The term “Diaspora”, is a word of Greek origin meaning “to scatter”. However, over the past decade, it has become a term of self-identification among many different groups who migrated or whose ancestors migrated from one place to another.
Being part of a diaspora requires a consciousness and emotional attachment to commonly claimed origins and cultural attributes. The need for homeland developments and the predicament of fellow diaspora members in other parts of the world flow from this consciousness and emotional attachment.
The diaspora population constitutes a huge resource that can be drawn upon for national development. Many in the diaspora live transnationally, maintaining close connections with family and friends at home, with the capability of influencing developments in their home countries.
The exact numbers of Nigerians in the diaspora are a matter of speculation as there are no reliable or even approximate data on the number of Nigerians migrating out of the country. Nevertheless, it is generally acknowledged that there are substantial numbers of Nigerians living outside of the country.
Diaspora’s participation in Nigerian politics, also referred to as long-distance nationalism is not a new phenomenon. It has been established that as trans-nationalized individuals, groups and communities, the diaspora, with their collected financial resources, as well as acquired human and social capital, are capable of making significant contributions to the political and socio-economic development of Nigeria.
The evidence of development by the diaspora caused the African Union to pursue an active policy of engagement of the African Diaspora for continental development in May 2003. This stemmed from the realization that the African Diaspora has an amazing pool of talents and expertise. They are not only capable of expanding continental development towards the acquisition, usage and application of knowledge; they are also in a position to facilitate access to financial flows from their host countries.
The foremost means of diasporic nation-building comes through individual remittances, followed by hometown associations and charitable initiatives that directly affect economic development, poverty reduction, and capacity building. Another means is through disaster relief. There are many examples of substantial aid flowing from diasporas following catastrophes.
Global networks of diasporas engage in mass protest and raise consciousness about homeland-related issues. They have lobbied host countries to shape policies that are in the best interests of their homeland, influenced decisions through their support or opposition of governments; given financial and other support to political parties, social movements, and civil society organizations.
We also have instances when overseas they return home, en masse, to participate in elections.
Among diasporas, involvement in the affairs of Nigeria should be crucial, despite being located in different places. Through their participation, they would become members of a society that transcends territorial borders.
Indeed, the absence of a well-structured, cost-effective and centralized Diaspora institution to pursue and implement engagement policies and strategies is evident. There is need to establish efficient and effective mechanisms at the national level to facilitate the contributions by the Diasporas to national development.
The existing mode of contact and engagement between the Diaspora and Nigeria remain largely informal. In spite of calls to put in place a coherent institutional structure for engaging the Diaspora, their access to necessary support and assistance to facilitate fruitful interaction at the national level remains extremely limited. Such access continues to depend largely on personal relationships and political connections. There is a need for policy change towards engaging the Diaspora in order to address the annoying policy inadequacies of the past that have frustrated them and made it impossible for them to contribute to national development.