On The Road to Europe

Muhammadu Buhari


With Joseph Ushigiale

As you read this piece, thousands of Nigerian youths and indeed millions of others from different African countries are nursing dreams of migrating to Europe in search of greener pastures. Their dreams of Eldorado in Europe or America are fired by the sizzling stories of their compatriots who traveled earlier and had made it big on the streets of Europe which they believe are paved with gold.

Now this set of young men and women mostly in their prime, know deep down within them that they lack the  prerequisite for a valid visa to Europe. Yet, out of desperation, they choose to seek perilous alternative sources to circumvent the process and get into Europe through irregular migration means.

Although in recent times, some university graduates have joined the droves of irregular migrants, originally the movement was dominated by ignorant, desperate and mostly unskilled young men and women who virtually shut out their sense of reasoning to any treatise against their irregular movement abroad.

How do these migrations occur? According to the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM), there are voluntary and involuntary migrations. Voluntary migration involves a prospective migrant approaching either a smuggler or human traffickers to assist in facilitation the trip. The second part of this migration is engineered by parents who often times, against the wishes of their children, sell off properties, borrow and empty their lives saving to facilitate an irregular transit for their children to Europe where they hope they would hit it big. Today, a new means which is through the dissemination of fake news through the social media like the recent alleged request from the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to President Muhammadu Buhari to release a million Nigerians to take residency in that country is a vivid example of what is gaining currency. There is also another means which is through the traffickers dealing in human body parts who lure unsuspecting migrants with juicy offers only for them to be killed and their organs harvested and sold for hundreds of dollars.

What then is the motivation? There are a thousand and one reasons why irregular migration occurs. But the major reason is for economic empowerment. Going down memory lane, migration is a global phenomenon and billions of people are known to move from their original ancestral homes to settle in different cities either within or outside their countries. These movements are often fueled by wars, conflict, economic downturns in countries where these migrants flock from, lack of opportunities brought about by rogue administrations etc.

According to Wikipedia “Between around 1880 and 1924, more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States, half of them between 1900 and 1910 alone—the majority fleeing grinding rural poverty in Southern Italy and Sicily.”

Just to underscore the point that Africans were not the first to begin the exodus of migration, Wikipedia again explained that the “history of immigration to the United States details the movement of people to the United States starting with the first European settlements from around 1600. “Beginning around this time, British and other Europeans settled primarily on the east coast. In 1619, Africans began being imported as slaves.”

From this account, it is without contradiction to establish that migration had long been taking places from Europe to America for economic reasons and even the Africans who came later did not come of their own volition but through forced slavery.

Getting back home in Nigeria, it is easy to recall that during the era of oil boom, Nigeria was a destination for all countries and fortune seekers. As a result of petrodollars, Nigeria was suddenly crawling with all sorts of overnight briefcase businessmen eager to have a piece of the action.

The naira was strong, the economy boomed and capacity utilization was over 80% with industries and the wheels of production humming steadily. With the boom came a large influx of irregular migrants. By 1983, when the politicians lost grip of the economy and Nigeria was bleeding, the President Shehu Shagari administration decided to pin the blame on the large presence of Ghanaians in Nigeria.

Borrowing from Ghana’s 1969 playbook, Shagari expelled over 1 million Ghanaians out of Nigeria. Most of them returned to their home country while other sought greener pastures abroad. This first set of fortune seekers were later to set the pace for what is today the exodus of Africans especially from West Africa to Europe because of their successful exploits and warm embrace initially by the Europeans. Today’s, the shoe has moved to the other leg and it is Nigerians that are largely on the move to Europe.

Recently, the IOM decided to pool over 20 senior journalists from across the media divide to Enugu for a three-day brainstorming session. The participants were to deliberate on issues affecting migration in Africa and sought the best approach to effectively bring migration to the front burner of national discourse.

At the end of the three-day session, it became clear migration from Africa to Europe deserved a more coordinated national and continental response to stop the daily loss of the lives of innocent nationals who perish through ignorance and no cause of theirs.

Painting the grim realities of what is today termed the largest migration crisis in modern history yet, the IOM stated that over 1m persons were caught in the migration crisis when war erupted in Libya in 2011. It added that human trafficking and smuggling have become huge business in the volume of about $36b where over 6b persons are trafficked annually globally.

This same year, over 20,000 documented Nigerians migrants were held up in various prison detention camps across Libya, while over 16,000 have been stranded in about 20 countries since 2001 as a result of the nefarious activities of smugglers and human traffickers.

However, the trade in human cargo took a bizarre turn in the twilight of 2017 when a CNN team comprising of Nima Elbagir, Raja Razek and Alex Platt undertook an undercover trip to Libya where the team witnessed firsthand, the auctioning of slaves for as little as $400 per person and decided to unveil an elaborate expose of modern slavery and the trade in human cargo going on in Libya.

