Following the overwhelming reactions I got to my lecture titled, “If we stay here we die” (reproduced below) at the 2015 edition of Platform, I decided to document not only the complete story of my brother who wasted about four years in the futile bid to migrate to Europe but also to look at the whole concept of irregular migration.
Although I started the book, tentatively titled, “FROM FRYING PAN TO FIRE: How Nigerian young men and women ruin their lives trying to cross to Europe” two years ago, it was not until early this year (after completing ‘Against The Run of Play’) that I resumed serious work.
Last Thursday, I was at the Nigerian office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) where I had an interesting meeting with senior officials, including the National Project Officer, Mr Sunday Tunde Omoyeni.
While the population of irregular migrants leaving Nigeria keeps increasing, the worrying trend, according to the IOM, is that “many of the departures are no longer spontaneous individual decisions but a well-structured and carefully orchestrated agenda to escape difficult socio-economic situations, with the illusion that the economic situation in the destination country is better.”
But it was the story told by IOM Programme Manager, Mr Frants Celestin that really got me. He recounted an experience on a recent visit to Benin, Edo State capital, where he saw a giant billboard advertising a church crusade programme with the theme: “Oh Lord, Release My Visa.”
From my discussions with Mr Richard Young, European Union Deputy Head of Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, as well as with officials at some embassies in Nigeria, we have a serious problem that must be tackled both at the level of government and society.
A situation where all-night prayer vigils are organised for young men and women to bring their international passports for some spurious Visa “anointing” can only encourage the mindset that is driving many to perdition in the Sahara Desert and across the Mediterranean Sea.
Meanwhile, I joined a select audience, comprising mostly diplomats, at the embassy of Switzerland on Monday evening for a preview of the television mini-series “The Missing Steps” produced by popular Nollywood actor, Mr Charles Okafor.
Featuring some respected Nollywood actors and actresses, including Mr Nobert Young, it is the story of a young Nigerian undergraduate who left the country as an irregular migrant to Switzerland and the consequences of his action.
The interesting thing for me, as I watched the movie, which will be serialised for 13 weeks on NTA, is that the experience depicted was not even half as harrowing as that of my brother who only survived through the mercy of God.
In his welcome address, the Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Eric Mayoraz, said while migration is a phenomenon that has existed since the creation of man, the challenge at the moment is irregular migration which has become “a problem for all: Countries of destination of course, but also countries of transit and countries of origin.
And of course for the migrants themselves who are submitted to many abuses by criminal networks and often risk their own lives.”
The television mini-series, according to Mayoraz, is one of the projects developed together with the IOM and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), to address the problem. “With a growing number of irregular migrants leaving Nigeria in search of a better life elsewhere”, said Mayoraz, the need to escape difficult socio-economic situations presents the illusion that life will be better in the destination country. “This is not always true! Not when irregular migration routes have to be followed”.
The number of irregular migrants from Nigeria increases by the day, such that even children now engage in this dangerous journey along what the IOM Chief of Mission in Nigeria, Ms Enira Krdzalic described as “treacherous route” through a stretch of the Mediterranean Sea, linking Libya to Italy.
Available statistics, Krdzalic argues, “indicate that Nigerian migrants account for the highest number of arrivals in Italy by sea, with about 17,000 compared to total 99,127 migrants that arrived in Italy by seas of all countries between January and August this year.
While these migrants were fortunate to make it to Europe, a significant number are either stranded in the transit countries or dead.”
The common denominator for these risk takers—majority of who end up either dead or languishing in some detention centres in Chad, Niger or Libya—is the desperation for a better life for themselves and their families which then tasks all of us on the need to begin to provide the opportunities here for our young population who, having lost faith in our country, now vote with their feet.
“We cannot continue to open our eyes seeing our youths, the hope of our country, losing their lives while embarking on a dangerous journey with little or no hope of reaching their desired destinations” declared Krdzalic.
While we can make noise about denial of visas to Nigerians, what should not be lost on our people is that several countries are already tightening their immigration laws against territories where citizens migrate for economic reasons. Nigeria is top on that list.
