Diaspora refers to any population sharing common ethnic identity that were either forced to leave or voluntarily left their home or settled territory, and became residents in areas often far removed from the former.

In today‘s usage Diaspora refers to populations of migrant origin who are scattered among various  destinations, and with time the development of multifarious links involving flows and exchange of people and resources:between the homeland and destination countries.

THE NIGERIAN DIASPORA: The Nigerian Diaspora has well documented history. Looking at the Nigerian migration history, the most significant era was the period of 1950s 1970s when the quest for education took thousands of Nigerians to particularly UK and USA.

With the disintegration of the Nigerian economy in the 1980s – 1990s, a new wave of immigrants left the shores of Nigeria for foreign destinations mostly in Europe and America but this time including new and non traditional destinations such as non English speaking countries of Europe, Asia, Middle East and even African countries.

The phenomenon of brain drain is well and truly on the way. Today, the Nigerian Diaspora in the United Kingdom is a coat of many colours. The earlier predominantly student population has been overtaken by a resident population of 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation Nigerians; made up of a large community of highly skilled professionals; and other categories of legal and illegal non skilled Nigerian immigrants. Whatever are the circumstances of the different subgroups, their importance in the social and economic circumstances of Nigeria is enormous.

The growing significance of the Diaspora cannot simply be measured in terms of number of Nigerians living outside the country or the statistical data of Nigerian professionals working abroad. One factor that highlights the importance and the enormous potential of the Diaspora is the issue of  REMITTANCES to Nigeria. The Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman on Friday 28th June 2013 in Abuja disclosed that Nigerians living abroad remitted about $21.89 billion in 2012, over one billion than what it was the previous year when the figure was $20.61 billion.

This shows a significant growth in the level of the remittances in the past years and indicates that Diaspora remittances are set to constitute a major factor in Nigeria‘s economy, secondary only to crude oil. It is worth noting that actual remittance flows to Nigeria are much higher than statistics suggest, because remittances are heavily underreported (Sander and Maimbo 2003).

Current figures are based on records of official transactions but many observers and active participants in the field know that a major proportion of the remittances flow through unofficial channels and therefore unrecorded.

Nigeria and Nigerians are well known for their dual financial environment, in which formal and informal services and institutions thrive equally.

This is also true of the remittance market. Informal Funds Transfers (IFTs) are popular because they not only deliver cash but also perform other non financial functions.

[quote]According to records, Onitsha market alone accounts for 47 percent of the container import and export trade to Nigeria. Many of its merchants do not use banks and the close links between these traders and the Diaspora is common knowledge.[/quote]

Igbo international business men spread all over Nigeria are well known couriers of Diaspora money. This helps to confirm the projection that for the Igbos of South East, Diaspora remittances constitute a crucial aspect of their economy.

Remittance Patterns and Beneficiaries
United States and the United Kingdom constitute the largest remittance sending coun- tries to Nigeria, originating approximately 65 percent of total remittance flows.

Recipients of remittances in Nigeria are located predominantly in the Southeast and Southwest regions.

The Cities that receive significant amounts of remittances in Nigeria are Lagos, Onitsha, Benin City, Ikeja, Enugu, Ibadan, Owerri, Aba, Warri, Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna, and Abuja. However, these cities are not necessarily the final destinations of the funds. Recent surveys by Nigerian banks have shown that the rural areas of the South East and the South West are major end  destinations of these remittances. Common Uses of Remittances in Nigeria:

Existing studies by reputable financial institutions have highlighted key uses of money remitted to Nigeria.

Family upkeep and social security
Money is sent back to Nigeria to cover subsistence expenses such as food, clothing, and medicine. Money is also sent to help elderly and disabled persons. There is no national welfare system so seniors, disabled persons, and orphans must depend on the generosity of relatives, communities, or charities.

Financing education: Research indicates that school fees are closely associated with remittances. Many people interviewed in both the UK and Nigeria specified school fees for secondary school and university education as major uses of remittances.

Return on family investments
Many Nigerians living abroad are obligated to send remittances when they come of age and begin earning money.

Research indicates that as many as 5-20 individuals or family members, and sometimes a community, pool their money to sponsor a
selected individual to travel abroad.

The individual is selected based on academic or entrepreneurial ability. The people who provide the funding for the individual to travel view it as an investment and the remittances as a form of pay-back or return on investment. Business development and sustainability Remittances are also made to finance new business ventures,  or sustain existing businesses.

