Rising from Brain Drain to Brain Gain

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People2People…with Oke Epia

For Nigeria last Tuesday was a day of glory in Abidjan, the capital of Cóte d’ Ivoire when Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina was inaugurated as President of the African Development Bank (ADB). He has made history as the first Nigerian to occupy the prestigious continental body.

His elevation to the post is directly from the successful completion of tour of duty as Minister of Agriculture. It was a moment of pride not just for Akinwunmi but Nigeria as a country. Little surprise that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the event which also attracted other members of the political and business elite of the country. This epochal development is a testament to the risen significance of the Nigerian Diaspora in the affairs of the country.

There are many others like Adesina who came from abroad and have made impact on the country since the advent of democratic governance 16 years ago. And it is quite gratifying that President Muhammadu Buhari has given indication that his administration would give a pride of place to contributions from citizens abroad. The convocation of the 2015 Diaspora Day recently at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, with the theme “Diaspora and Nigeria Change Agenda” is a demonstration of the administration’s commitment to engage productively with Nigerians living abroad. “The time has come for talents from home and abroad to mix it up in patriotic zeal to fashion the Nigeria of our dreams,” Vice President Osinbajo who represented the president told the conference. He added: “With the potential of such populations abroad and attendant financial muscle, no government can actually totally ignore such persons.”

Good enough, preceding administrations have been engaging Nigerians in the Diaspora at some level or the other especially through appointment into public office. The list of Diaspora stars that have returned home to benefit the fatherland in this regard at one time or the other includes Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Mrs. Arunma Oteh, Dr. Joy Ogwu, and Dr. Adesina himself. As Minister for Agriculture, Adesina impacted significantly on the transformation of the sector in a manner that brought substantial credit to the Jonathan administration.

Notable highlights of his era include the elimination of corruption in fertilizer distribution and introduction of novel, efficient and proficient distribution of the product directly to the end-users. The fertilizer distribution chain had hitherto been riddled with massive corruption and gross inefficiency that kept the product consistently out of the reach of farmers who needed it most even though government spent billions of naira on the scheme.

The former minister’s tenure also recorded substantial improvement in local production of crops like rice and cassava. He also vigorously marketed the sector to make it attractive to youths. Adesina had before joining the public service of Nigeria distinguished himself creditably in several capacities abroad. A graduate of Agricultural Economics from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife and a doctorate degree holder in same field from Purdue University, Indiana, USA, Adesina had a notable working career at the Rockefeller Foundation after winning a fellowship as a senior scientist in 1988. This included being associate director for food security and a representative of the foundation in Southern Africa, among others.

He was at a time, Vice President for the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an organisation supported jointly by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He consulted at various times for international development agencies like the World Bank, ADB, the World Economic Forum on agricultural development issues in Africa, including being a lead facilitator for the Africa Fertilizer Summit for African heads of state in 2006. Such distinguished career in the Diaspora coupled with his achievements in government earned him several accolades including being Forbes African Person of the Year 2013 and much earlier in July 2007, winner of the YARA Prize for the African Green Revolution in Oslo, Norway.

Another bright star of Diaspora fame that brought value to the country is Mr. Olusegun Aganga, immediate past minister for Trade and Investment who had also served as Finance Minister. The University of Ibadan and Oxford-trained graduate qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1983 and has since maintained an enviable working career in Nigeria and abroad. It was from his position as Managing Director in hedge funds at Goldman Sachs International, London that he got called up for national service. Way back in 2006, he had led a Goldman Sachs team to make a presentation on Nigeria’s economic potential to the Nigerian President which reportedly formed the basis for the launch of Nigeria’s Vision 2020 programme. The remarkable story of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in bringing in a wealth of benefits to governance is well known already even though her detractors think she is over-rated.

Yet there are others who though, have not come in to take up portfolios in government, are nonetheless bringing glory to the fatherland through personal endeavours in their various abode abroad. Not many Nigerians are aware for instance that the deputy mayor of Newark, New Jersey, United States is Ugochukwu Nwaokoro, a fellow citizen from Abia State. There is Dr. Micheal Etomi, first black nephrologist in Charlotte and Dr. Oluyemi Badero, a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and some other Nigerians in the US whose personal fame and fortune are rubbing off positively on the image of the country. There are tens of others in different professional and vocational calling in the United Kingdom (UK), Europe and elsewhere in the world who have brought pride to Nigeria.

But apart from these direct and indirect brain gains, Nigerians who have remained in the Diaspora continue to impact meaningfully on the economy especially through remittances back home. The World Bank recently revealed that Nigerians in the Diaspora remitted some $63.17bn (N10.35tn) between 2011 and June 2014. This figure as a contribution to the economy is only lower than revenues from oil and gas, making Nigeria to rank fifth lower than China, India, Philippines and Mexico among countries of the world with huge remittances from citizens living abroad.

It is therefore very encouraging that the current administration is courting the Diaspora to achieve its change agenda. And it is in this regard that plans of a dialogue series on brain gain by a private consortium of local and foreign experts will do well to serve as a node in the government’s plans for the Diaspora.

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