Sometime in 2014, I interviewed a mechanic in Benin City, who had been deported from Germany. Austin is his name. He is one of the most interesting people I’d ever met. He narrated to me how he and a number of his friends went from Sokoto State into Niger Republic, into Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco. He was lucky, even though he saw many people die along the route. He spoke about the deportation centres, and the rafts with which he and his friends sailed across the most treacherous parts of the Mediterranean Sea. He mentioned how the gendarmes on the other side of the water would sometimes shoot at them – the deportees – and what awaited them on the other side. Austin managed to get into Europe, crossing from Italy into Germany, surviving for about a year-and-a-half before his luck ran out. His memory was remarkable. The way he reeled out the names of places, the routes and the experience was shockingly vivid. See the interview here
He was back in Benin in 2014, and despite what he went through and the risk involved, he promised to return to Europe through the same route the moment he could find the opportunity. He said he was not ‘buoyant’ in Nigeria, and that he made much more money as an illegal in Europe. Perhaps it is the allure of living far away from home, where one can do any odd job without any shame, or living in sterilised environments where everything is orderly. And there are many like Austin; hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, and their numbers are increasing. Austin was very funny towards the end of the interview as he narrated how, upon alighting at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, without any of his belongings, a fellow Nigerian approached him for alms, claiming he had just been released from Kirikiri prisons! It was at that point Austin resolved to go back to Germany from whence he was deported.
When one hears such fantastic stories, one wonders the kind of desperation that makes Nigerians set upon a journey possibly of no return across an unforgiving desert, and at the mercy of hardened criminals. The Sahara Desert has claimed thousands, if not millions of lives, and this should be a great embarrassment to governments in Africa if our leaders had any soul left in them. For Nigeria, this is a major source of shame, for we tout our prosperity and status among other countries in Africa. As we speak, given the ongoing economic crisis that Nigeria is going through – no thanks to lethargic governance – tens of thousands of Nigerians seem to have resolved to leave and are leaving. When President Buhari said anyone who has another country should leave, he should have been reminded that he has lived a protected, charmed and sponsored life since he was a kid.
Many people – especially in the South of Nigeria – have lived lives of struggle and intense competition from the day they were born, and have faced terrible circumstances that necessitate them taking this terrible risk that is akin to suicide. They have ambitions. They are frustrated. Yes, it could partly be due to a fault of theirs. But we cannot condemn them until we hear their stories. In this same country, through connections, some people have lived lives of undue advantage, always present when scholarships and sponsorships are to be handed out, when one government largesse or the other is on offer, when pilgrimage money is moving around, when houses and cars are to be sold for cheap, when jobs openings are made available under the table, when oil blocs are being allocated, when public enterprises are being gifted away, when choice lands are being distributed in expensive cities. Some even get their weddings and burials sponsored by the state. Some are indeed lucky, but those who are lucky should not scorn those who are not. Some of us have never benefited anything from this country but for the sacrifices we have made for her. It’s painful that some people strive to build Nigeria, while others are only interested in pulling her down since they were born. This has to have consequences.
Governance is about having an eagle-eye view of what is happening to your people. Governance is about ensuring that their situations don’t continually get worse to the extent that they begin to take irrational decisions. Governance is not about being dismissive of their complaints and showing disdain to the less fortunate. Governance is not about creating or maintaining class structures where some are seen as condemned to penury from heaven, while others are ordained to enjoy the spoils of the land. We have to move away rapidly from those old ways of governance and embrace the new ethos of happiness and prosperity for all at a certain level. Nigeria has not done well in this regard, and the current administration has been particularly disastrous, leading to a skyrocketing of the numbers of Nigerians risking their lives to leave, and the middle class now falling over themselves to get into places like Canada where their children’s education could at least be secured. What we have seen is that many Nigerians are daily giving up and we are back to the 1980s era where many Nigerians ended up taking menial jobs abroad. President Buhari, given the love Nigerians expressed for you, this is simply not acceptable.
And so it was that just a week ago, the European Union released the details of their finds about those who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in the past four years. This is what they had to say about Nigerians:
“… people coming from Nigeria in 2012 was 800, in 2013 the number was 2,900, in 2014 the number was 8,700, in 2015 the number was 23,000…. And between January and September 2016 the number is 22,500. 3,700 drowned in Mediterranean Sea in 2016 alone, which indicated that one in 50 people drowned.”
That is just in brief. These white people keep their records and have no reason to lie in this instance. From 800 Nigerians in 2012, a whole 22,500 Nigerians have crossed the Mediterranean this year! And 3,700 Nigerians have drowned! No statement by our government and absolutely no action being taken to stave off these terrible occurrences. Of course, the best antidote is meaningful, compassionate governance, not uncaring, selfish, and devil-may-care approaches that have rendered even those of us hanging on in the country to be despondent. People have departed this country in thousands and just disappeared into thin air. These are humans created by God too, and God will ask for their souls from those who run Nigeria, many of whom have simply made themselves very comfortable at the expense of these totally desperate folks.
Before the end of 2016, chances are that that figure will spike to about 30,000. The exodus from Nigeria is on. These Nigerians believe that no one cares for them. Government policies, shockingly, has been centred on making their powerful friends richer. A former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who could be used as a model president given our circumstances, recently bragged about creating 25 billionaires, in a country where more than 75 percent remain poor. Since he departed, governance has turned out even worse, inequality has increased further, and as the figures above show, Nigerians have become more desperate.