The scale of the coronavirus outbreak is unlike anything that any global citizen has witnessed before, and it has warranted a response of equal measure.
The virus has now spread to almost every corner of the globe, including to my country of Nigeria.
The global response has touched us too. Earlier this month, we received a €50 million contribution towards our COVID-19 response from the European Union. We were heartened that, even at a time of great suffering for many of its own members, the EU remembered its friends and allies across the world.
The number of Nigerians infected remains low compared to some nations. But already we have lost too many Nigerians to this cruel illness – including our President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari. Nigeria grieves with his family at this time of great sadness. We grieve with all the families across our country who have suffered, and will suffer, loss, at the hands of this pandemic.
As leaders, it is incumbent on us to be honest that there will be difficult times ahead. But we must also find the reasons to be hopeful. In Nigeria, I see plenty – particularly in the way in which our people have responded to the crisis.
There is a spirit that never dies within the Nigerian people, a hopeful spirit that comes alive during times of struggle and hardship.
Nigerians are resilient. When faced with struggles we respond by working hard, finding innovative solutions and supporting each other. Since coronavirus arrived in our country, inspiring stories have emerged of engineers fixing ventilators free of charge, and of designers using their talents to encourage Nigerians to protect themselves and others with face masks.
We also have a secret weapon in our fight against coronavirus. The Nigerian diaspora.
In my role as Chairman and CEO of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) I know better than most the wealth of human and physical resources our diaspora provides to our country – never more than at times of crisis.
Whilst we may be physically isolated, conversely, Nigeria and its diaspora have been brought closer than ever – by our shared culture, our shared values and our shared struggles. When all this is over, it will be more imperative than ever before that Nigerians at home and Nigerians in the diaspora work together for the greater good of the nation.
At the time of writing, we have tragically lost twenty-five prominent Nigerians in the diaspora. Many of the members of our diaspora community are healthcare workers. The United Kingdom benefits to the tune of 6,770 Nigerian nationals working in the National Health Service (NHS). Some have given their lives in this fight, including Dr Alfa Saadu who dedicated his career to the NHS. His passion and commitment embodied the Nigerian spirit. Other medical professionals in the diaspora have been welcomed home to fight on the front line. Others who wished to return have been prevented from doing so by travel restrictions, but like true Nigerians have found creative solutions to help their compatriots.
The Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas are introducing ‘telemedicine’ – long-distance coronavirus consultations for patients in Nigeria – especially designed for those who live in areas where medical access is limited, or practices have closed down.
Members of the diaspora who do not belong to the medical profession have used their resources to provide communities with protective health equipment and support local businesses.
In Abia State, members of the diaspora have placed bulk orders for personal protective equipment to be delivered to communities back home. The orders are produced by local tailors who, supported by Federal Government schemes, have so far produced 200,000 face masks and 3,000 overalls.
NIDCOM is overseeing a ‘Diaspora Support Initiative’ which is collecting funds to provide lifesaving medical equipment and treatment for COVID-19 patients in Nigeria, and will help prepare our country further for its ongoing fight against the virus. In Nigeria, we have been overwhelmed by the spirit that has brought communities together in response to the virus. And we are heartened to know that this is being replicated across the world.
When this difficult period in our history has passed, we will not forget how so many have suffered at the hands of this unforgiving illness. But we must also not forget the way in which people came together to create a global response quite unlike any other.
In Nigeria, we will remember our secret weapon in the fight against coronavirus and we will remember the shared spirit between country and the diaspora.
We hope that the diaspora will remember that, even when the crisis brings us together has passed, wherever they find themselves, Nigeria will always be home.