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Abike Dabiri Erewa, one of Nigeria’s dedicated public servants, has recently come under fire for a certain tweet that has put a crimp in her otherwise pristine public image. On the 28th of March, a Nigerian, Onuoha David, tweeted his frustration on the lack of basic amenities in the country; one of the major reasons why he is yet to return. Abike Dabiri tweeted a response that seems to have backfired as many Nigerians on Twitter have called her out as irresponsible and careless. However their responses are not entirely unfounded, especially considering the fact that in her capacity as a senior ranking officer on foreign affairs in the Buhari administration, she should have used a better choice of words, or  better still, remained silent on the issue.

The current Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, has since tendered an apology for this statement, while urging people to read the full thread of her tweet. As earlier indicated, Nigerians have a right to be upset over her tweet after all, she is saying this even though she knows a lot of Nigerians do not feel safe in their country and have to fight to survive the harsh economic conditions in which they find themselves. Those who have questioned Erewa’s integrity and actual care for the country’s citizens home and abroad may be on point, given the fact that diplomacy is a key ingredient when dealing with such issues. Flippant responses like Erewa’s only make things worse.

Social media has become an avenue for Nigerians to put politicians on trial as a way of holding them accountable for the statements they make. Many a time, Nigerian politicians have found themselves having defend flippant comments they have made regarding public policy or socio-economic issues. For instance, last week, Nigeria’s petroleum minister, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu made a statement regarding his helplessness in handling the fuel crisis, saying he had no magical tendencies to ensure fuel queues disappear at fuel stations. Nigerians have also reacted to his statement saying it is irresponsible for him to have made such a statement. Frankly, it is statements like these that fuel a angst on social media regardless of the intention behind it.

The question, however, is does she deserve to be dragged through the mud on social media for what she has said?

Nigerians are currently battling an inane petroleum crisis, currency volatility as well as homegrown terrorism and, in addition to this, there have been no concrete steps taken toward the solutions proffered by the Buhari administration. This is one of the reasons why Nigerians are upset to begin with, despite the several shoddy attempts made by the current government to handle the country’s problems.

But is it really possible for that many Nigerians in Diaspora to return to the country anyway?

Even though a good number are returning to build great business ventures in the country, it is rather imperative for everyone to take into the consideration that there can be progress even without presence. Like Erewa said in another tweet, Nigeria can be great again if only there is full cooperation and good leadership, she wants Nigerians to know they can effect positive change in the country, wherever they are.

It is rather difficult to believe that a woman who was in New York only a few days ago to speak to Nigerians in Diaspora on the commitment of the Buhari administration to develop the country with their help, would display such perceived ‘foolishness’ on social media. During her visit to the United States, Erewa assured Diasporeans that the Buhari administration would continue to explore all means possible to ensure that Nigerians are not disenfranchised by any means while abroad. In any case, is it also possible that Nigerians just love to magnify issues on social media without really understanding the whole picture? That is a scene we have seen play out a couple of times in the past, several times, Nigerians have taken a part of what a public official said and interpreted it in their own sensationalistic manner. For instance, the current minister for information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed recently said a number of things pointing to the administration’s economic plan, however several Nigerians contextualised a part of his statement making it seem like the nation’s economy was out of the control of President Buhari, forcing the minister to publicly deny making such statements.

We remember Erewa’s journey as an anchor at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), as a broadcaster, to representing the Ikorodu constituency at the Federal House of Representatives and how committed she has been to improving the lot of the Nigerian populace. We have even referred to her as one of the best social justice crusaders to have come out of the fourth republic, how then can we be so quick to sweep all of this under the carpet and classify her as uncaring towards the fate of the Nigerian? While addressing the Diasporeans in New York, she made reference to improving the Nigerian brand, which is something they can do even as they reside in foreign countries because like it or not, they are still Nigerians. She maintained that they be great ambassadors of the Nigerian brand by attaining excellence in their various fields as this remains the best means of improving ‘brand Nigeria’, a cause the late minister for information and communications, Dr. Dora Akunyili was committed to when she and other Nigerians came up with the country’s slogan; Good people, great nation, in 2009.

That question ‘who asked you to come?’ can be interpreted in a number of ways including the fact that it is not everyone who can stand the stress of living in Nigeria, so if a Nigerian based abroad is not bothered about returning then he is free not to, after all with all the calls made by past administrations for Diasporeans to return to the country, very few have actualised the dreams they had for their careers. Also, it is not only by returning to the country that these men and women can contribute to the growth of the Nigerian economy, Erewa herself admitted that Nigerians in Diaspora continue to contribute greatly to the the nation’s economy even from outside the country.

So, if she was just saying “if you cannot bear the heat then stay out of the kitchen,” do we need to sensationalize it and give a dog a bad name just to crucify it? On the other hand, her position is a bit too sensitive for such a response and it is possible she will be better off avoiding such situations in the future. In Nigeria, the citizens are confronted with lack of sufficient power supply (which really hurts a lot of business profits), the lackadaisical attitude of law enforcement officers (who encourage bad behaviour through their nonchalance towards justice) as well as weak institutions which begin with the people themselves who already have it in them to blame the government for every social ill without realising that they contribute to the rot in the system with their tendencies to engage in bribery and ethnic/religious bias.

Nigerians based in foreign countries often experience the clear difference in law enforcement and citizen welfare, which leads them to believe that Nigeria is not a place for them to live. Mercy Eki, a Nigerian who recently completed her Master’s Degree in the UK is one of such people, she had never been to the UK before her studies lead her there and now she hopes to never to return to Nigeria. “I have become so used to seeing things done the right way that I choose not to return to my home country, Nigeria needs to upgrade its institutions and infrastructure,” she said.

Although they have not experienced it for themselves, those based in the country even agree that diasporeans have a better life outside the country than within it. According to NOI Polls, many Nigerians believe that those outside the country are better off than those in it, so why, then ,are many people reacting vehemently to Erewa’s question? Even though it is only those who can actually determine if they are better off than being in Nigeria, it has been said that a lot of Diasporeans cannot thrive under the stressful conditions under which we live in everyday.

Credit - NOI Polls
Credit – NOI Polls

Therefore, it follows that instead of Nigerians to be more concerned with tweeting sensational stuff on social media, it will be better if more time was dedicated towards bringing about the change we desperately seek. The greatest revolutionary causes we have seen in recent times were not just social media based, they were also backed with action which led to lasting change, its about time, Nigeria took the same route.

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