Government must do more by addressing the deepening crisis of poverty

in a nation where mindless killings, mass abduction, banditry and terrorism have become the new normal, Nigerians are hardly bothered by strange occurrences. But not a few were shocked last week following Twitter post by the Spanish Coast Guard showing an oil and chemical vessel, bearing three migrants crouching on its rudder. The emaciated young Nigerian men, famished, and dehydrated were subsequently taken to hospital for treatment. The MarineTraffic, a website that tracks ships, said the Malta-flagged Althini II left Lagos on 17th November and arrived in Las Palmas on 28th November, after an 11-day journey, covering roughly 3,000 kilometres. Unfortunately, there has been no official response to the development that affects three of our nationals and speaks to the challenge of national security.

Despite the best efforts of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), access to the ports and terminals is virtually open to just about anyone who claims to have a business there. Numerous reports have identified Lagos, where Nigeria boasts of three major seaports and numerous terminals, as departure point for risky and fatal journeys. Crowd control measures to check or stop unrestricted movement of unauthorised persons are minimal. Chairman of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarding (NAGAFF), Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim, recently lamented about the porous state of the seaports, which he described as haven for all manner of criminal elements.

Apart from threatening the lives of genuine port operators through robberies and killings, these criminal elements establish syndicates with smugglers and government officials, to pave the way for human traffickers and illegal migrants to operate. That perhaps explains how some individuals could gain access to the rudder of a massive vessel anchored in a Lagos port. The security implication is that they could easily have planted a bomb on the rudder with devastating consequences. Several times in recent years, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria has made calls for improvement of security at the ports.

The adventure of these three stowaways, though not the first by Nigerians, raises concern about the causal factors driving such extremely dangerous irregular migration. A recent report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) disclosed that since 2014 a minimum of 29,000 migrants, dominated by Africans, have perished while undertaking such risky migration to Europe. According to the IOM report, the second-deadliest path was the Atlantic route from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands, where more than 1,500 deaths have been recorded since 2021. The IOM report listed over 5,000 African deaths recorded in the last two years along dangerous routes.

Unfortunately, even with all the security apparatus at its disposal, the federal government appears helpless. Such is the new low that the government gleefully flaunts the repatriation of stranded Nigerians from different parts of the world, especially from Libya and the UAE. Evacuations from these countries are frequently hyped and passed on as huge accomplishments. There is hardly any consideration or effort to redress factors responsible for such irregular migrations in the first place.

According to the Red Cross, Africa’s most populous country is plagued by poverty, inequality, violent conflict, and the quest for job opportunities overseas. In recent times, Nigerian health workers have been leaving the country in droves to seek better opportunities abroad. Canada, UK, and USA have become choice destinations for such labour migration because of better wages and welfare, to the detriment of the country. Left with frustration, and little hope of a better future in the country, many of our young people are being tempted to flee abroad via irregular migration, often facilitated by smugglers and human traffickers, with the attendant consequences.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the three migrants would be deported back home “based on stowaway laws,” but they may also be able to remain in Spain if they claim asylum, according to Helena Maleno, Director of Migration of Walking Borders, a non-governmental organisation (NGO). We urge the federal government to employ all diplomatic means to assist them. There is also an urgent need to embark on enlightenment campaigns on the implications of such adventure.

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