As the story goes, a willing migrant approaches either a smuggler to ferry him or her abroad for a fee. The fee is paid upfront and the journey commences. As part of its public awareness drive, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Enlightenment Department) of the Agency, Mr. Arinze Orakwue emphasized that three routes are identified: Libya, Mali and Morocco with the most popular being Libya.

He noted that there is a current shift of the activities of smugglers and human traffickers from Edo to the South-east region where there is a current rise in the number of people trafficked within and outside the country.

Another method is for human traffickers to persuade, cajole or use fronts in different operating areas to lure desperate youths eager to travel abroad with juicy offers of jobs etc.

The human traffickers, to ensure loyalty, usually bond the migrant to an oath of secrecy and loyalty using voodoo and also enter a repayment schedule ranging from between €25,000 – €80,000 to buy off their freedom.

In most cases, the traffickers on getting to Libya, sell off the migrant to another syndicate which in turn extracts a new financial repayment commitment subjecting the women to prostitution, rape and all sort of vices.

Going to Europe is akin to the Biblical trip to the promised land where in reality, a migrants can easily view Europe from the Libyan coastline but getting is almost like passing a Carmel through the eye of a needle because Libya and Europe are separated by the Mediterranean Sea. While it may take some migrants who are lucky to make it alive to Libya a minimum of nine months, it could take others who are unlucky over three years of suffering and bondage to get to Libya, survive the slave markets and make it to Europe.

Expectedly, the CNN expose immediately provoked global outrage with world leaders, EU, United Nations and IOM condemning the acts as reprehensible and seeking concerted global solution to stop the heinous abuses.

It is such a huge irony that it would take the world so long to know of the existence of slave markets in Libya even during Mummar Ghaddafi’s reign long before the CNN drew global attention to the dehumanizing modern day slavery.

If the world at large is to be blamed for its hypocrisy, crying wolf now and turning a blind eye to it initially, what about the countries of origin of these migrants? Even with this expose, what concrete steps have so far been taken to bring their people back and also stem the exodus of its youths?

According to the IOM account, while statistics of those who reached Libya and succeeded in crossing to Europe can be ascertain, the exact number of migrants who died on their way to Libya in the desert and in Libya itself and the  Mediterranean Sea can not be quantified but an estimate remains quite frightening.

Since it got involved in this exercise, the IOM said 15,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean in a span of three years. It stated that 37,000 arrived Libya in 2015 and another 37,550 the following year.

As a result of its intervention in collaboration with the various governments and UN, it said the exodus is paling to insignificant figures today pointing out that, from a surge of 38,000 arrivals in Libya in 2016, only 1250 arrived in 2018.

Meanwhile, it has supervised the return of 52,000 West Africans so far. Out of this number, over 25,000 Nigerians have been returned and resettled in their home states adding that the decrease in migration figures is attributable to the shift in migration policies.

African governments must stop living in denial and take responsibilities. Nigeria, with a commanding number of these migrants must take positive action first to ensure the total evacuation of Nigerians not only in Libya but wherever they are detained across the globe and returned home safely.

We are all witnesses to the current scenario playing out in the U.S – Mexico borders where U. S. President Donald Trump has ordered the shutting of borders to migrant caravans from Latin America. Almost all western countries today are reviewing immigration laws to keep away both terrorists and unwanted migrants from their countries.

African governments therefore have to be proactive and pick up the challenge of keeping their own citizens back home safe and secured from these perilous life threatening journeys. They should see these youths as assets that could be used to transform their various countries to their own advantage. After all Europe was built and transformed by Europeans from what it was to what the want it to be today. Africans can do it to if their leaders muster the political will, shun corruption and build strong institutions.

The federal government must liaise with the state’s and local government to get to the root causes of these migration and devise effective solutions to curb this dangerous trend that is cutting short the lives of both men and women in their prime.

The federal and state government should borrow a leaf from the Oba of Benin by getting all traditional rulers in the respective kingdoms to place a curse and pass a law outlawing any form of human trafficking and smuggling in their domains.

Government officials should take time to read ‘From Frying Pan to Fire’ by chairman of THISDAY’ s editorial board, Mr. Segun Adeniyi. Adeniyi who was one of the facilitators gave firsthand experience of what he saw in the course of writing his book and particularly the ordeal of his younger brother, Agboola whose migration ordeals are well documented in the spellbound get book.

It is very important for individual government and the Africa Union as a body to take decisive actions to complement the efforts of the EU because, today, countries hosting African migrants are becoming extremely hostile and irregular migrants are increasingly coming under serious threat and are despised as criminals and unwanted by citizens these countries.

The foreign media working in sync with opportunistic politicians who are eager to make political capital, create and amplify migration rhetoric to whip up nationalistic sentiments against migrants who are perceived as criminals, lazy and unwanted guests in their countries.

We look forward to a day when Africa or Nigeria would transform to a country or continent where there would be a role reversal: westerners migrating to settle in Nigeria or Africa.

Pix: Buhari.jpg