Nigerian Global Citizens
Once US President Donald Trump signed his first executive order on immigration in January, my posts on Facebook started to garner fewer “likes”, as I continued my denunciation of Mr. Trump. A “friend”, whom I believe was genuinely concerned about me, posted a question that suggested he was baffled by my lack of selfconsideration. “Don’t you want to be able to get a visa to travel to Yankee again?”
I have been visiting the United States since 2007. When Financial Nigeria hosted the annual Nigeria Development and Finance Forum conference in New York in 2014, hotel and catering costs alone amounted to $147,000.00. The US economy has always been the net financial beneficiary of my trips, taking into account expenses on hotel accommodation, shopping and US tax on flight tickets.
My country is not more fortunate in dealing with the Western world. Nigeria remains little-developed after four centuries of trade relations with the West. President Trump’s “America First”, and Brexit, are new facets of the longstanding practices in which the powerful Western countries basically use international trade as instrumentality for maintaining economic dominance.
Liberal visa and immigration policies of Western countries tend to legitimise globalisation. Some of us easily obtain travel visas. Others have permanent residential status or citizenship of other countries. With these, we get the idea we are global citizens. We can have breakfast in Lagos and dinner in New York. After our initial state-subsidised education, we can travel abroad for further studies and subsequently follow a track that leads to permanent residency and dual citizenship.
But last October, British Prime Minister Theresa May, mocked the idea of global citizenship. She said: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” The statement attracted condemnation to her. In one scathing criticism, she was held to be repudiating Enlightenment.
The anti-immigration stances of the current British and US governments surely run counter to enlightened self-interests of their countries. America’s is an immigration heritage. This essentially defines the greatness of the country. Similarly, London’s cosmopolitanism is the spine of the British economy. London that discontinues the welcome to immigrants will lose the talent pool that underlines its attractiveness as a financial and innovation hub.
It is odd that two of the countries that benefit from globalisation the most are pushing back on global citizenship. But they offer reality checks to those of us who get carried away by our visas, green cards, and passports of countries we are not natives of. These documents can be easily cancelled or the policies that underpinned their issuance rolled back overnight.
While being raised singly by my mother, in rural Idoani, I knew deprivation. But the training she gave me was that our more fortunate neighbours must not be the provenance of the things I wanted. While she worked hard to provide the best she could afford to take care of me, she impressed it on me that I also must work hard to be able to realise my desires when I become independent. The usefulness of this lesson is in the contrast that I can easily draw today between me and some of my friends, who in those years were, without disrespect, bona fide floaters – looking for immediate gratification.
Nigeria is the vintage country of these my friends. The answer to our dilapidated healthcare system is access to foreign medical care. President Muhammadu Buhari meets his healthcare needs in the UK, Collectively, the country spends $3 billion annually in medical tourism. Since our educational system has become inadequate for our middle- and upper-class families, foreign institutions must be the way out.
We may ask: “Until our healthcare and educational systems are fixed, what are we supposed to do when we fall sick or have to provide good education for our children?” There is no easy answer. But unless the local systems are fixed, life expectancy will remain low in Nigeria. Even a proportion of those who access quality healthcare abroad will do so rather late, limiting effective treatment. And unless standards significantly improve in our schools, the hope of economic development will continue to fade in our country.
Certain conversations about migration hype migrant revenue remittances to developing countries. But while MRR increases capital stock in the recipient countries, migration reduces productivity in these economies by shrinking the sizes of the labour pool and local expertise. Nigeria received $21 billion in MRR in 2015. This would have unlikely exceeded 1% of the labour productivity of the Nigerian migrant workers. Remittances represent but a small fraction of the financial compensations for migrants’ labour supply – given high tax deductions, mortgage cost, and living expenses that must be taken care of. Also, labour productivity necessarily exceeds financial reward for it.
In the mid-90s, Mustapha Danesi received a lucrative employment as a physicianneurologist in the United States, with the offer of a green card to boot. But he later discovered there was one neurologist to 17,000 people in America. In Nigeria, it was one neurologist to 16.7 million people. This aroused his patriotism. Instead of continuing his career in the United States, he returned to Nigeria to help develop neurology in the country. From seven practicing neurologists in the country in 1998 at his return, Prof Danesi has catalysed the training and certification of dozens of neurologists yearly, today.
There is no viable alternative to building our country, and doing so with our brightest people and collective best efforts. Prime Minister May just reminded us of the antiSemitic “rootless Jew,” the rhetoric in the 19th century which culminated in the genocide against Jews during World War II; and the “rootless cosmopolitans” that Joseph Stalin used to purge Jewish intellectuals later in the 1940s. Today, the cynicism is directed at some Muslim-majority nations. Nigeria can easily be targeted in the future when we become a nation of over 400 million hustlers pressuring global migration. Indeed, Nigerian migrants have continuously been targeted in xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
This is not a backing for immigration doomsday. It is an awakening: global citizenship can easily become illusory. It is hollow for us as Nigerians to rely on access to good facilities and systems of other countries as the alternative to developing such locally, especially given our immense national potentials.