Of ‘Diaspora Internet Warriors’ And Atiku’s Unchallenged Determination To Denaturalize Them All


Wale Odusote





Anyone who goes to the boisterous nigeriavillagesquare.com as often as I do would have noticed a flurry of muscular (but good-natured) rebuttals to Prof. Pat Utomi’s now famous ‘slight’ on the bourgeoning Nigerian Internet press. Utomi’s brash characterization of Nigeria’s emerging Internet press as a bunch of ‘Diaspora Internet Warriors’ was deemed combative, if not dismissive. And that was enough to bring some fine essays to bear in defense of free Nigerian Diaspora internet press. Some lashed out with full-blown articles completely devoted to the topic, some were just sarcasm-laden punch lines buried in articles that handled other issues, and many more were to be found in the comments that followed the articles. But all were mostly directed to the effort of defending the so-called ‘Diaspora Internet Warriors’ looming large (and ‘embattling reason’?) from the plush suburbs of the West (per Pat Utomi). It was admirable, it was exciting, and well - unifying.


That said, why then have we not seen similar strong challenges to what many consider to be the most serious threat ever to the Nigerian Diaspora – more threat by any definition than a mild intellectual insult from an Utomi that felt marooned by the menacing power of the rising Nigerian Diaspora press. The threat I am talking about is real and in the public domain and has been all along for months, and that is: the ongoing federal legal action by Atiku and the Action Congress seeking to bar Nigerians with dual citizenship from holding high offices (elective and appointive) in the motherland. Prof. Iwu of INEC is the defendant for the time being but the entire Nigerian Diaspora - first generation and their off-springs are collectively the defendants-in-chief – by consequence.


Simply put, the action (if it succeeds, and it has real prospects) will: (a) bar Nigerian citizens of full blood who have naturalized in other countries from being appointed to most federal jobs in Nigeria or even qualify to run for the House of Representatives, not to talk of the Senate or the Presidency; (b) bar Nigerian citizens borne abroad from also being appointed or qualify to run for the same offices cited above; (c) stigmatize Nigerians with dual citizenship as a people who ought to be hounded and held suspect by their compatriots for daring to ‘swear allegiance to a foreign country’ and thus not to be trusted (think: something akin to an ‘alien enemy of the state’ of Nigeria); (c) partly denaturalize millions of Nigerians with dual citizenship by redlining them from many federal appointments and elective offices; (d) effectively discourage millions from seeking the citizenship of countries of their domicile, thus making them vulnerable to deportation and shutting them out of lucrative life-changing careers that require citizenship - all with a sure downward effect on the critical remittances currently flowing from the Nigerian Diaspora to the homeland; and (e) strip every Nigerian Diasporan of full and unfettered citizenship of Nigeria – a country of his/her birth or ancestry.


Granted that the action has INEC Chairman, Maurice Iwu as the sole defendant but that does not mean that the ruling of the court when it comes will apply to him alone. The opposite is true, and that is absolutely true – no exceptions, no man-know-man. In other words, it will impact each and every Nigerian Diasporan in Prof. Iwu’s position and those are, again: millions with dual citizenship and many more yet to acquire same. AC and Atiku filed the action as part of their strategy geared to seeking nullification of the presidential election on the legal rationale that the election was null and void as having been umpired by a ‘foreigner’ – Iwu, allegedly a US citizen by naturalization. The way the pleading hammered on Iwu having sworn allegiance to the United States and being a registered voter there makes it sound like any Diasporan who falls into the same category has committed something like treason against the Federation of Nigeria. Second goal of the action is to declare that Iwu’s confirmation by the Senate as INEC Chair is unconstitutional and void ab initio, and that being so, the court should declare that Iwu had acted illegally as INEC Chair and therefore should vacate office forthwith and refund his salaries/emoluments; and to be sent to jail if he fails to budge. Thank God, expulsion (or deportation) from Nigeria was not pleaded to boot. But who knows if someone becomes emboldened by the probable success of the present suit and decides to haul all Diasporans before Nigerian courts to be deported back to their adopted countries.


