The Federal Government’s appeal to Nigerians in the Diaspora to return home and seize the various economic opportunities to make themselves billionaires is a desperate call to action that should, indeed, be seen as a cry from the heart. Science and Technology Minister, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who made the call at an investment forum in New York, USA, explained that various investment opportunities currently existed and were waiting for Nigerians back home, challenging them to make hay while the sun shines; lest they were taken by foreigners. No one can fault the patriotic zeal that motivated the call, but Dr. Onu knows too well, that it is mere wishful thinking that government can force any Nigerian to come home unless the incentive is tangible and real. Professionals need certain key requirements to function optimally, and unless the operating environment is conducive, Nigerians would not return home.
Calling out scientists and researchers, the former Abia State governor informed Diaspora Nigerians that various research products with opportunities to yield billions of naira were waiting for them at home. “We are asking you to come and be billionaires. That is what we are asking you, not millionaires. Come and make billions. We will give you products of research at nothing or little cost to you because it would be nice for the agency that has done this research to get some little returns. It would also be nice for the scientists, engineers who were involved in doing this research just to get something, that’s all but it would be very small. So, we give it (research products) to you, knowing that you will keep the money in Nigeria, you will help employ Nigerians and you will help to grow our Gross Domestic Product. That is our interest; that is the reason why we are here,” the Minister said.
The minister is right on this justification. It is even trite to say as a Minister of the federal republic, Dr. Onu is duty bound to do all within his powers to raise his portfolio. He has even promised to “look for Nigerians and bring them back [because] all nations of the world are built by their own people and not by foreigners.” But the question must first be asked: how well are the researchers, scientists and experts who stay back in the country treated by the system? What facilities and resources are available to them to work with in order to compete at global level? There is little or nothing available to these researchers to enable them excel in their respective fields. It is regrettable Nigeria is at this time unattractive to anyone who seeks excellence in his field of endeavour with necessities as basic as regular electricity and water supply not available.
Dr. Onu, who returned to Nigeria from the US in 1981, said as a policy, researchers would not be involved in the commercialization of the research products to enable them concentrate on innovation rather than money. Dr. Onu explained that the agencies under his ministry had already developed research products through various stages of tests and trials. “We are asking Nigerians in the Diaspora that, think home, come and take the researches that we have done,” he said, adding: “We have taken them to a level where you can now immediately convert them into products, make money out of it; that is the message.” Dr. Onu cited ongoing research on a cure for epilepsy that was awaiting the final stages of clinical trials by the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC.
It is axiomatic that home is where the heart is. Nigerian professionals abroad would be too happy to make to their fatherland the kind of unquantifiable contributions they are forced by a hostile home environment to give to their host nations. But if Nigeria wants professionals to return, where are the modern tools to work with? Where are the laboratories? And where are the libraries well equipped with up-to-date publications? Without a steady supply of electricity, pray, how for example, would doctors perform surgical operations, researchers conduct experiments, academics read and write books, and information technology engineers develop new software and design new products?
For all his patriotic zeal, Dr. Onu cannot deny the fact that there is a lamentable lack of seriousness on the part of the Nigerian government, to create an environment that can attract talents into the country. Although education is central to advances in technology, and indeed every field of human activity, it is not a Nigerian priority. All over the world, governments invest huge amounts in research and development (R&D) that eventually leads to innovation and the production of goods and services. When President Buhari had the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment towards scientific research, he pledged N3b to a research foundation. What can such a paltry sum do?
There are other reasons that keep Nigerians in the Diaspora away. Having lived in societies where life and property are reasonably safe, where the rule of law of is adhered to; and where government policies are consistent; these Nigerians are used to an environment not dominated by corruption and do-or-die politics. Not in Nigeria yet. Which Nigerian would return to a country where salaries are not paid for months; a country where the federal budget is so tacky and fraught with fraud? Regardless of any sense of patriotism, who will leave a country where things work for one where things don’t; where corruption is a way of life?
There are many Nigerians who by choice returned with high expectations to help develop their country. There are others who were headhunted to return home and work in government. But too many have been badly burnt by the experience of working in Nigeria. The level of intrigues, corruption, hostility, and ethnic-inspired clientelism that pervade the system are simply unbearable. Many Nigerians who returned home have been forced back to Europe and the United States in frustration while some come off badly burnt in career or financial terms. Certainly, most Nigerians would be too happy to return and help build their country but Minister Onu and the government he serves must be seen, without a shred of doubt, to create the right conditions to encourage them to return home. Dr. Onu should not only talk the talk; he should walk the walk.