I know many may have forgotten but in June 2013, the then British Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, came up with a discriminatory immigration policy that first-time visitors from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Pakistan and India would be expected to secure a £3,000 cash bond before they could enter the United Kingdom, even though the idea was later suspended.
“This is the next step in making sure our immigration system is more selective, bringing down net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands while still welcoming the brightest and the best to Britain,” Mrs May, who is now the British Prime Minister, said at the time.
What that means is that Britain, and it is same for most other countries, would only take “the brightest and the best” that would add value to their societies, not desperate migrants driven out of their countries by poverty and deprivation.
Against the background that statistics from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reveals that a huge percentage of the total number of out-of-school children in the world come from Nigeria, how do our young citizens who choose to run away even begin to compete for those available spaces for “the brightest and the best”?
The problem is compounded by the fact that projections from the United Nations indicate that Nigeria’s population could rise to 440 million by 2050. Such uncontrolled population growth of largely illiterate people poses serious threat to our national survival.
While our leaders, most of who are now preoccupied with erecting statues, seem unconcerned about this challenge, leaders of other countries are; and that is why they are cleverly closing the door against our nationals.
As I have written several times on this page, the 1974 controversial book, “Life Boat Ethics: The case against helping the poor” by Garrett Hardin has now become a ready handbook for policy makers in most immigration departments of Western countries.
Metaphorically, according to Hardin, “Each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world, who would like to get in, or at least to share some of the wealth. What should the lifeboat passengers do?” he asked.
This was the way Hardin answered his own question: “So here we sit, say 50 people in our lifeboat. To be generous, let us assume it has room for 10 more, making a total capacity of 60. Suppose the 50 of us in the lifeboat see 100 others swimming in the water outside, begging for admission to our boat or for handouts.
We have several options: we may be tempted to try to live by the Christian ideal of being ‘our brother’s keeper,’ or by the Marxist ideal of ‘to each according to his needs.’
Since the needs of all in the water are the same, and since they can all be seen as ‘our brothers,’ we could take them all into our boat, making a total of 150 in a boat designed for 60. The boat swamps, everyone drowns. Complete justice, complete catastrophe.”
Hardin, who can be categorized among the rising population of right-wing politicians in the West—the wall-builders who would rather close their doors to immigrants—could not resist taking a dig at his compatriots who support migration as a rational and legal choice in an increasingly interdependent world: “Some say they feel guilty about their good luck.
My reply is simple: ‘Get out and yield your place to others.’ This may solve the problem of the guilt-ridden person’s conscience, but it does not change the ethics of the lifeboat. The needy person to whom the guilt-ridden person yields his place will not himself feel guilty about his good luck. If he did, he would not climb aboard.”
However, the critical point in Hardin’s thesis is that most of the countries where citizens are fleeing are suffering the consequences of the choices they make, especially regarding unbridled population explosion for which Nigeria is particularly guilty: “The harsh ethics of the lifeboat become harsher when we consider the reproductive differences between rich and poor.
A wise and competent government saves out of the production of the good years in anticipation of bad years to come. Joseph taught this policy to Pharaoh in Egypt more than 2,000 years ago. Yet the great majority of the governments in the world today do not follow such a policy. They lack either the wisdom or the competence, or both.
On the average poor countries undergo a 2.5 percent increase in population each year; rich countries, about 0.8 percent. Because of the higher rate of population growth in the poor countries of the world, 88 percent of today’s children are born poor, and only 12 percent rich. Year by year the ratio becomes worse, as the fast-reproducing poor outnumber the slow-reproducing rich…”
I am quite aware that when it comes to the subject of population, my brother, Sonnie Ekwowusi and others like him would—essentially on the basis of religious dogma—be up in arms. But I am of the firm conviction that only a moderate population growth that enables high quality of life for majority of citizens can guarantee a sustainable society.
We must therefore address the challenge of development while coming to terms with the fact that it is no longer easy for our nationals to go abroad in search of the proverbial greener pastures that has become, in the words of Krdzalic, “a desperate leap into the unknown”.