“Fellow Nigerians, finally, we have dutifully intervened to save this nation from imminent collapse. We therefore expect all Nigerians, including those who participated directly or indirectly in bringing the nation to this present predicament, to cooperate with us. This generation of Nigerians, and indeed future generations, have no country other than Nigeria. We shall remain here and salvage it together.”
Those who are old enough would remember these words. They were the concluding statements made by the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari on his acceptance of the role of the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces on January 1, 1984 following the overthrow of the Shehu Shagari civilian administration.
It was in continuation of the campaign for Nigerians to stay home and salvage the country together that the NTA created an “Andrew” who threatened in his American accent, to “check out” because there was no water, no electricity and no roads. In response to Andrew, a songstress, Veno produced a track in 1985 where she pleaded with “Andrew” not to check out because in her own words, “Nigeria go survive”. Please note that all this was long before the Trans-Saharan migration phenomenon which has in its own since developed into a global scandal
If Buhari could cast his mind back to those days and compare them with these days, he would only conclude that he was being clairvoyant as what he was talking about then was a child’s play to the Nigeria of today. If people were “checking out” in the 80’s for greener pastures, today, they are checking out in droves out of hunger, insecurity and lack of hope. And today, they are doing so, despite the grave dangers that lay wait on their routes which they are very much aware of. In fact one of the repatriated ladies from Benin who narrowly escaped death was so defiant when journalists confronted her. She insisted that if she had another opportunity, she would travel again through the same route in spite of the near miss she had. Her point was that it was no use remaining in here given that she also stood the risk of dying out of hunger or in the hands of robbers, kidnappers or herdsmen.
It has become stale news to hear that Nigerian, and indeed African migrants heading to Europe and Asia by land or sea were killed in their numbers or consigned to forced labour by fellow Africans in North Africa, often with the active connivance of their countrymen.
Those who choose to travel by land via the desert either die of hunger and exhaustion or are attacked, dispossessed of their belongings and killed by border criminals, human traffickers or fake travel agents, hence the endless sad stories of how human corpses and skeletons of dead migrants litter the Sahara Desert.
Those who choose to travel by sea either drown or are attacked and thrown into the sea, as a result of over crowded ships and boats. Stowaways on regular ships are often on a suicide mission as they are most certainly thrown into the sea if detected.
Most of these migrants who choose North African countries like Morocco and Libya as their traveling routes, hoping to get to Spain, Greece, Italy and other European countries, end up as corpses along the precarious routes while majority of those who survive the horrific experience end up in crowded refugee camps.
Some of these desperate migrants chose these illegal routes mainly because they lack the resources, the necessary travel documents and above all the proper information and knowledge needed to understand the hidden dangers that accompany such risky journeys.
Stories have been told of how sea border security guards intentionally carried out attacks on desperate African migrants forcing their boats to capsize, while others have been accused of standing by to watch endangered immigrants drown without offering any form of assistance.
As at mid 2015, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHER) reported that out of over 350,000 people who journeyed across the Mediterranean, 3,075 died or disappeared. The report went ahead to disclose that six out of the ten largest countries of origin of refugees were Africans which included Somali, South Sudan, Gambia, Senegal, Central African Republic and of course, Nigeria.
In February 2013, Spanish police opened fire on a ship carrying hundreds of African migrants who were asking for help after their ship developed a problem while trying to enter Spain. Not less than 40 migrants, many of them Nigerians, were killed. The shooting incident attracted serious protests from the Nigerian community in Spain and widespread condemnation from Human Rights groups.
According to the International Organization for Migrants (IOM), about 50,000 people crossed the Mediterranean within January 2016, out of which 2,200 persons lost their lives while a dozen other migrants also died after crossing over to Europe. The report disclosed that this alarming number more than doubled the number of migrants and deaths recorded during the same period in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Dozens of other tragedies that are not captured here have obviously occurred, with many human fatalities and injuries. The alarming figure of 2016 gave a serious warning that huge danger lay ahead, unfortunately we have proved repeatedly that we are a continent that attaches little regard to the lives of our citizens.
In November, 2017 more than 30 migrants died and 200 were rescued after their boats had a problem off Libya’s western coast, according to that country’s naval authorities.
According to Agency France Press, migrants from Somalia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and equally Nigeria were among those rescued.
On the 17th of the same November, 2017, 26 corpses of young Nigerian girls lay in state in the winter sunshine in a cemetery in southern Italy. According to reports, out of the 26 women, only two of the women Marian Shake and Osato Osaro were identified.
In May, 2017, online media platform Premium Times reported the death of 44 African migrants including Nigerians, who died after their truck broke down at Sahara Desert in Northern Nigeria as they attempted to enter Europe.
The incident which was also reported by the BBC, involved three babies, two minor children and seventeen women amongst other victims.
While Nigerians and other peoples of the world were yet to come to terms with the alarming number of recorded deaths of Nigerians and other African migrants at the Sahara Desert and at the Mediterranean, then came the newest and very dangerous dimension of slave trade.
Slave trade, which is believed to have started in the 16th Century, is the business or process of procuring, transporting and selling human beings, especially black Africans to the New World. The fact that anti-human scourge like slave trade which ravaged humanity centuries ago could rear its ugly head and reappear once again not for the purpose of deliberation aimed at ending every trace of it, or for the purpose of payment of compensation to families of past victims, shows how Nigeria and Africa have failed as a nation and as a continent in the 21st century.
As usual, and very unfortunately, Nigerians top the list of the victims of this modern day slavery, even though revelations by victims have exposed the active involvement of Nigerian citizens, meaning that Nigerians are indeed, both the slaves and the slave masters.
