By Les Leba
“Africans in the prime of their lives were forcibly plucked from their homes and families, bundled tortuously under deck and transported as human cargoes to be sold as slaves to plantation owners in the Americas and the West Indies about 200 years ago. Regrettably, in recent times, there is an unexpected twist to this macabre déjà vu! In spite of the pervading economic challenges, Nigerians, just like their counterparts in other African countries, make heroic sacrifices to educate and train our children only to gamble our investment thereafter on one throw of the dice. Indeed, families have been known to sell their prized possessions to sponsor promising ones amongst their children for the hazardous and often fatal road to find job opportunities abroad!”
“The odds of setting foot in Europe are probably higher than one in twenty, and even then several of the fittest and extremely ‘lucky’ ones who make it are often hounded into asylum camps where they “enjoy” the status of glorified prisoners. In spite of the level of education and training attained back home, the toughest migrants, who manage to slip into civil society, barely earn subsistence wages with jobs that host citizens reject! Invariably, family expectations of the dividends of regular dollars and Euro remittances through Western Union ultimately confine most of these unfortunate African youths to a life of bare subsistence abroad!”
However, some other African youths escape the torture of perilous journeys across hostile desert landscapes and turbulent oceans in rickety boats in search of jobs and a better life in Europe and America, by virtue of winning the much celebrated and sought after immigration lottery tickets. Invariably, the immigrants in the above two entry categories do not often possess the specialist skills required in the host countries, and therefore, end up with poorly paid blue collar jobs!
Another category of unforced ‘immigrants’ are the privileged children of the elite and middle class from several African countries. The immigration path for such youth is comparatively made much smoother and less hazardous by the capacity of sponsors and parents to outlay an average of about $50,000 annually for the education and upkeep of every child abroad!
Thus, in spite of pervasive poverty in countries where majority of families live on less than $2/day (i.e. less than $1000/year), it is not unusual for the cost of education of the average middle class African child to result in a significant outflow of hard-earned foreign exchange. Indeed, if only 50,000 of the average annual UK visa applicants of over 180,000 are students, this could lead to an annual outflow of about $5bn (i.e. about N800bn); an amount, which is incredibly far in excess of the provision of N426.53bn for education at all levels nationwide in the 2013 budget! Thus, in spite of the incontestable reality of biting poverty and increasing national debt accumulation, middleclass and elitist African families may ironically be subsidising the cost of education in those better-endowed and more successful economies from whom we frenziedly solicit foreign development aid and loans!
The other significant segment of African immigrants are those who are selectively head hunted; first-class brains, hard-working and experienced university lecturers, innovators, accomplished artistes and talented sportsmen, who would otherwise add value to the resolution of our abiding domestic economic/social challenges are regularly identified and lured away with tempting offers and a facilitated immigration process.
In the above event, if Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest is anything to go by, the writing must be on the wall for those countries, who have unwittingly become victims of a unidirectional outflow of possibly the fittest and the brightest youths from their homelands, as the price they pay for the steady inflow of Western Union remittances from emigrants to address the foreign exchange shortages in their economies! In contrast with earlier generations, who studied abroad, and regardless of the mode of entry, our youths today show very little inclination to relocate and contribute to development back home, because of the relatively unattractive foreign exchange equivalent of naira denominated salary packages!
Thus, the net result of the sacrifice of our people and our collective self-denial for investment in youth education and human capacity building is ultimately a monumental and bizarre misapplication of the scarce human resources and material required for our survival and national economic development!
So, how did the future of the African youth and by extension the economic viability of countries in the continent become so bleak? When did the selfless spirit of the founding fathers of African political freedom desert us? What was responsible for dampening the erstwhile eagerness of youths to return home after completion of their studies abroad? Some analysts agree that the trend changed, when retrogression was promoted and corruption and inappropriate economic and monetary policies began to drive the business of government.
Nigerians, who were earlier warmly and enthusiastically welcomed as affluent tourists (even without visa requirement) in Europe and America quickly became unwanted guests as erratic and self-serving monetary management made nonsense of the purchasing value of our currency and devastated the income profile of all wage and salary earners in our country. The ensuing brain drain to ‘greener pastures’ robbed us of most of our best intellects, and a collateral decay in educational infrastructure, led to rapidly tumbling standards in our secondary and tertiary institutions!.
The work ethic collapsed, mediocrity thrived and not too long after President Shehu Shagari threatened to use our oil weapon to deal with the United States, Nigerians became regularly numbered amongst the World’s poorest,. The IMF-inspired Structural Adjustment Programme was grafted through the backdoor after 1985, and since then, in spite of bourgeoning dollar balances made possible by over 1000% rise in crude oil prices and significant leaps in production output, the freefall of the naira exchange rate has inexplicably continued unabated; the IMF-inspired naira devaluation has also faithfully served the same purpose of dislocating sustainable economic progress in many other African countries!
SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!!