The country may do well to address the issue of increasing poverty
While there are serious discussions across the world about the growing challenge of young people who continue to embark on what has become suicide journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, leaders in Africa are still living in denial. But the election, last Tuesday, of Mr. Donald Trump as the President of the United States, and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom earlier in the year (based essentially on the increasing anti-immigrant sentiments across Europe) should compel a serious action on how to stem the embarrassing tide.
On a daily basis, thousands of children from the continent risk death at sea as they flee their own countries where opportunities are shrinking by the day. More specifically, despite the fact that many of these people actually leave our shores, there has been no coherent response from the Nigerian authorities. That is very worrying.
That perhaps compelled the Deputy Head of European Union (EU) delegation in Nigeria, Mr. Richard Young, to publicly express concerns over the increasing number of illegal migrants from Nigeria to Europe which rose to 22,500 between January and September this year as against 23,000 recorded throughout last year. While that figure should be of no surprise, given the state of our economy, it is also a notorious fact that many of those people are merely compounding their miseries because what awaits them on the other shores are no longer opportunities but detention, most often under subhuman conditions.
In urging Nigeria to grow its economy and tackle the challenge of poverty, Young also warned that if the immigration issue was not addressed, it might have long-term impact on the EU-Nigerian relationship. This is an admonition that the relevant authorities in Nigeria must take very seriously.
As we have argued in the past, it is important to interrogate the conditions that create the desperation to leave the country for unknown destinations. Today, we live in a country where many are not only poor but cannot find jobs. Factories are closing down and selling their warehouses to promoters of religious organisations while several businesses are shut down or moving out of the country due to lack of infrastructure, particularly electricity. In the circumstance, vibrant young men and women are leaving the country to embark on journeys which for many of them tragically end at sea.
There is also a criminal dimension to the problem with some unscrupulous Nigerians now recruiting from their villages and towns young girls with the promise of securing for them good jobs abroad only to turn them to prostitutes. There are chilling statistics which suggest that human trafficking has become one of the biggest money making businesses after drug trafficking. Today, our country is regarded not only as a transit route for this illegal trade but also a source as well as a destination with children and young adults, especially of the womenfolk, now becoming merchandise for what has become a cross-border crime.
While we condemn human trafficking, we are of the strong belief that a demonstration of political will to diligently prosecute offenders would serve as deterrent to those engaged in the nefarious trade, irrespective of their social status. There is also a need for a sustained sensitisation of Nigerians, especially in rural areas, on the dangers posed by ‘good Samaritans’ who offer better lives for children away from the watchful eyes of their parents and guardians.
However, the biggest challenge is a mindset issue as there are many young men and women who believe they can only make it abroad and will do anything to travel outside the shores of the country. So, apart from remaking the socio-economic structures of our country that is also an issue the authorities must deal with. But the first task is to provide opportunities at home for our teeming population of young people.