All Africa: Returnees Boost Nigerian Economy

Many members of the African Diaspora are now returning home, encouraged by a positive economic outlook in their home countries. One of these countries is Nigeria.

The economic slowdown in the Western world, coupled with the positive economic outlook in many African countries, is paving the way for Africa’s diasporic talent to return to their homelands.

Millions of people, many of them highly trained professionals, are known to have left Nigeria since the 1970s, after the civil war that erupted over the attempted secession of Biafra as an independent state.

Nigeria, which is Africa’s biggest economy, is one of the countries where the return migration trend is most visible. According to the latest Human Capital Report conducted by the World Economic Forum, Nigeria ranked 86 in 2013 for retaining educated and talented employees. This is an improvement on position 112 in 2008, the time when the Western world was hit by the financial crisis.

Many highly qualified young Africans are now returning home

Thanks to Nigeria’s economic performance in the last decade, the biggest city Lagos is now welcoming thousands of new, yet old residents. These days, shopping malls, parks and business centers of Lagos are buzzing with the voices of returnees.

Tolu Ogunlesi, a journalist from Lagos, believes that a growing middle class lifestyle in Nigeria makes it easier for the diasporic community to contemplate moving back.

“Lagos has now a lot to offer for the middle class people who are used to the lifestyle in the Western countries,” Ogunlesi said. “Improving democracy in the country in the last decade or so also gave hope to people that they can try again at home.”

A report entitled “Understanding Africa’s middle class,” published by the Standard Bank earlier this year revealed that Nigeria’s middle class jumped six-fold between 2000 and 2014. This means 23 million people in the country are now considered to be middle class, consuming from $23 (18.4 euros) to $115 a day. This number is predicted to rise to 40 million by 2030.

Nigeria’s returnee community has been growing so fast that Adabara Abdullahi, a London-educated banker, established “Move Back To Nigeria,” an online community for returnees.

“After 2008, there was simply a need for a platform that returnees can support each other, and bridge the gap between the diaspora and home,” Abdullahi told DW.

“At first glance it appears that most returnees come back for economic reasons,” Abdullahi said, but he believes the motivation of thousands of returnees runs deeper:

“In fact, the number one reason people return back to Nigeria is the sense of belonging and purpose. Most returnees feel that they can do better things in their societies. People who understand both Nigeria and other countries can make a big difference,” Abdullahi said.

Lagos is Nigeria’s biggest city and the destination for many returnees

Bringing young talent together

Many returnees do indeed come back with new solutions. After completing his studies at Harvard Business School, Tomiwa Igun and some friends established the organization “Young African MBAs” with the aim of closing the gap of management talent in Africa. Now boasting thousands of members, the organization fosters ties between the continent’s young talent and also assists its members in career transitioning to Africa.

“Coming back to live in Nigeria might bring challenges to returnees. Lack of predictability in daily life events such as traffic, bureaucracy, and power cuts might be difficult for many people,” Igun said. But he also believes these challenges stimulate people to find solutions. “People who live abroad for a long time are exposed to different ideas and different complex systems. Once they come back, they can look at their own countries with fresh eyes.”

An estimated 11 to 17 million Nigerians still live abroad. But the tide is turning and many seem undeterred by the violence shaking the country as the government struggles to contain the Boko Haram insurgency.

Author Didem Tali

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