Much as I can understand why some people may not want to get involved in Atiku/AC’s scorched-earth battles with Prof. Iwu on the other fronts, this one about seeking to shut Diasporans out is way overly and thus expected to have ignited some vigorous response from the Nigerian Diaspora community. It is no longer about whether the elections were free and fair – that one has been discussed much already; it is about the future of the present generation of Nigerians who naturalized in other countries (mostly Western) and their children borne in the countries of their domicile; and then their children’s children – to generations yet to be borne. It is about your life and your future, Oh ‘Diaspora Internet Warriors’. So, where art thou while ‘reason is being embattled’? It is also about the unarguable disparate impact this action portends for sections of the Nigerian Diaspora. Disparate in the sense that, by credible estimates, more than 80% of the odd five million Nigerians domiciled in foreign lands have origins in the southern parts of Nigeria, especially the South West and South East. And to think of the talent Nigeria holds (and is bound to lose) amongst her Diaspora ranks makes it even scarier. And then this comes in an era of unprecedented global enlightenment when Arnold Schwarzenegger (an Austrian) is Governor of California today and Barrack Obama (a Kenyan) is about becoming president of the United States. Yet, a whole body of teeming Nigerian Diasporans is just about to be barred from holding a job in their motherland. Can you dig it?


What to do then? Well, at least some spirited commentaries from the much feared but respected Nigerian Diaspora internet press can help as an intellectual buffer, and one would also encourage those with access to the hardcopies in Nigeria to also write critical essays on this. Will this be enough? No, because that may be considered by the court as outside bar and therefore to be disregarded, but get with it anyways. What will work most must take the form of a more organized and focused campaign by the Nigerian Diaspora. This can be led by NIDO (if you will) and other Nigerian Diaspora community organizations that are known to litter the great cities of the West, Asia and some African countries. Better still; a ‘friend of the court brief’ (amicus curia) could be brought before the court where the action is pending, pleading the simple likelihood that the consequences of the action, if successful, will not fall on Maurice Iwu alone but on all Nigerians in like situations as him. Under Nigeria’s federal rules of Civil Procedure, this ground alone constitutes sufficient basis for a joinder and an amicus. But it must be brought in time enough not to be considered time-barred under the rules of the court. Better yet, Atiku and AC may be encouraged by the Diasporan groundswell to pedal back from this whole misadventure before we all get caught in some mesh that will create two hostile sets of citizens.


As starters, this essay doubles as an open letter to the National Assembly to amend the sections of the Nigerian constitution dealing with this vexed issue of dual nationality with a view to making the consequences clearer than they were; or even removing any consequences as most Diasporans have been demanding from the Babangida era. The Nigerian Diaspora can join, either individually or collectively, in sending memoranda to the National Assembly constitution review committee to consider this question as a critical issue for clearer constitutional language. It is so sad that from demanding voting rights - like pulling teeth, we have come full circle back to just about losing it all. You cannot be remitting over $4 billion Dollars into the Nigerian economy (according to World Bank) and be timid about your basic citizenship rights. That doesn’t add up. And you cannot walk into an American court and walk away with top Dollars if you have been discriminated against based on national origin and remain silent when your home-based compatriots are trying to visit you with much worse in the land of your birth – the land of your ancestors from the beginning of time. Haba.


So, over to you, Oh mighty Diaspora Internet Warriors (with which I aspire to be identified) and also to those who get published in the national dailies back home. The buck stops with you and history will be harsh or very generous – depending. Please join up to draw a line in the sand. Prof. Iwu is the named defendant alright but all of you (myself included) are defendants by implication and consequence. It is not enough to assume that the suit is all in good (or bad) politics that will fade away with time. Nope, that ain’t gonna happen, for sure. This is different and dangerous, because the action already survived preliminary strikes by defendant’s counsels and the court has taken a major and ominous step by setting it down for full evidentiary hearing on the merits. Anyone following the resurgent activism of Nigerian courts lately and familiar with the psychology of courts in an activist era will agree that the odds are good that Atiku/AC might prevail to the partial disenfranchisement of multitudes. That should not be allowed to stand. Should the action succeed and my children try to turn on me for remaining silent while their full citizenship of Nigeria was being stripped from them, I will show them this piece to defend and exonerate myself. What are you gonna show?


Wale wrote in from the US       waleodusote@yahoo.com