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Last week the news and social media carried stories of peaceful but noisy protests which greeted the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) in the UK for the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting. All Nigerians, irrespective of whether or not they support PMB should condemn this sort of behaviour. Nothing happening in Nigeria at this point in time warrants those Nigerians living overseas disturbing the peace of their hosts. Government spokespersons responded as expected by claiming that the protest was an organized act of desperation sponsored by treasury looters (which indeed it may have been). But perhaps it would have been better if they had simply informed the protesters, and indeed the world, of their lack of rights to participate in Nigerian politics as a result of decisions they wilfully and freely took by themselves.
The profile and status of Nigerians in diaspora must first be put in proper perspective. People live outside their country of their origin, because they are economically or socially better off there. They can be classified as “economic refugees”. Excluding treasury looters hiding from prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the number of Nigerians in diaspora who would be financially better off in Nigeria is negligible. Just as some Nigerans live in Europe in order to improve their economic prospects, so also some Europeans choose to live in Nigeria because their circumstances are far better over here than they would be in their own country.
There is no reason why Nigerians in diaspora should feel more intelligent, or patriotic than those who chose to remain here. Perhaps they should even be ashamed of themselves, because they massively contribute to the worldwide impression that Nigerians are mainly fraudsters and sex-workers. They cannot be ignorant of the fact that when they chose to live overseas they abdicated their right to participate in Nigerian politics. The law as it stands doesn’t give them any right to vote in elections. Rightly or wrongly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) makes no provision for them. This isn’t a secret, it’s a well-known fact.
In addition to that constraint the London protests leave a bad taste in the mouth. Nigerians were involved in struggles for independence and for democracy in the 1950’s and 1990’s respectively. During both those struggles it made sense for Nigerians in diaspora to join in the protests and seek foreign assistance in correcting the abnormalities. But as it stands today as a result of these successful struggles Nigeria is now an independent democratic nation. The UK based protestors who threaten further demonstrations outside the venue of the CHOGM meeting are analogous to a child who insisted that he is a man and has a right to leave his parent’s home. Having been granted his wish, he continues to run back to seek assistance whenever he has a problem! The protests simply re-enforce the worldwide opinion that Nigerians can’t administer their affairs and solve their own problems. Those in diaspora should ask themselves why it is that despite all America’s problems, there are no anti-Trump demonstrations by US citizens overseas? Nigerians in diaspora (who on the whole are neither the intellectual nor the social elite of the nation) have simply run away to engage in sullying Nigeria’s reputation.
Carrying placards and chanting “Buhari must go”, only shows how out of touch they are with the current reality on ground. Their actions have no place in our democracy. Since PMB has declared his intention to re-contest, the course open to his opponents is to ask their supporters to collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVC’s) and come out to vote. PMB is a democratically elected president who is entitled to complete his tenure in office and re-contest. He himself proved that a democratically elected government in Nigeria can be toppled at the polls, so at this stage of the electoral process there is simply nothing to protest about. In a working democracy it makes no sense to leave a country, abdicate your right to vote, and then attempt to influence matters from overseas. It’s indicative of a shallow understanding of current affairs, and ignorance of the lessons of history.
In the worldwide scheme of affairs Nigeria is not an urgent subject on the radar of the international community at this point in time. Even if it were, Nigerians should be wary of international intervention considering what has previously happened in developing nations when G7 countries heeded protests and intervened to remove leadership. Libya, Iraq and now Syria, are sufficient evidence that the expected end result is usually more death, massive destruction, economic hardship, and no lasting peace. With such a track record it’s unpatriotic for Nigerians in diaspora to ask foreign governments to intervene in our affairs. The reality is that if PMB is stopped from exercising his democratic rights and re-contesting for office, there are consequences which are far graver than if he contests.
Paradoxically none of the protesters claims to have left Nigeria because PMB won the election, and none of them pledges to return if he is removed or not re-elected! Quite arrogantly they imply that if he is re-elected they will continue to protest despite his victory being the decision of the majority of Nigerians who reside within these shores. While it’s easy to concede to them the point that government self-righteously continues to praise itself and not acknowledge its shortcomings, the fact of the matter is that Nigerians living here have bought into the democratic electoral process and don’t require foreign assistance to solve political problems. The electoral process is imperfect, but the baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater. As it stands in Nigeria today, those wishing to influence the nation’s political future and assist in development should return home and participate in the political arena, rather than denigrate the Nigeria in the form of illogical protests overseas