On Monday 4th November, the Governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Raji Fashola spoke at an event at the House of Commons, in the UK Parliament, on his state’s priorities for sustaining growth and development, and how he responds to key challenges. The event was jointly organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nigeria, the UK Trade and Investment and Chatham House.
It was an event I had marked in my calendar over a month in advance given the relevance of the subject matter, and the personality involved. Fashola is doing some amazing work reforming Lagos in terms of transport infrastructure, taxation, revenue generation, and a whole lot of other things. Lagos is the commercial capital of Nigeria. The state’s economy will become Africa’s 13th biggest economy in 2014, equivalent to that of Ghana, according to Renaissance Capital.
Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the London traffic on Monday. I was therefore horribly late and missed more than 70% of the talk. I only caught the last two minutes of Fashola’s presentation and the brief Q&A session.
The highlight of the event for me was Fashola’s response to a question posed by a young lady. She asked what the Lagos state government is currently doing to encourage Nigerians in the diaspora to go back home and “contribute to national development”. Now, this is the typical question posed to African policymakers by (young) Africans in the diaspora at these Africa-related summits.
Governor Fashola retorted thus:
You are a Nigerian, it’s your country “why should I convince you to come back home?” Many Nigerians have made the move back home without anyone persuading them to do so. This man here [he points to someone seated close to him] moved back to Lagos from the United States a few years ago, and he has done a lot of things. It’s your choice. I don’t think I need to convince you to come back to your country. [paraphrased]
I think most of us were jolted by his unexpected response because the reply to such a question is usually more conciliatory and appeasing. Yet this departure from the norm by Fashola is really food for thought. If you’re so passionate about your country, as an African in the diaspora, do you really need anyone to convince you to go back and contribute to national development? Many others have made that decision, some have been successful, and others haven’t, isn’t this risk all part of life’s uncertainties? Is “moving back home” the only avenue of “contributing”? For those who make the decision, do they have realistic expectations about how best to engage or contribute? Does the government have a responsibility for putting in place special structures and incentives to encourage the diaspora to relocate back home?