Buhari, Ugorji and the role of Nigerian Diaspora


On returning to the United States from Nigeria where he had had a month-long vacation after his retirement from Commonwealth Edison, an energy company that provides electricity to the entire Midwest region of the US, Disu, a Nigerian electrical engineer lamented his disappointment with his home state. On seeing the utter darkness to which the people of his small town were subjected, he had approached the agency saddled with rural electrification in his State of Osun when Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola was in the saddle for the permission to provide electricity to his small town free of charge. He said he had wanted to do this so that the agency would not complain about cost and to also demonstrate that generating and distributing electricity was not rocket science.

In his naiveté about how the Nigerian system works, he eagerly met with officials for briefings as he was directed until it dawned on him that he had only two days left to departure—without any headway—not to talk of many hours of waiting for some bureaucrats. “I just couldn’t understand why an agency of the government could be so insensitive to people’s plights. They had no clue when I started asking questions. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain, yet they ran me ragged,” Disu said.

Best, another Diasporic Nigerian professional from Enugu State with a Criminal Justice background having had more than two decades of employment with the Chicago Police Department thought he had found an ingenious and productive way to spend his time whenever he’s in Nigeria. He wrote a formal letter to his State Police Headquarters stating his desire for volunteer work with the hope that the police personnel under his supervision may learn a thing or two from his years of experience investigating crimes. He never heard from the headquarters.

These are just two examples of how Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora met brick walls when all they wanted to do was give back to their country. They had not asked what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country, yet they were rebuffed. They’re tales of woes and frustrations told to me when I was a US Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs under the Chairmanship of Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa.

The incoming Buhari government has an opportunity at this critical juncture in the nation’s history to redirect the nation from the ruinous path to which she had been subjected in the last 16 years towards the path of sustainable socio-economic regeneration. Therefore, every choice that the Buhari administration makes from the day of its inauguration on May 29 must be seen as very critical to the advancement of the nation’s developmental objectives. With his projection of bringing seriousness into governance and his honesty of purpose, the Buhari government cannot afford not to harvest the critical mass of Diasporic Nigerian professionals. Many of them have not only built capacity in their various professional fields but have also imbibed different sets of social ethos of honesty, hard work and integrity which are Buhari’s hallmarks.

Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji is a Nigerian in the Diaspora whose antecedents I have been privileged to watch over the years. An article titled “Buhari is no bogeyman,” written by him and published in The Nation newspaper on February 9, 2015, brought him back in my gaze. After reading the piece, I told a colleague that I knew that guy. His professional activities and community service leave you with no doubt that while he’s actively engaged in the United States of America, he has been simultaneously involved and interested in making significant contributions to his fatherland.

Ugorji holds a doctorate degree in Administration (Education) from Rutgers University, New Jersey, which he earned at the age of 29 in 1994. He is also an alumnus of Trenton State (University) College (now The College of New Jersey), with a Master’s degree (personnel management) and two Bachelor’s degrees (one in Biology and the other Psychology). Soon after his arrival in the US in 1981 before his 17th birthday, he became an active member of the college community and served as President of the International Students Association, Founder of the Pan-African Student Society, Vice President of Blue Key Honor Society, and Chairman of the Campus Life Board (the highest student body which comprised of heads of major student organizations). In 1983, he was elected Homecoming King of Trenton State College, becoming the first Black to be so elected in the over 100-years history of the institution. And while he was a student and a graduate student, his activism included efforts to cause Divestment of US companies from the Apartheid economy of South Africa; the campaign to free Nelson Mandela and others; the recruitment and retention of minority students to graduation; the recruitment, hiring and promotion of Black faculty and administrators at the college, among other things.

In 1989, Ugorji joined the New Jersey State Government as a Governor’s Fellow in Public Administration. He has since served as training and development specialist, programs coordinator, labour relations manager, administrative analyst, management improvement specialist, and a Special Assistant to the New Jersey Secretary of State. His scholarly articles in such journals as Public Administration Review (PAR) have contributed to the body of knowledge in the field. Mayor Douglas Palmer of the City of Trenton appointed him to the Trenton Board of Education in 1998 whose annual budget is about $280 million. In 2014 Ugorji was appointed to the Zoning Board of Willingboro Township, New Jersey by the Mayor and Township Council. The Zoning Board of Adjustment is an independent, quasi-judicial body that grants variances and hears appeals of rulings by the Zoning Officer. The Board also interprets the township’s Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

As the Executive Director of the New Jersey based African Writers Endowment, Ugorji has raised funds to subsidize the publication of several books by writers in North America and Africa. His organization has brought attention to the works of African writers and provided guidance to over 100 new and established writers in the development of their craft. And as a publisher, his Sungai Books imprint has published and/or edited over 125 books by African intellectuals, artists, and leaders.

In his capacity as a leading authority on the Nigerian Diaspora, Ugorji has served as a consultant to several governments in Nigeria on efforts to engage the Nigerian Diaspora in national development. It was in recognition of his service to the Nigerian community that Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo once referred to him as Nigeria’s unofficial ambassador to the US. As a leader in the Nigerians in the Diaspora  Organization (NIDO) and later as Chairman of the Delaware Valley chapter of the Nigerian Peoples Forum-USA, he participated in the initiation and organizing of what is now known as the Nigerian Diaspora Day in Nigeria. For the 2006 gathering of Diaspora Day, the Nigerian Presidency commissioned him to write, narrate and produce a video documentary on Nigerians residing and working abroad.

A veteran of presidential, gubernatorial and mayoral election campaigns in the United States, Ugorji served as a consultant to and the Director General of the Chekwas Okorie Presidential Campaign Organization in the just concluded 2015 presidential campaign and elections in Nigeria. He took no salary or remunerations for his services.

On July 18, 2015, the African Writers Endowment will host an event captioned “Ugorji at 50/35: A celebration of 50 Years and 35 Years of Community Service.” The event, co-sponsored by over two dozen groups, will pay tribute to Ugorji’s 50th birthday and his legacy of service. With many leaders, scholars and community organizers expected from Nigeria, Canada, the Caribbean and the US, the gathering will take place at the Westin Hotel in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The New Jersey General Assembly and the New Jersey Senate have issued resolutions in honor of the event and Nigeria’s Ugorji.

Culled from http://sunnewsonline.com/new/?p=120450


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