Slavery: How History Repeats Itself


POLSCOPE with Eddy Odivwri, Email: Tel: 08053069356

Once Upon a time, Europeans, in search of cheap labour to work in their large plantations, came to Africa to buy slaves. There were Africans who served as middlemen, otherwise called the slave merchants who brokered the sale of their fellow Africans. Otherwise “freeborns” were overpowered by certain chiefs and overlords and sold to faraway merchants who come from far countries in search of “human commodity”. By it, we dare say, Europe and America built their cities.

It was such a bestial and barbaric act that it began to attract global condemnation. It took even fellow Europeans like Christopher Columbus championing an end to the inglorious trade that manifested so much of man’s inhumanity to man.

By 1833, history records say, Christopher Columbus had succeeded in abolishing slave trade.
Till date, such places like the famous trading ports in Badagry (point of no return, with all the shackles) which now serve as historical relics of that ugly memory remain a blighted patch in the history of humanity.
The above narratives were the nuggets of information which elementary history of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade taught us.

But the import of the dehumanizing act hit me hard and real when in 2002, on the entourage of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, I travelled to the Caribbean Islands, touching down in Jamaica, the heart of the Caribbean Islands and later Barbados. Not only were the phenotypal make-up of the average Jamaican (black skin, curly hair etc.) indicative of their African descent corrupted by the European blood of slave masters, there was a loud lamentation, hundreds of years after, about the fate that befell them.

In the big foyer of Kingston hotel, there were yet, sad memories of the slave trade. There were advertisements of slaves in what looked like a central slave market at the time. There were descriptions of the physique and special attributes or competencies of the slaves: something like “Robert is thick and muscular, with strong capacity to do hard labour”, or something like, “Justina is 4.6 inches tall, beautiful and good with domestic attention, infection-free and baby-friendly….” The price tag on each slave depended on the number of positive things said about him or her.

Many of the “brother-man” blacks who interacted with some of us were still deeply pained that they have lost their roots, their original kith and kin.

More than four centuries after, history is repeating itself, this time in reverse order.
Rather than the slave merchants coming to Africa in search of human commodity which they chained, packed like sardine and shipped away in merchant slave ships across the Atlantic ocean, this time it is we Africans who are selling our patrimony to board the same ships that empties us into the slave yard of Europe with transit camps in African trading posts like Libya.

Many are not even lucky to make it to Libya. They sojourn through unorthodox routes, deliberately wandering through the deserts under very tough and dangerous means. Some simply die of thirst. Some die of exhaustion. Some become languid and just fall off. Many others drown trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea with either rickety boats or overcrowded boats and ships. The human loss is huge.

Many of those who have managed to survive the foolish ordeal, tell of their terribly harrowing experiences. But their sad tales have not been able to discourage the craze for the deadly quest.

No doubt, it is a venture fed solely by ignorance. Not even poverty. Yes, many of the victims are poor, but their poverty is caused by ignorance in the first place. Were it not so, the cost of $4,000 or $6,000 which each of them pays to embark on the “journey-of-no-return” is enough to begin a fruitful venture here in Nigeria, from which they can eke out a living and grow therefrom. But ignorance will always make them think and believe that the field is indeed greener over there. How wrong!

Their ignorance will not allow them to see through the lies told them by the middlemen, the traffickers who brainwash them that there is so much of ease and good life in Europe. It is their ignorance (powered by greed) that will deafen their ears to the campaign against illegal migrants. It is their ignorance that will not allow them ask vital questions. Some of the victims are pushed into the venture by their ignorant parents who think that soon as their children get to “oyinbo land” then they have the password to wealth and good life. They refuse to realize that many of the female sojourners end up in prostitution. While many of them (prostitutes) die over there, those who manage to survive are terribly infected and almost eternally imperiled. It is ignorance that does not allow them to even understand the European economy: how many European economies are struggling to remain afloat.
So how can such an economy be such a harvest field? Yes, there are perhaps more opportunities there, but “making it” demands even more serious work.

The deceit is often presented to look attractive when they try to estimate their prospective wealth by calculating their earnings vis-à-vis the local exchange rate of the Naira.
The Idia Renaissance, headed by then-Edo First Lady, Mrs Eki Igbinedion, had done so much in stopping the Italy-bound girls from Edo State who go there for prostitution.

Today, it is no longer Italy, it is Libya. A post-Gaddafi Libya!
Many of the illegal immigrants both from Nigeria and other African countries, heading to Europe stop over in Libya. Their traffickers enjoin them to do some work to save enough money to continue the journey to Europe. They get stranded as they are not ever likely going to work and save enough to continue the journey. Even then, their traffickers are on their necks to pay up the cost of bringing them thus far, failing which they are sold out to some modern-day North African slave dealers just like common merchandise.

Nigerians being sold out as slaves in Libya, right under our nose. Nothing can be more depressing.
It is most saddening that in the 21st century, the despicable, dehumanizing trade is back on board, this time driven by Africans against fellow Africans!

It is perhaps sadder that Nigeria seems to be topping the list of such victims in Africa. Two weeks ago, 26 young Nigerian girls were found dead in an Italian ship, although official sources claim only two of the dead girls have confirmed Nigerian identity. Sources said they were sexually molested before they were killed. Curiously, the Italian authorities hurriedly buried the victims without getting either clearance from Nigeria, or even getting full details of the victims. More than700,000 illegal migrants are in Libya, just as over 2,000 have died in the sea this year alone. Over 5,000 Nigerians have been evacuated from Libya this year.

Yes, it is easy to point to the tough conditions of living here in Nigeria as a propelling force to the huge rush for Europe by the mass of Nigerian youths, yet, it must be re-emphasised, as said above, that it is all powered by ignorance. Leaving Nigeria under such desperate and illegal modes is tantamount to jumping from frying pan to fire. With improper immigration documents, such illegal immigrants are disadvantaged from the word go. They can neither do proper jobs nor can they have full rights. They have disabled status from day one.

They will soon find out (if they ever survive) that Nigeria is not as despicable as they think or believe. They will soon find out that many of the things taken for granted in Nigeria are just not available in some of these countries they flock to. Those who are not careful enough end up in the prisons of the so-called European countries.

That said, Nigeria must begin to make conscious efforts to discourage the worse version of brain drain (of the ‘90s) in our society. Our leaders must make Nigeria liveable and less brutish. It is the harshness at home that makes a child to search for comfort outside the homestead.

The Nigerian government must do more than the avowed programme of evacuation of its citizens from Libya and Saudi Arabia. Home must be made conducive and friendly.

Besides deliberate effort to create jobs and give meaning to the life of many Nigerian youths, the favourable economy required to make private ventures to succeed cannot be overemphasised.

Although government seems to be responding to this affront late, it is consoling that the recently concluded African Union, European Union Summit, held in Cote De Voire, dealt extensively on this new threat to human decency. The National Assembly has sufficiently weighed into the matter with appreciable level of concern. But practical living with basic comforts for ordinary Nigerians must go beyond parliamentary casuistry.