Special occasions – Since some occasions require a large money outflow, they are often associated with remittances. In particular, money is sent to Nigeria to pay for funerals, weddings, and  holidays (Christmas and Hajj). Funerals are very important and elaborate events to Nigerians. Furthermore, if a person dies overseas it is often requested that she or he be buried in Nigeria, which increases the funeral costs.

Business development and sustainabity:
Remitancies are also made to finance new business ventures or sustained exiting business.

Real estate – Although government housing financing arrangements exist, mortgage financing remains a very under developed sector.
Presently, individuals do approximately 90–95 percent of real estate development or housing finance. It is estimated that the bulk of remittances to the south East is connected to land  purchase and housing project. Casual census of ongoing housing projects in Imo State in particular indicates that people in the Diaspora may be responsible for up to 80% of new housing projects.

Other non-financial Remittances: One key area is Diaspora involvement in technology transfer. It is a popular practice for people in the Diaspora to ship home equipment and volunteer their expertise.

Many Nigerian professionals facilitate technology transfer to Nigeria by collecting and transferring used personal computers to Nigerian schools and vocational bodies. Other Diaspora associations of professionals, for example, Nigerian physicians and Health Professionals, IT practitioners are now organizing to visit home collectively in a voluntary capacity to assist in implementing Community Health and skills acquisition projects.

DIASPORA IN ACTION – ROLE OF DIASPORA IN NATION BUILDING One may question the real significance of all these. The world is indeed a global village today and the current global economic crisis dramatises the point. There is a free flow of human resources around the globe and the future of many countries will depend on how they manage this inevitable trend.
South East Nigeria and particularly Imo state have the most mobile and skilled population. Diaspora phenomenon and money remittances
are largely dominated by the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups. Link with home origin is easily more identifiable with the South East, of which Imo stateand Anambra states are key players.

To exemplify the key role of the Diaspora in nation building and sustenance we need to look at one nation whose survival depends on Diaspora link and have indeed made very effective use of citizens in Diaspora and that is indisputably Israel.
Israel is credited with great accomplishments. These achievements are possible mainly because Israel, more than any nation maintain a very strong link between the home citizens and their kith and kin in Diaspora.
Jews all over the world remain spiritual and active members of the Israeli nation, with full participatory rights and privileges.

Way forward – mobilising for action a 2 way process between Diaspora Organisations and Home leaders. South East and Israel share the same characteristics highly motivated, achievement oriented, aggressively busi-ness minded, intelligent and highly mobile population; both are commonly despised people surrounded by hostile neighbours and share same history of being victimised and periodically massacred; both inhabit a small area of space and both are often seen as having the ambition of grabbing other peoples land and would not survive without stretching into other peoples space; both have highly educated people scattered all over the world and have a strong affinity and spiritual like bond with home of origin.

The main difference between Israel and South East is that one is a nation state and the other is a Region. South East hasn’t the full powers of a nation state but possesses enough autonomy to chart its future.

Therefore the crucial issue lies in the ability of any group to mobilise and galvanise its potentialities to useful outcomes. Nigeria as a country will probably not be able to transform the potentials of the Diaspora phenom- enon into a concrete and structured advantage because she hasn’t the propensity to. South East can and should because Diaspora power is a living reality and today a significant basis of the survival of the Zone, and in financial terms secondary only to federal statutory allocation. It is also the unrecognised mainstay of the Zone’s welfare system.
Key problem is how to harmonise the potentials of the Diaspora with the home structure for a good outcome as Israel has experienced.

This is a two-way process. Is the Diaspora ready and are the home socio-political leaders at home ready to incorporate and formally harmonise the potentials of the Diaspora?

Presently individuals in the Diaspora are making enormous contribution to the social and economic
well being of the Zone but hardly at the collective level.

Is the political process of the Zone and Nigeria in general ready to accept the participation of the Diaspora?

Issues to look at:

How to reorganize and transform Diaspora organizations, leading to a formidable power block –

Do we recognize our own potentials and conduct thorough introspective sessions? Are State Unions and other community organizations and their funda- mental functions as presently constituted obsolete?

Are our methods of engagement with home Governments making the Diaspora objects of ridicule?

Pulling Diaspora efforts together and in a more structured and constructive form:

Are we capable of stepping up our efforts in order to become identifiable and formidable financial/economic players? By pulling resources, can we possibly own Microfinance Banks, Housing Estates and small scale industries etc?

Home Government attitude: Would they ever recognize the untapped goldfield or persist in their view of Diaspora as students and refugees. Food for thought.

Chief Emmanuel Osuchukwu is the Author of ‘1966 Crisis And the Evolution of Nigerian Politics’ He can be reached on:
Email: emmanuelosu@hotmail.com
Tel: +447880600236