The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Idris Was, proves that the calibre and standard of political leadership in Nigeria is abysmally low.
It is deeply concerning that a nation already suffering from greedy and corrupt leaders now has to deal with a batch unschooled in basic civics.
While acting as the Speaker recently, Idris Was demonstrated a lack of credentials to be the body’s security guard, let alone the leader, by refusing to accept a petition from Nigerian citizens in the diaspora.
Was said, “What is their (diaspora) business? They can’t sit in their comfort zones and know what is happening in Nigeria.”
It would be an unfruitful excursion to navigate the depth of Idris Was’ ignorance about modern communication.
What would be useful is to review fundamental questions about the rights of citizenship that he raised.
The Deputy Speaker must have been high on something to assert that the Diaspora has no stake in Nigeria when it is already an economic pillar holding together Nigeria’s weak fiscal structures.
Take $30bn out of the local economy in one year, and Idris Was might understand where his food comes from.
But the Diaspora’s stake is not simply about the economy. Those who live abroad deserve to enjoy the same political rights as those who live at home.
The Diaspora is not willing to permanently severe the cords that tie it to Nigeria.
Rather, many emigrants are craving the return someday to a Nigeria that works like the ones in which they now live.
The Diaspora not only wants to participate in a thriving political-economy, it aches to be part of the national discourse and desires being heard as the nation faces a downward spiral of instability.
That was the voice that the acting speaker shut down.
The typical diaspora person has several siblings and an extended family in Nigeria; and has invested in the economic sectors such as banking, transportation, real estate, farming and manufacturing.
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To have a stake is to want a say.
The regular day of the Diaspora person includes settling to read Nigerian newspapers or watch Nigerian television.
They may live abroad, but Nigerians follow developments at home passionately.
Take $30bn out of the local economy in one year, and Idris Was might understand where his food comes from
What the diaspora community has failed to do is to organize into a cohesive force that can exert proper influence in politics.
The Diaspora has been too busy with survival abroad to strategise how to turn economic to political power.
The few who have courage and have attempted to return to Nigeria to vie for political office have been left on a bloody Nigerian political battlefield, returning to base with bullet-ridden bodies and lots of stories to tell. I know a number of them.
As far back as 2000, the Diaspora had been courted to look backwards and bring something home.
The administration of Olusegun Obasanjo had well-laid plans for diaspora participation in national development.
It had even set up a diaspora skills registry, following a large gathering in Atlanta, USA, attended by Obasanjo.
But every plan to engage has been met with stiff resistance by some political forces at home.
When a diaspora commission was set up eventually, its management was given to someone who has never truly lived abroad.
Chauvinists like the Deputy Speaker have always been there, working to cut off the diaspora community from any national benefit.
But time is running out for short-sighted leaders.
Chances are that those abroad will increasingly deliver an articulate and coherent voice in national politics; and no harsh reaction in the National Assembly can make that aspiration die.
Questions are being asked in Nigerian communities overseas why the government is practically useless to those who live abroad.
YouTube has numerous videos of Nigerian citizens frustrated by the failure of their embassies and consulates to deliver basic services.
Service delivery is so appalling that the government has to outsource sensitive services such as passport renewal and the issuance of the National Identity Number to third parties.
And when the people abroad are angry, they don’t hide it.
Foreign ministry officials are getting used to protests in Ottawa, London, New York, D.C. and other cities. Not even President Mohammadu Buhari has been spared.
He was recently asked to go back home to receive medical treatment instead of wasting public funds in the UK.
The Diaspora will not tolerate what Nigerians at home are willing to accept; for it has seen systems that work efficiently, and known that obligations come with rights.
The Diaspora does not want to be perpetually responsible for the welfare of family in Nigeria.
It aspires to see a functioning and prosperous Nigeria where everyone is happy.
To those abroad, it is becoming clear that the political leadership lacks the vision to usher change; and that their economic clout can be useful to wielding political power.
It is ultimately seeing guaranteed political participation as the viable option.
The priority agenda of the diaspora is the right to vote.
For a few years, political leaders have been lectured it is time for overseas constituencies to be designed, but politicians play dumb, as if every concern of the diaspora is unrealistic or that Nigeria has more pressing problems
Successive administrations have dragged their feet on absentee voting, assigning Nigeria to a shameful minority of nations where only those within the boundaries can exercise electoral rights – when even nations at war, including Iraq and Afghanistan, guaranteed the rights of their citizens to vote outside the country.
During the Jonathan administration, while the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) was being hosted in Abuja, the question of diaspora disenfranchisement was raised from America.
The instant feedback from Aso Rock was that it should wait.
The Diaspora community could only chuckle at the empty promise, knowing that the political class was worried about having a group of voters that it cannot sway with money.
It is only a matter of time. Nigerians abroad know they will get to vote in the near future. And their demand will not stop at the right to vote. There is a longing to have representation in the National Assembly as many other nations do.
A growing number of countries in Europe, the Americas and Africa not only allow their citizens abroad to vote, but enable them to elect their own representatives to the national legislature.
For a few years, political leaders have been lectured it is time for overseas constituencies to be designed, but politicians play dumb, as if every concern of the diaspora is unrealistic or that Nigeria has more pressing problems.
An overseas constituency is a legally-recognized electoral district that elects its own representatives at the legislative body from abroad. It allows the expatriate community to relate by promoting an understanding of their aspirations as legislative agenda.
Countries notable for diaspora representation include Colombia, Italy, Croatia, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Peru, Lithuania, Romania and Panama. In France, this has been the tradition since 1948, while in Portugal, it has been the practice since 1976.
In Africa, Angola’s 220-member parliament includes three diaspora representatives, while Mozambique reserves two percent of the membership of its legislature for the diaspora.
In Tunisia, where almost a million people live in France, 18 of the 217 members of the Constituent Assembly represent the diaspora, while the number is 8 out of 382 in Algeria.
Since 1995, Cape Verde’s 72-member national legislature included six foreign representatives.
Its 1992 constitution provided for the creation of three districts abroad, with two representatives elected to the National Assembly in each of the Americas, Europe and Africa.
This is exactly the kind of participation which the Nigerian diaspora yearn for. Increasing agitation for these rights will not stop.
Contrary to what politicians may expect or think, the Diaspora wants to be active participants in the future of Nigeria and exercise a stake in decisions being made.
The Diaspora also wants to see a Nigeria to be proud of, and a country that works.
Nigerian coming home dislike the sight of touts at the airport of the logistics of requiring trusted family members or friends to pick them. They want to ride in a safe taxi from the airport to home.
They want to ride on motorable roads, and do not cherish having to pay for services such as boreholes, generators and security, which the government should provide.
They want to travel without the fear of being kidnapped and do not want to nurture the fear of unexpectedly ending up in a Nigerian hospital, which even the president is afraid to use.
The Diaspora’s voice can only grow louder and every Nigerian, home or abroad, benefit from the strengthening of citizenship rights.
The Diaspora voice is one that politicians cannot shut down. It will become louder.
And it is good for Nigeria.