By Adewale Kupoluyi
Despair over the plight of our fellow citizens outside the shores of the country worsened, following the fate that recently befell them in Libya and Italy. Let me quickly add that many Nigerians are daily facing series of persecutions, danger, servitude and agony in foreign lands in their bid to explore travel opportunities in their costly search for greener pastures. It is time to go a step further and urgently do something in curbing this malaise.
Travails of blacks were caused by their being tagged as mercenaries fighting for the former Libyan leader, late Muammar Ghadaffi. Those fighting the government of Ghadaffi then are now in power and are exercising the opportunity to inflict harm, pain and suffering on Africans for supposedly being loyal to the former dictator. This position is not correct and, therefore, Nigerians should no longer be allowed to be the sacrificial lamb. There is an urgent need for the international community to investigate the large-scale slave markets in Libya; to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice, as such acts clearly violate the fundamental human rights of victims. The story of perpetual torture, prostitution, rape, torture and summary execution of Nigerians in Libya, is not only disturbing, those committing the crime also force Nigerians to carry out tedious and dangerous tasks meant for slaves while some of them allegedly have their body organs illegally harvested and sold off.
Usually, the first leg of illegal migrants’ tortuous adventure from Nigeria involves passing through mainly North Africa. In the process, many are sexually abused and others perish in the desert. According to the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NANTIP), in the course of such interceptions, about 5,000 Nigerian girls were said to be engaged in prostitution in Mali alone. Other gory reports show that notorious sex slave rings engage in recruiting young Nigerian girls for European sex trade while over 10,000 Nigerian prostitutes are known to ply the streets of Italy. Some were pushed into the act, not because of their quest to travel per se, but by their greedy parents and family members, who reap from their misfortune. For other desperate migrants, they sell their belongings and even ‘invest’ in travelling overseas at all cost. NAPTIP further alleged that some sponsors, in their desperation, pay up to N250,000 for each of the victims to the recruiters they do not know. In another scary report, over 600,000 Nigerians attempted illegal journeys to Europe in 2016 alone, out of which 27,000 died in the process.
In responding to the plight of Nigerians, the Federal Government recently announced that Nigerian migrants in accessible detention camps in Libya were ready for repatriation while some had already arrived the country. After the severe agitations over the plight of Nigerians, the nation’s embassy had been visiting detention camps in Libya, to identify Nigerians for registration and issue them Emergency Travel Certificates (ETC). This effort, in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), had led to the repatriation of migrants, on a weekly basis. While these efforts are commendable, the government should do more and move ahead of the seemingly organised, rich and well-coordinated group of people engaging in brazen cruelty against their fellow human beings.
Again, that takes me to the tragic loss of 26 women and girls, who were allegedly heading to Europe to seek greener pastures, but perished in the Mediterranean. However, with the series of ongoing comments on the development, it is not certain whether they were victims of shipwreck, or dastardly acts by wicked persons, who reportedly assaulted and abused the female victims before discharging them into the Mediterranean, or they could probably have had their body organs harvested and simply dumped into the sea. Despite the contradictions on the true identities of the victims, those rescued were said to have been found on a rubber boat aboard Cantabria, a Spanish warship, mostly as illegal migrants from Nigeria and other countries, inside the ship’s refrigerated section. The dead victims were hurriedly buried. Too bad!
We recall that central Mediterranean route from the coast of Libya to Italy was reportedly the most travelled by Nigerians and other illegal migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. While Nigerians lament the gruesome fate that met the Nigerian women on the Mediterranean, the remote cause of the desperation by Nigerian youths to undertake foreign trips that are just too risky, remains unanswered. The calamities underscore the unwise decision rationale and desperation by Nigerians to daily risk their lives in order to escape from the poverty at home. There is the need to put a stop to this calamity.
The lasting solutions to the above problems entail an urgent imperative of addressing the despicable socio-economic climate at home. Nigeria, a country that is blessed with abundant human and natural resources, is currently rated as having the largest absolute poverty level in the world, as many citizens currently live below less than $2 per day. Therefore, the desperation of vulnerable Nigerians, especially the youths, to travel abroad is a considered a viable option. It is urgent for the government to take concrete official actions to put a stop to these adventures embarked upon by Nigerians by making it possible to survive at home without looking elsewhere.
Another area that should be looked into is how to mitigate the continued deceit extended to vulnerable Africans such that, they there are ready to take all sorts of jobs in their desperate bid to travel abroad. I don’t know why many Nigerian youths still respond to deceitful advertisements by these faceless organisations that promise phony opportunities abroad. Many people seem to have lost confidence in their own government and sadly, public efforts at restoring trust appear too little and the pace is just too slow for our expectant youths, when compared with the enormity of the entrenched socio-economic challenges that had accumulated over time. The bitter truth is that until the present harsh socio-economic conditions improve and felt by the people, the nation may continue to witness these types of terrible and unfortunate occurrences.
Over the years, the economy has been unable to create jobs to absorb its growing army of graduates and restive youths. Joblessness and frustrations are evidently fuelling the desperation to leave the country, as available statistics paint a gory picture of millions of Nigerian youths roaming the streets and doing nothing for a living. Driven by economic desperation and sometimes by misinformation, hundreds of thousands of able-bodied young men and women, on a daily basis, embark on perilous missions in search of opportunities that do not exist in those very societies. While only a small fraction eventually reach their destinations, where they face huge disappointment and frustrations, majority of them usually perish on the way. Many, who narrowly made it to Europe, were forced into prostitution, used as mercenaries, deployed as household servants, factory workers, drug couriers and organ donors.
We cannot afford to continue to pay lip service; various arms of government such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should officially call for a thorough probe of the events that led to the untimely death of the Nigerians abroad and do a follow up on the progress of the investigation and by diplomatic means, to ensure that the culprits are brought to book. Relevant committees of the national assembly should also wade in without further delays. These problems had always existed over the years, but nothing much had been done to sort them out by our leaders. The way forward is to do the needful by adequately protecting Nigerians, home and abroad. This would certainly make travelling abroad less attractive.