 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Ibezim,
    thanks for your comment.I agree that most African countries are mere “resource extraction colonies” or trading posts,but we chose to remain so.We indigenized colonialism.Check out this post:
    However,any analysis that sees everything in terms of the West and the rest of us is dangerous,because it suggests that we are helpless;we are not.In this era of off-shoring,with Western manufacturing migrating to the third world,we should be able to attract Western businesses down here,obviating the need for the Nigerian engineer or doctor to migrate.This is what the BRIC countries,Brazil,Russia,India and China,did.
    We can achieve similar results if we are willing to do what is necessary,instead of “seeing” Western conspiracy everywhere.

  9. Ibezim Okehie April 19, 2011 at 4:25 am

    Henry, most respectfully, there’s no conspiracy to see, it’s just a fact that Western countries control Africa. What the CEO of Shell said is FACT, not conspiracy. Foreign control is the ROOT of the problem, right now it’s Western, yesterday Arabs used to be the biggest problem, it might be the Chinese or Indians tomorrow. If you can’t acknowledge that much, then what’s really the point of even examining or writing your article. The Domestic Diaspora exists because the West has FORCEFULLY inserted itself into the African millieau in such a way that anyone that wants to live a decent life is obliged to adapt to it. Africans didn’t wake up one day and start going to Church or naming their children Francis and Elizabeth.

    It’s just unfortunate that the African – unlike the Indian or the Chinese that you cite as examples of progress – seems to have a character well suited to colonial control. Just the fact that over 90% of Africans could be pressured or convinced to abandon their native religions is a good mark of our character. We have that much self hatred that we WORSHIP men of other races as GODS. We are helpless. There’s only one option – adapt. Or die.

    If there’s going to be a revival, I’m very sure it’s NOT going to be in the lifetimes of me or my children. This much damage, the real damage is more mental, spiritual and cultural, it’s going to take a LOOOOONG time to undo. When we start looking for solutions, we won’t get far by glossing over facts.

    • henryik2009 April 19, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      Ibezim,i think it is normal for every business to want as much control of its business environment as possible.Shell is no different.I’m pretty sure that Shell and other multinationals have the same ambition abroad.The difference between Africa and the West is that,Western governments resist such corporate encroachment.It is the duty of the Nigerian government to keep Shell in line.
      Just as it is the duty of the government to create conditions that broaden our options,considerably beyond “collaboration” and “dying”.

  10. dapxin April 19, 2011 at 6:31 am


    So have you adapted ? /smh 😦

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