By Magnus Onyibe
At the last count about a week ago, at least 1,460 Nigerians have lost their lives to herdsmen/bandits machetes and bullets in seven months within the shores of our country. That’s according to media reports credited to the Permanent Secretary, Special Services in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation., Amina Shamaki.
That’s how grim and dangerous life has become in Nigeria. Little wonder those living in the hinterland where violent death has become a culture rather than exception have made the decision to migrate to the cities where life is deemed to be relatively safer.
Even then, most of the frightened and terrified citizens who thought that escaping from Nigeria to overseas countries, (a self developed social safety net, since our government does not have a viable one) was their inoculation and insurance against the prevailing and pervasive sudden and violent death in the hands of killer herdsmen back home , have discovered that they were wrong.
And that applies most especially to the indigent ones who try desperately to escape from our shores and do so illegally by trying to pass through unconventional routes like the foreboding Sahara Desert where the Bedouins who rule the desert, often capture and harvest their organs for sale or at best sell them into slavery, simply because as illegal immigrants they have no official identity with which to trace them. Others who choose the option of risking their lives by embarking on hazardous travel by sea, braving the treacherous storms and waves of the Mediterranean Sea in attempt to cross into Europe via Lampedusa, Italy in dingy boats, mostly end up drowning before they get to their destinations.
In what seems like a never ending tale of doom and gloom, those that migrate to other African countries and as such, don’t have to cross the dreaded and dangerous desert or sea to accomplish their mission of escaping the harrowing experience of living in a perilous environment which our country has become (comparable to life in a hospital intensive care unit, lCU), don’t fair better.
That’s essentially because sooner than later they too would be confronted by their African hosts with the same violence that they thought they had escaped from home.
Take the case of Nigerians who head to neighboring countries like South Africa and Ghana amongst others, only to later discover that their lives are not more secure in their new abode than that of the folks that they left in Nigeria.
Not necessarily because they have been unable to find means of livelihood in their new locations, but due to the xenophobic attitude of their hosts who are known to (as depicted in social media narratives of victims or family/friends of those in the diaspora) chase them down like dogs or games in the wild and hack them to death on the streets or in their homes by xenophobes, who presumably out of sheer envy (of the success of some Nigerians who have mastered the art of thriving in very difficult circumstances) accuse them of being responsible for their plight of poverty.
For lack of time and space, let’s leave the narrative of how Nigeria and indeed Nigerians made huge sacrifices to ensure that fellow Africans in the countries now antagonistic and inhospitable to Nigerians were rescued from apartheid or economic misery respectively, for another day.
Nevertheless, it is worth highlighting the irony in the fact that , the misery and penury that’s driving the cruel Africans into unbridled hostility towards Nigerian migrants was foisted on them by their own leaders due to maladministration -the sort that drove their Nigerian victims from home.
Given the scenarios above, it may be not be trite if the question is asked: Does the life of a Nigerian matter anymore and why are they getting more desperate by engaging in daredevilry?
Not long ago, the news of Nigerians that robbed a bureau de change in Dubai surfaced in the social media. The fate that awaits those ones in a country that’s steep in ancient Arabic dogma are better imagined. Shortly after, videos of Nigerians adjudged guilty of drug peddling in Indonesia and Malaysia, and therefore on death rows also appeared in the social media. Reportedly, the remains of one, after being executed, was even said to have been brought home by his kith and kin for a ‘befitting’ burial.
And before the dust raised by that sordid experience could settle, another set of Nigerians, this time in Saudi Arabia, also accused of narcotic trafficking, and for which they were alleged to have been taken to the gallows, started trending.
Until Nigerian government reacted through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geofrey Onyeama, who in a recent media statement pointed out that the victims have not actually been executed, l had assumed that such social media broadcasts were mere hoaxes . But the minister’s explanation jerked me into reality.
On top of all that hullabaloo, the FBI also at about same time paraded a horde of Nigerians, (more than three scores and ten) involved in financial scams whereby innocent victims across the USA, Europe and Asia, under false pretenses were milked of huge sums of money by the accused Nigerians.
If found guilty, those ones may not be put to death since financial crime is not a capital offense in the western world , but they would certainly bag long jail terms which is much better than the case of those accused of trafficking in narcotics in the climes where the laws on illegal drug trafficking are draconian.
Unsurprisingly, the combined pressure of the aforementioned crimes being committed by Nigerians across the world and the ultimate payment with their lives by some of the alleged criminals, might have compelled President Muhammadu Buhari, who was on a trip to Japan to attend the seventh edition of the Tokyo African Trade Conference, to declare that those Nigerians committing crimes abroad, do not represent us and don’t define who we are as Nigerians.
That’s quite commendable of Mr. President and a great improvement on his record, given that in the past he had affirmed the allegation by former British Prime Minister, David Cameron that Nigerians are ‘fantastically corrupt’. The derogatory comment by the former PM made to the Queen of England, during a cocktail held in the Queen’s palace on the sidelines of a conference on Anti corruption held in the UK a couple of years ago, was quite undiplomatic and should have been debunked by our president.
Rather, President Buhari concurred with Cameron who tagged an entire nation with the toga of criminality just because of a few bad eggs, (as opposed to defending the integrity of majority of Nigerians who are law abiding) hence it drew public umbrage for President Buhari back home in Nigeria.
