The authorities could do more to put the economy in order

Late last week, a video on social media showed hundreds of Nigerian immigrants wrapped in black polythene bags lying on the floor in a packed room. The stranded Nigerians, about 600 of them, were kept at a detention facility by the Saudi authorities pending their repatriation. Some of them reportedly have spent more than six months in the subhuman facility. “Nigerian irregular migrants in Saudi Arabia are due to be evacuated on the 28th and 29th of January, pending any unforeseen issues,” said Chairman, Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa. “Their evacuation was delayed due to issues relating to COVID-19. We appeal to Nigerians to resist travelling abroad without proper documents.”

The stories being told by Nigerians who are increasingly being deported after their failed efforts to cross to Europe or other parts of the world are harrowing. While many of them have become destitute, some nurse terminal diseases like cancer without any support. For these unfortunate Nigerians whose quest for a better life ended in disappointments, the future seems bleak.

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 and beyond. Driven mostly by economic desperation, 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 make it to their destinations where they face disappointments and frustrations, majority of them usually perish on the way.

From the accounts of some of the returnees, many who make it to Europe or the Middle East are usually forced into prostitution, used as mercenaries, deployed as household servants, factory workers, drug couriers and even as organ donors. However, 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. Even before the advent of Covid-19, factories were closing down and selling their warehouses to religious organisations while several businesses shut down due to lack of 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.

One of the challenges is that of mind-set 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. But that is not correct. So, apart from addressing the socio-economic issues of our country, the authorities must also embark on a campaign to disabuse the minds of the teeming population of young people. It is not always green outside.

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