There is need for a sustained campaign to contain the dangerous drift abroad

In the last few weeks, hundreds of illegal migrants have been deported to Nigeria from many European nations. Available reports indicated that many of these desperate emigrants trying to reach Europe were being sold by their captors in “slave markets” in Libya, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Nationals of Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia after being detained by people smugglers or militant groups were reportedly taken to town squares or car parks to be sold almost like merchandise.

Ironically, the current migration crisis is a cruel twist of the logic of the transatlantic slave trade. In the old trade, African agents of European slave traders hunted men and women and forcibly sold them off to be transported across the Atlantic to the new world. In the new ‘trade’, Africans are willingly subjecting and submitting themselves as fodder and merchandise for enslavement across the Mediterranean. This should worry not only the government but all the critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project.

Driven by economic desperation and sometimes laziness, thousands of able bodied young men and women are, almost on a daily basis, embarking on suicide missions in the bid to migrate towards the northern hemisphere in search of opportunities that have since disappeared in those very societies. While only a small fraction eventually reach their destinations where they face disappointment and frustration, majority of them usually perish on the way.

From the accounts of some of the returnees, many who made it to Europe or the Middle East were usually forced into prostitution, used as mercenaries, deployed as household servants, factory workers, drug couriers and even as organ donors. And they would be beaten, starved and subjected to other forms of torture if they tried to resist.

Curiously, hardly any African country has embarked on a conscious effort to address the scourge of the new migration. Yet the increasing number of our citizens being humiliated, repatriated or killed in recent migration reversals places a heavy burden on the Nigerian authorities to provide leadership in communication and political action among African countries on the challenge of the new slave trade. But the greater challenge is at home.

Four years ago, the then Nigerian Ambassador to Mali, Mr. Iliya Nuhu, had cause to lament that the problem of human trafficking had grown in magnitude and sophistication to the extent that a good number of Nigerians in his country of posting seemed to be thriving on it. He described the development as akin to modern day slavery with some unscrupulous Nigerians now recruiting from their villages and towns young girls between the ages of 10 and 15 which were then sold into lives of misery. According to the ambassador, about 20 to 30 girls were at the time being trafficked to Mali daily, with the promise of securing for them good jobs only to turn them to prostitutes.

In what is clearly an organised crime involving international syndicates, human traffickers move their victims to Europe through North Africa by caravan, most often forcing their victims to cross the desert on foot. In the process many die even as the survivors are subjected to all forms of indignity, in the bid to repay the heavy debts owed their “benefactors” by way of travel expenses. But the trade is thriving because most of the people involved wield powerful influence with which they circumvent the law.

While we condemn this modern day slavery to which our young men and women are unwittingly submitting themselves, there is an urgent need for a demonstration of political will to examine the cause. There is also a need for a sustained sensitisation campaign to let our young men and women know that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side.

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