Malaise of senseless migrations
Last Tuesday, another batch of 171 stranded Nigerians were rescued from Libya and returned home. This is the third set of so-called Nigerian migrants, who had to be helped out of strife-torn Libya since February 21, when the same number of 171 was brought in. Another batch of 161 were returned on February 14. No one knows the exact numbers of those still stubbornly hanging out in that country, or how and when all of those languishing in a free-for-all Libya will be safely evacuated and brought home. But going by figures from Foreign Affairs, more than 2000 Nigerians have been rescued from Libya.
The senior special assistant to the President on foreign affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri, has assured that more migrants are expected back in the country, considering the situation around the globe, wherein countries are struggling to take care of their own citizens, and have little patience and space for others, who are in the habit of forcing themselves on others. Nigerian migrants have been brought home from all manner of countries, including Mali and Cameroon, countries that are themselves struggling to survive. That explains the level of desperation among the class of Nigerians, who must migrate at whatever cost, just to be out of here.
Tales narrated by evacuees from Libya are harrowing. They were put through the worst form of slavery and degradation. The females were usually tricked to travel by migration ringsters, who prowl communities to woo gullible parents. They lie to them that they were taking their daughters to Europe. But on their way, they would quarter them in some transit camps in Libya. There, they would ‘work’ to pay back what was expended to bring them to Libya, as well as pay their way through smugglers routes across the Mediterranean to Europe, usually Italy first.
It used to be booming business for some mindless Nigerian traffickers of persons, when Libya was substantially safe under the control of strongman Muammar Gadaffi. But since the Arab Spring and Gadaffi’s encounter with the fury of his countrymen, which demystified his stranglehold and unveiled him in 2011, all has not been well with that country. Different warlords and tribesmen have partitioned Libya under separate enclaves. It has been a difficult task to have one central government that is able to rein in separatist fighters and put them under one central command. Even the radical Islamists of ISIS have run their government in Sirte up till December, when they were flushed out.
The point is that Libya is not safe for Libyans themselves, or for unwanted economic migrants, who are neither documented nor in possession of specialised skills needed to assist in the rebuilding of that country. The fate that has befallen Nigeria is harrowing, to the extent that the most important cadre of its population are left to wander in the wilderness, where they are so imperiled and unprotected. Nigerian girls in Libya are used as sex slaves to whet the appetite of a rudderless society.
In the days of Gadaffi, there was law and order, even though it was militaristic and totalitarian. There was an economy and a serious attempt to redistribute, so that majority will be captured in a socialist net that promised freedom, socialism and unity. There was diplomacy and manageable foreign relations within the OAU and later African Union framework, even though Gadaffi himself was megalomaniac. In his early days, he showed love for Africa and Africans and there was some level of protection for non-Libyans in line with various international charters and conventions.
Things began to dip for sub-Saharan migrants, when they sought to turn the Libyan window of opportunity into a land route to Europe. In some Nigerian communities, particularly in Edo and Delta States, journeying to Europe through the deadly Sahara was an industry. Tales were told of families that would auction their houses, not to send their children to school, but to pay couriers who would ferry their daughters to Europe, through Libya. For the females, they may not possess skills, aside their natural endowments; the males may live on pimping and such distasteful pastimes.
That has been the tradition and there has been advocacy to let Nigerians know that they do not have to travel and debase themselves in foreign lands before they live manageable and decent lives. A man, Alfie Nze has been so concerned about the physical and psychological ruins of random immigration on Africans, particularly Nigerians. The theatre director has a film project in the works, and his aim is to discourage unconscionable travels. In a recent chat with The Guardian, he said the most painful aspect is that illegal migrants from Nigeria in Italy, where he is based, will not want to be engaged in decent and official tasks. When he wanted to engage some of them in his film project, Nigerians migrants were unwilling.
Hear him: “ I ended up using boys from other African countries. I want to tell the real story of these people’s lives in Italy that no one wants to tell. Most of what the mother or grandmother in the village knows is all lies, but by the time she sees it in a film, she would understand better.”
Nze has lived in Italy for 20 years, according to his interview in The Guardian, working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), as an interpreter. Here is a man who has a close-up shot of what illegal movement of Africans to Europe has done to the psyche of our youth population. According to him, on a weekly basis, there are at least three boats loaded with Nigerians that are rescued, sometimes with many dead. It is this plight that has moved him to do a film.
He said Nigerians live the worst lives in Italy, doing illegal businesses, but sending flashy cars home and building mansions. He said: “In some states, almost every family has someone in Italy or on the way there. In fact, you’re looked down on, if you don’t have someone there. As a result, some parents sell land and other possession to send their children on these death-trips. This is a social issue that should concern everybody. I could decide to just sit here in Italy, where I am also a citizen and watch. But at the end of the day, whatever passport you hold, you remain a Nigerian.”
Nze has said it all. I wish his film titled Grandmother would provide the timelines of this malaise of illegal migration to Europe, from the Nigerian end, to give a vivid understanding of such details as, what encouraged it, when it got a boost and how it became escalated. I say this because there was a time, when what most parents ever wanted to do for their children was to give them a good foundation in education. In my part of rural Edo State, education was the only industry we knew and even the fees our parents were made to pay did not deter them. There was free education at the basic level, but once you entered college, you pay fees and buy books. Between 1979 and 1983, states under the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) attempted free education at all levels. But it crashed. So, even when parents have three, four or more children in college, it was tough. Yet, they never gave up to the extent of hiring couriers to traffic their children to Europe.
To deal with it, we must know why governments have become useless to citizens, to the extent that red light districts of Europe have become more attractive to young school leavers than the beautiful lawns of our campuses.
We also need to know how community leaders and traditional leaders have failed in social mentoring and have thus exposed young minds to unbridled greed and crime. Some of them are probably beneficiaries of diaspora transfers from Italy, to fund their parasitic excesses.
Pictures from Libya are grim and horrifying. We must grieve over them. Handlers of our foreign affairs must sorrow over them. We cannot be so wasteful to expose our kids to grievous harm. Even animals are not as uncaring.