Harnessing the nation's human capital in the Diaspora

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Last year, the National Bureau of Statistics introduced a survey on its website to help determine the employment situation in Nigeria. The ongoing project, which is in collaboration with the National Planning Commission and the Nigerian Institute for Economic Research, includes a survey of the Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora.

According to the information on the NBS website, the aim is to capture the manpower stock of Nigerians working abroad. But it does not take a survey to know that there are many Nigerian professionals in various countries across the globe.

The brain drain phenomenon is one issue which Nigeria has been grappling with for some time and it has resulted to a situation where the country is starved of professionals whom its spent resources to train.

The Director-General, Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa, Dr. Sule Yakubu, says that this problem, which plagues other African countries, has had negative impact on the continent.

Recently, the nation‘s human capital base received some boost from Nigerians, who had to come home in the wake of the global financial crisis. But there is no guarantee that even the few who ventured back home will not return, since the issues that drove them in the first place have not been addressed.

In his paper, “the Changing Face of African Labour Market And The Imperatives of Techinical Cooperation In Africa: the Case of Nigeria in the ECOWAS Sub-Region,” delivered during the inaugural session of the Nigeria Human Capital Conference, last month in Lagos, he stated, ”Nations seeking to achieve sustainable development must of necessity, pay particular attention to critical labour issues such as capacity building, mobilisation, harnessing and deployment of human capital resources. Unfortunately, though Africa‘s labour force through the diaspora has continued to contribute immensely to the world labour market, there seems to be a dearth of professionals and experts serving within the continent; and this has impacted adversely on the continent.”

Obviously the leaders are not oblivious of what the country is losing by having many of its citizens in the diaspora.

For instance, in 2009, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Oladimeji Bankole, established the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs and appointed Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa as its Chairman. This step, according to the Chief Executive officer, Global Village Consult, Mr. Collins Nweke, shows that the Federal Government recognises the fact that if well coordinated, the diaspora represents a huge reservoir of both human and capital resources and is determined to harness these resources.

However, experts say that beyond the leaders moaning about what the nation has over the years lost through brain drain, efforts should be geared towards ensuring that Nigerian professionals contribute to the nation‘s development.

The immediate Past President, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria, Dr. Oladimeji Alo, says that one way through which the country can benefit from the outflow of the professionals in the Diaspora is to provide linkage programmes.

”There are a number of Nigerians in the diaspora today who come back not to come and stay permanently, but for three or four years for special projects. Many of our universities have benefited a lot from such exchange. Many of them even come back with equipment donated by international agencies,” he said.

Oladimeji, a human capital expert and the Chief Executive Officer of Excel Professional Services, believes that most of those who leave the country in the first place do it, not because they do not like Nigeria, but mainly because of the conditions of living in the country.

Nweke, who was also the executive secretary of the Nigerians in the Disapora till 2006, urges the government to recognise and demonstrate the fact its citizens in the Diaspora, like the citizens at home, matter in the polity.

”You cannot clamour for the Diaspora participation in nation-building, yet deny the Diaspora the fundamental right to vote and be voted for,” he adds.

He also contends that that if Nigeria truly wants to use its Diaspora to make development impact at home, then efforts must be made to know who and where they are, collate their skills and expertise, which will be made available to the government, private sector and development partners.

He explains, ”Like oil, you need to discover your human capital where ever they are deposited and mine them and put them to work in reviving the ailing hospital, run-down schools and other public sector areas. Secondly, we felt that we need to go beyond the question of how to arrest capital flight out of Nigeria and begin to look at how to bring back home the vast Nigerian Diaspora capital that is playing key investment roles outside Nigeria, remittances notwithstanding.”

But bringing these professionals back, Oladimeji says, will only be successful if the government takes effective steps towards ensuring that the conditions that sent them away in the first place are reversed.

”The first thing to do is to improve the conditions that drove them away in the first place, so that they will be encouraged to come back,” he insists.

Another way, according to him, is to utilise the opportunity thrown up by those who came back to Nigeria as a result of the meltdown, adding that they still have the problem of adjustment due to the unfavourable Nigerian environment characterised by issues of insecurity, lack of power and good roads. Oladimeji states, ”Some of the Nigerians who left then are now finding it difficult to survive over there and coming back home and many of them are coming back highly skilled and talented.”

Nweke, who sees the proposed Nigeria Diaspora Commission as very useful here, however, warns that the government should avoid measures which could weaken the NIDO, saying that the commission will only be a veritable tool only to the extent that it serves the NIDO as an official voice of the Nigerian diaspora community.


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