Listening to horrifying stories from victims of the Libyan slave trade, especially those eloquently captured by one Mr. Imasuen from Edo State whose interview with the CNN broke the hearts of millions of viewers and Osaze Aghimie, one would easily appreciate the enormity of the tragedy that has befallen Nigeria as a nation and Africa as a continent. Both men got stranded in Libya, were tortured, sold and resold into slavery, extorted, detained, and finally rescued and deported through the help of IOM
Speaking on the ongoing slave trade in Libya, former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, said that slave trade in the 21st century should be condemned in the strongest terms possible.
“What can we do and what must we do?” We must ensure that a conducive atmosphere is created for the genuine exchange of goods. This is what will ensure development within our country, sub-region, continent and the world which we live.
“But then today, migration has a very nasty connotation particularly when you watch the television and you hear the story of thousands of our youths daring to go through the desert.
“Then after they have embarked on such perilous journeys, some of them are sold as slaves. Slaves in the 21st century, Africans being sold by Africans and maybe to Africans.
“All of us as leaders must feel a sense of regret for what we have done or what we have not done to bring this to our own people’’ Obasanjo concludes.
Leaders and citizens of different countries of the world have continuously raised their voices in condemnation of the Libyan slave trade, yet there is very urgent and pressing need for leaders, especially those of African countries to go beyond the usual rhetoric of condemnation and ensure they sit down and make critical assessment of the issues responsible for this humiliating development which has subjected Africa to the worst forms of ridicule in the comity of continents.
It has been decades since the illegal migration of Nigerians to Europe began. Yet, past and present governments have failed to consider the issue a national crisis that must be resolutely and critically tackled with both political and economic will. On the contrary, Nigeria has behaved and has continued to behave as if the lives of her citizens do not matter.
Unfortunately, the more the news of the deaths of African migrants at sea are reported, especially by International news agencies, and reactions heard from countries whose borders are affected, the more African leaders and media institutions play dumb.
Reacting angrily to the silence of African leaders in the face of the numerous tragedies which led to the death of thousands of African migrants in 2015, a Ghanaian Journalist, Elizabeth Ohene said “The AU wastes no time in vocalizing its thoughts even on matters they are not well informed about, However, their silence on this salient issue may hinder the world from taking their commentary on other issues seriously. I have heard African Governments make statements on issues that do not concern them in any way; I have heard them on issues when their opinions are not sought and I have heard brave statements on issues about which we obviously are not well informed. But the drama unfolding on the North African coast demands some noise of some kind from Africa. Otherwise we shall forfeit forever the right to comment on any other world event”.
The frustration expressed by this Ghanaian journalist is the same some of us feel concerning the unjustifiable, if not suspicious, silence of several African leaders while their citizens perish at sea or suffer and die as slaves in a bid to seek greener pastures.
If Europe whose citizens are not the real victims of these illegal migrations could be speaking out and coming up with measures to prevent illegal African migrants entering their countries, why then have African leaders considered the issue inconsequential by their actions of collective silence and inaction.
Speaking on the issue in 2016, the sacked Gambian President, Yahaya Jameh, whose citizens were among the highest number of migrants embarking on the risky journey, called on the United Nations General Assembly to investigate what he described as “this man-made sinking”. He condemned what he called “the dangerous, racist and inhuman behavior of deliberately causing boats carrying black Africans to sink” and alleged that there was a deadly mysterious force causing boats carrying Africans to disintegrate.
From the above Statement, Jameh who had ruled Gambia for 22 years as at that time, left no one in doubt about his incompetence and unwillingness to rise to the challenges of his office. He chose to ignore the home made factors caused by poor governance which gave rise to the desperation of his citizens to illegally migrate to Europe, but chose to apportion blame on those who didn’t cause the illegal migration ‘ab initio’ while at the same time sounding unnecessarily superstitious.
Mr. Jameh’s statement bore the same disdainful resemblance to that of the former South African President Jacob Zuma, who, while reacting to criticisms in the wake of the xenophobic attacks in his country in 2015 said, “Why are their citizens not in their countries? Why are they in South Africa?
The statements from the two African leaders spoke volumes of the insensitivity and level of disrespect African leaders generally have for their people. It showed gross disrespect for human dignity. It also imposed huge moral burden on Africans who would want to criticize the West for alleged marginalization and racism, because the internal marginalization and racism we carry out against our people and fellow African countries cannot measure with the ones we accuse Europe, America and even Asia of committing against us.
There is a simple answer to this conspiracy of silence by the leadership in our continent. African leaders have failed to make their countries attractive enough to keep its people at home. They have failed to provide the enabling environment for their people to prefer being in their own countries to elsewhere. People who have come up with suggestions about reorientation and educational solution may be right, but they tend to forget that those do not change the situations at home.
Our governments, at all levels, must come up with sound economic policies that would not only create the enabling environment for the youth and take them off the streets, but also guarantee hope of a secure economic future for them. To the extent that they do not see a future within their countries, the youth would continue to take the risk of migrating given that they believe that if they remained in their countries, they faced the certainty of death by poverty and pestilence, while there remained a chance of survival if they made it alive to Europe.
Some people argue that there could be some justifications for citizens of some poor and warring African countries to illegally migrate, however, others that are neither poor nor at war like Nigeria are fighting a different kind of war. The economic war is the most potent war unleashed by failed governments against its people. As long as that war persists, people would continue to vote with their feet irrespective of the dangers that may exist out there. And they would tell you that if they stay here they would die, if they travel they may die, so let them travel and die, apologies to the “Ajekun iya n’ioje” maestro, Senator Dino Melaye.