By Sunmola Olowookere
The menace of illegal migration in Nigeria has become a fixture in the nation so much so that the citizens strive by any means possible to leave the shore of the country to find a better means of livelihood.
Recently, 26 Nigerian women were reported dead on the Italian coast city of Salerno. These were illegal immigrants that thought that embarking on such a dangerous venture, will be the way to reach their goals but unfortunately met a gruesome end. They were reported to have been retrieved from a warship, Cantabria, which docked at Salerno and was carrying other 375 rescued immigrants along with the dead women.
According to reports, 23 out of these women were on a rubber boat along with 64 other people but were involved in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya.
There have been reactions from notable Nigerians as this is not the first time that such an unfortunate incident will happen. The Director of Press and Public Relations of National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons has described the development as one of the negative effects of embarking on what he termed “desperate, dangerous and illegal journeys in the guise of seeking for greener pastures abroad”.
Civil society organizations in Nigeria and on the international front have expressed the opinion that the menace of illegal migration in Nigeria which has eroded Nigerians’ credibility over the years is due to successive governments’ inability to develop the economy and adequately deliver on its promises.
The President, Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, Mr. Malachi Ugwummadu blamed it on poverty and bad governance. He noted that apart from those who die in the process of fleeing the country, Nigerian migrants are also targeted for persecution and execution in foreign lands.
He said if a government has given its citizens such desperation to survive to the extent that it is recording up to 10,000 deaths, it already qualifies as genocide. It is a serious war against humanity in another form. It is not only when acts of war are executed that you talk of genocide, if you starve your people to death and record such a number, that is already crime against humanity.
“The underlying factor driving this unholy search for greener pasture, with the belief that the grass is greener on the other side, is the failure of leadership in the Nigerian state, which has occasioned insecurity, joblessness and even hopelessness.
“Nigerians do not just die in the Mediterranean Sea, now Nigerians go to the Third Mainland Bridge and jump into the Lagos lagoon. This clearly underscores the level of poverty involved in the situation.”
CDHR, therefore, called on the government to rise to the occasion and tackle the social and economic conditions that created the desperation of the Nigerian people to seek better lives outside the shores of this country.
According to the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), No fewer than 10,000 Nigerians have died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts.
Assistant Comptroller-General, Mr. Maro of Giwa, has disclosed that as at the current time, 4,900 Nigerians had died in the Mediterranean Sea while the rest died while going through the deserts in their bid to cross to Europe.
He explained that Nigeria is a member of many international instruments and had signed a number of agreements and treaties, particularly regarding trafficking in persons and smuggling of illegal migrants.He noted that there is therefore the obligation for the country to implement such agreements, adding that illegal migrants and traffickers (from Nigeria) go through Niger Republic, Mali, Libya and Morocco.
He was of the opinion that smuggling of migrants is taking a front burner in world affairs today. Almost every day, you hear stories of boat capsizing and people trying to reach Europe. Nigerians are dying almost every day.
Apart from that, a lot of people are profiting from the venture. Last week, about 4,000 Nigerians were deported from Libya. Those ones were intercepted when they were about to enter the Mediterranean Sea.
Giwa said NIS had been working towards forestalling trafficking; adding that the agency had commenced an initiative through which intending migrants would be intercepted even before they set out.
Describing Nigerian borders as bad and with rugged terrains, Giwa lamented the challenges posed to NIS officials by the vast and porous state of Nigerian borders. He, however, vowed that the agency would deal with the challenges with the use of technology.
“In order to have effective surveillance, you need technology. If we have drones that we can use to patrol the borders very well, that will help us a great deal. We used to have air-border patrol but the aircraft has been grounded. It will be resuscitated and the aircraft will soon be put to use.
“Very soon, we will be patrolling the borders by air. That will increase our capability of also fighting terrorism. Most of the terrorist activities take place around the borders. Traffickers should desist as NIS is more prepared to tackle them. We have a new law to deal with smugglers.”
According to Abimbola-Ojo, victims trafficking are often forced to go through inhuman and dehumanizing conditions devoid of adequate health care. She said some of them ended up contacting infections and dying in the process while some ladies were sexually abused and died from health complications arising from moves to abort unwanted pregnancies.
She, therefore, pleaded with parents and guardians to dissuade their children and wards from embarking on illegal migration, saying “The public should assist us in the job. They should give us information on trafficking and smuggling of persons. Prevention is necessary.
NIS Public Relations Officer, Sunday James, in a newspaper report said the agency had been discouraging Nigerians without cogent reasons from travelling abroad.
James noted that a huge number of those applying for the national passport had no compelling reason for leaving the country.
According to reports, some of the people embarking on illegal migration often use routes that are not officially recognized by the service.
In March, the spokesperson of the United Nations Migration agency, International Organization on Migration, Flavio Di Giacomo, had said 26,589 migrants and refugees entered Europe between January and March, 2017, with over 80 per cent arriving in Italy and the rest in Spain and Greece. Di Giacomo said the number was, however, lower compared with 163,895 recorded through the first 86 days of 2016.
The European Union had also disclosed that 22,500 Nigerian illegal migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe between January and September 2016. The number of migrants travelling to Europe illegally increased from 280,000 in 2014 to 1.8 million in 2015.
