• Monday, February 26, 2024
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BusinessDay

Brains for sale

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This time it was I that phoned Africa-Man in his hide-out in Vladivostok. I don’t know just what was eating me, but it was one of those days, you know—Mama said there’d be days like that!—I just had to have an argument with somebody.

 And Africa-Man had it coming—I mean, he is the most argumentative person I know under the sun. He loves argument better than edikang ikong, jollof rice, pepper soup, suya or goat meat—can you imagine such a thing?

“I remember, man, when I last saw you a century ago in Iddo Motor Park, when you were about to embark on this your second exile which has not yet ended. I asked you why you were checking out, especially so late in life. Do you remember what you said?”

“You’ve come again, O.J. What did I say?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“How can I remember? I’ve said so many things in this lifetime, some of it absolute nonsense.”

“I’ll remind you, and I’m quite sure you’ll recognize it as absolute nonsense. You said you’d been wasting your talent in Nigeria.”

“That’s right. And that’s no nonsense. We all have a duty not to waste God-given talent in an environment that is harsh, unproductive, and unappreciative.”

“So you went someplace else where you could be productive and appreciated?”

“That’s right. In any case, as I said then—now I remember it clearly—Nigeria was now self-sufficient in manpower production; in fact we’d become a net exporter of talent, and I was only part of the export promotion drive.”

“You were being sarcastic, of course.”

“Well, only partially so.”

“Nice try; but, man, you can’t give a good name to old fashioned brain drain.”

“Call it whatever you like. The point is, we can’t play dog in the manger. If Nigeria can’t put Nigerian brains and talents to good use, some other lucky countries should.”

This argument was getting sour in my mouth. I started it, but it didn’t look as if I was going to win it.

“Look, look,” he continued, “it’s not as though I was being cheated or underpaid abroad. Appreciation of my skills and energy comes with its full market value in cash and recognition. Racism and exophobia no reach dis one. If anything, my employers have given more and done more—perhaps because they are so surprised to find distinction where they have been trained to expect none.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that Nigerian professionals are highly valued abroad.”

“There are tens of thousands of Nigerian nurses, physicians and surgeons in virtually every specialty, all classes of engineers and scientists, computer experts, architects, social workers, university professors, lawyers, novelists, poets and pilots.”

 “There are also businessmen, and most of them are said to be very successful and a credit to their fatherland.”

“Yes, but the crooks and 419 are much better known than the legitimate entrepreneurs.”

“And they say that in America, when you come to a town where you know no one, all you have to do is open the telephone directory to the letter ‘O’ and all the Nigerians come tumbling out. Actually, it should be about the same with the other vowels.”

“But mind you,” said Africa-Man, “many Nigerians have abandoned their African names and adopted some weird concoction of a name which the natives would supposedly find less intimidating. This is particularly the case in Texas, the worst state in America.”

 “The vast majority of Nigerian exiles, I suppose, are in UK and USA.”

“Naturally. They don’t have to spend nine months mastering the language.”

“But still, they say Nigerians are everywhere, even in Greenland, Iceland, Finland and Alaska. I don’t know about Antarctica. But the joke is that when the Americans landed on the moon back in 1969 they were greeted by—you guessed it—a Nigerian who was already there!”

“O.J., that’s no joke. I was the man . . . .”

“Allright, allright! . . . But, Africa-Man, please tell me, when will these exiles come home?”

There was an awkward silence. Africa-Man knew better than to try some flippant riposte. The matter was too deep.

“Well, I suppose when conditions are right, the exile will return.”

“You remember what the great Omenuko said about this: that however prosperous and comfortable a person might be in a foreign country, that always, a stray word, or some incident of no apparent consequence will jolt him, reminding him sharply that he is a stranger in this land; and then his spirit will find no rest until he returns to his fatherland.”

“Yes, and it is precisely such exiles that spearheaded the scientific, technological and industrial revolutions that have made Japan, China and India what they are today.”

“The home governments provided a welcoming and enabling environment capable of putting to use the knowledge and skills the exiles brought home in such plenty.”

“Nigeria should be next!”

“God speed the day when our leaders will recognize their duty in this regard, and actually accomplish it.”

By: Onwuchekwa Jemie