But this time around in Tokyo , Mr. President rose to the defense of his country by making a categorical statement that criminality does not define Nigerians.
Despite the robust defense put up in Japan, some critics are not placated and therefore are of the view that Mr. President could’ve even gone further by defining who Nigerians truly are by referencing our country men and women who are excelling all over the world from those who are accomplished scientists working in high tech industries and contributing tremendously to the economies of their host countries, to athletes of Nigerian origin who are making waves and remain highly sort after world wide.
Indeed , statistically speaking, of the estimated 14 million Nigerians in the diaspora, about 0.4% are estimated to be involved in criminal activities. The rest are excelling in medical science like Ben Omalu who in 2002 discovered, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE (aka Concussion) as cause of death amongst American football players; Bayo Ogunlesi the investment banker that took Europe by storm through his acquisition of major infrastructures like Gatwick Airport in England in 2009 amongst many others excelling in their chosen areas of endeavor abroad. Add that to the fact that Nigerians are rated as the No. 1 immigrants in the USA with the highest number of university graduates as affirmed by the fact that our compatriots recorded the highest number of PhD graduates in Pharmacy from Howard University, Washington DC and carted away the largest number of academic laurels during a recent graduation ceremony.
At the risk of appearing to be holding brief for the alleged criminals who are Nigerians, but actually in defense of the larger number of Nigerians being smeared and victimized simply because their compatriots engaged in criminal activities, my averment is that Nigerians should be correctly defined as hard working, focused and determined goal getters, no matter how challenging the circumstances in which they find themselves.
If we allow the criminal activities of infinitesimal number of Nigerians in diaspora to define us, very soon more of us would be victims of the backlash which could range from being continuously treated in dehumanizing fashion abroad or killed with reckless abandon as has been the case in South Africa, India , Ghana etc.
The truth is that as long as debasing the lives of hardworking Nigerians at home owing to the increasing rate of insecurity and massive loss of lives, particularly in the North-east, has remained unmitigated, it may not be wrong to assume that our political leaders are treating the lives of Nigerians with levity hence the death toll keeps rising without visible solutions.
Assuming the assertion above is correct, it stands to reason that if our government can’t or don’t protect us, how would it be a burden on a host country or its indigenes to attach any value to the lives of Nigerians sojourning in their country? In an article titled “Xenophobic South Africans, National Assembly And The Value of Nigerian Lives” that l wrote and published widely in both mainstream and online media platforms on May 11, 2017, when the horrible orgy of murdering Nigerians in South Africa first came to national prominence before it took the current alarming dimension, l made a case that more Nigerians would be killed in South Africa unless a firm action is taken by our political leaders to protect our compatriots abroad.
My fear has been affirmed by the litany of killings of Nigerians in South Africa thereafter.
I recall with nostalgia that our country was at one time truly the giant of Africa when it acted in words and deeds in defense of Nigerians all over the world. Memories are made of the time that President Buhari, then an army brigade commander chased the gendarmes of a neighboring country deep into their own country after they trespassed into Nigerian territory.
As a lad living in Nigeria under President Shehu Shagari’s watch 1979-1983, l can recollect the visit of Ahmadu Ahidjo, then Cameroonian President to Nigeria on a mission to appease our president for fear of reprisal action after a border skirmish between our troops and Cameroonian gendarmes. I had an exhilarating feeling of triumph.
Today, Nigeria only barks but can’t bite.
That’s why when innocent Nigerians are killed in South Africa, the authorities set up two committees in the Senate and House of Representatives to visit authorities in the antagonizing country, perhaps to appease them . Thereafter more committees are set up to review the reports by the committees that went to pay courtesy call on the leaders of the countries that their citizens killed their compatriots. And before the ink dries on the report of the review committee, more Nigerians are killed in South Africa and elsewhere in the world without compunction or repercussions.
Compare the lackadaisical attitude of Nigerian authorities to the action taken by members of parliament in the USA who called out Swedish authorities for treating Americans unfairly when an American Hip Hop musician (rapper) ASAP Rocky was detained in Sweden after a street brawl.
There has been several occasions whereby Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Scandinavians and other nationals who have been in breach of our laws, particularly with respect to oil/gas theft and even the murder of a Nigeria lady and the daughter were released after the intervention of their home governments. Do Nigerians enjoy such basic rights?
I very much doubt it.
My skepticism is underscored by the allegation that most of the alleged Nigerian criminals found guilty abroad hardly got legal representation and defense by our country’s missions abroad.
If that’s truly the case, what next should or can an average Nigerian do, if he continues to be an endangered species at home and remain unprotected and undefended abroad?
That’s the question begging for an answer.
Could it be that faced with the frustration of having no option left, since they would likely die if they migrate illegally and also risk death in the hands of marauding bandits, if they stay back at home, the current high suicide rate amongst Nigerians who have been jumping off the bridge into the lagoon lately is an evidence of Nigerians ending their lives in their own terms?
I’m not a psychiatrist, but l’m just wondering if there is any nexus between this horrific incidents with a view to poking the conscience of our political leaders and hopefully spur them into action.
*Onyibe is a Development Strategist, an alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law Diplomacy, Tuft’s University, Massachusetts, USA and a former Commissioner in Delta State Government