To quote from the EU’s statistics, within this number, people coming from Nigeria (to Europe) in 2012 were 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.
Towards the latter part of last year, 90 Nigerians were reported in the dailies to have been deported from South Africa for committing immigration-related offences. Some of them were alleged to have been living in the country without valid documents.They were received by the appropriate agencies including the police and profiled before being allowed to depart to their respective destinations. Earlier in the year, the country was said to have sent 97 Nigerians packing from their land with two of this group female.
Virtually every week, there are reports of many Nigerians and people of African descent who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to illegally migrate from Libya to Europe. News report has it that Illegal migrants from Nigeria, account for 21 per cent of the total 171, 299 immigrants that braved the Mediterranean odds to arrive Italy in 2016.
Figures from the Italian Interior Ministry as of November 2016 estimated the record of Nigerian arrivals at 36,000, with most of them claiming they were running away from Boko Haram insurgency or Niger Delta crisis. The flow of Nigerian immigrants to Italy via the Mediterranean backdoor reportedly began in 2008, declined for five years but began to soar again from 2013.
There are hundreds of thousands of Nigerians living illegally abroad. Some might have entered legally but remained in their host countries illegally after the expiration of their visa.
There had been stories of sportsmen and women, musicians and other entertainers on tour, people on holy pilgrimages to Israel and Saudi Arabia who simply bolted away on arrival at their countries of destination because of the erroneous belief that the streets of such countries were paved with gold.
Many Nigerians tell incredible lies with forged documents in order to seek asylum in Europe and North America. Many of these illegal migrants not only end up doing menial jobs they would never have done in Nigeria in order to survive in their host countries, several of them also fall victim of xenophobic attacks.
Prisons of South Africa, Malaysia and China among other countries are filled with Nigerians who are illegal migrants who also involve themselves in anti-social activities such as drug peddling, Internet fraud, human trafficking, prostitution and many more.
It is believed that the main motivating factor for illegal migration and indeed brain drain is pecuniary interest. Many of those who risk their lives and life-savings to embark on the search for Golden Fleece or greener pastures do so with the hope of a better life abroad. Unfortunately, only an infinitesimally few out of the lot get lucky in those climes.
A majority of them being illegal migrants cannot get good jobs even if they have genuine academic certificates from Nigeria. They are perpetually watching out for police raids which are regularly carried out and during which many of them have had to be repatriated back home when caught.
When Donald Trump became the 45th American President, many illegal migrants from Nigeria were jittery about their fate under the new regime. The new US President did not mince words about his plans to deport millions of illegal migrants to America back to their countries of origin.
The chairperson, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Rita Orji, also pointed out that Europe and Asia have recently experienced an increase in illegal immigrants from Nigeria. Many migrants from Nigeria, she said, were women who were sexually abused by their sponsors and were compelled to engage in prostitution. Orji added that most of the Nigerians repatriated from foreign countries, especially Libya, were HIV/AIDS positive.
In some circumstances, illegal immigrants have their organs sold on black markets. “Kidneys and livers of illegal immigrants are being given out to sick people in China and other countries,” she said.
The lawmaker therefore urged Nigerians emigrating from the country to have proper knowledge about their mission abroad in order to avoid being taken advantage of by their sponsors. She also advised parents and family members not to pressure young Nigerians to move abroad, as such pressure can cause migrants to seek illegal and dangerous methods of immigration.
“Where are Nigerians going? What are they going to do in those countries? Some parents will sell their properties and assets in order to search for greener pastures abroad. It’s a wrong notion,” she added.
The project director of MEPN, Femi Awoniyi, disclosed that there were at least 12,000 Nigerians in Germany awaiting deportation as their asylum claims have been rejected by the German government.
Quoting a figure provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Awoniyi said that at least 2,500 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean Sea while many others were believed to have died traveling across the Sahara desert or in transit countries such as Libya.
He added that most of the victims of illegal traffickers were Nigerians.
According to a veteran labour leader and an economist, Comrade Tunde – Taiwo, the situation behooves on our political leaders to fix the rot in our society so that Nigerians will reduce their inordinate quest for greener pastures outside the country.
“Nigeria is too blessed to be poor. Our population is optimum given the enormity of our untapped potentials in many spheres of life. “Our arable land can conveniently feed the country’s over 170 million population if the right policies are put in place and implemented faithfully. Look at the enormous potential in our solid minerals sector. That sector still has illegal miners as the major players in the industry. “The opacity in the management of our oil and gas sector has made many analysts to conclude that we are suffering from resource curse.
“For over 50 years that we have been engaging in oil and gas exploration, Nigerians have yet to see significant tangible benefits of being an oil producing nation. Sixth largest exporter for that matter! Simply put, our monies have not been made to work for us.” He regretted
He expressed that our tourism potential is second to none in Africa with about hundred tourism destinations many of which have been neglected and allowed to become decrepit.
“This is a country so blessed with good weather conditions all year round and which rarely experiences natural disasters such as earthquake, tsunami, typhoon, hurricane landslide, etc.”
He believed that Nigeria’s major challenge is effective management of our God given resources for the overall benefit of the populace. Buhari administration must do things differently in order to inspire the confidence of Nigerians in his government.