By Tabia Princewill
THE shocking CNN video of African migrants (of which many Nigerians) are being auctioned off as slaves should weigh heavily on our collective conscience.
Some see them as fools tempted by the mirage of a better life abroad while others condemn them for falling through the cracks of society and not being “sharp” enough to make something out of nothing by using whatever meagre ressources they have to start a business etc.
I won’t waste time tackling the Nigerian propensity for insensitivity which blames ordinary people for their misfortune and celebrates criminals in and outside politics for being crooked enough to break the law with no consequences.
Beyond the socio-economic factors of migration (which are acknowledged, to be honest, only in passing as we would rather blame people for being gullible than accept anyone could be that desperate), we must attempt to understand the psychology of migrants and to pay more attention to what is happening in Nigeria’s hinterland, the many forgotten villages and towns cut off from major cities where people live almost as if they weren’t a part of this country.
There are far too many parts of this country which many of us from the relative comfort of our city dwellings (in comparison to what the rest of Nigeria has to contend with) neither know nor contend with. Abject poverty, from generation to generation, a fate unchanged by political parties or seasons, is the lot of the gross majority of our people.
Beyond the ease of victim blaming or the simplistic appeals for Nigerians to stay in Nigeria, without systemic change, that is, without creating first a society where talent and meritocracy ensure success rather than nepotism and the willingness (or the ability) to break the law, people will keep fleeing a country they see as a dead end, no matter the risks.
Also, so long as corruption ensures gaps in our institutions, there will always be a market for traffickers to establish themselves. We don’t seem to realise just how powerful and well organised the trafficking networks are operating across West Africa. Foreign media outlets who’ve interviewed migrants are full of tales of kidnap and murder: abduction is one of the many ways people are trafficked and find themselves in situations they didn’t choose.
In other cases, agents promise migrants safe passage to Europe and turn out to be traffickers, buying and selling slaves on behalf of other partner organisations.
One must ask why it is so easy for hordes of people to leave West Africa without alerting the authorities. Have some government agencies or beneficiaries been historically complicit? A few years ago, Wikileaks published a story on an infamous Northern businessman who was alleged to be close to a certain Northern government. Wikileaks called him “the go to man to bring in girls, drugs and arms or conversely to export them”.
Barely a few years later it was announced that he was marrying a governor’s daughter. Corruption in Nigeria has cost us dearly. The CNN documentary on the Libyan slave auction traced its roots to Nigeria.
A woman who was able to escape detailed how fear of her family being harmed by traffickers and threats of “spiritual attacks” made her willingly leave Nigeria with her captors. Traffickers use all sorts of means to get people to submit to them.
It would have been obvious to the reporter that local governments are barely functional in most parts of Nigeria, otherwise how could such monstrosities happen right under the government’s nose? Many states in Nigeria are failed states, they exist in name alone. They can neither pay salaries nor secure their citizens’ lives and property.
The rest of us are complicit through our laissez-faire attitude. However, history has shown that once injustice consumes the defenceless, it isn’t long till it starts to eat away at those who thought themselves isolated from harm. I must also add that the woman says she was trafficked by a well-known figure in her community: her ‘pastor’.
Before we scream about the inhumanity of Libyans towards us, their local agents and “suppliers” are Nigerians, Ghanaians, Cameroonians etc. who trade in human beings with as much feeling as they would sell yam or cocoa.
Risks of migration
There needs to be a concerted effort to educate people about the risks of migration and more widely, to educate Nigerians as a whole. There are millions of Nigerians who don’t vote or participate in public life, who aren’t even aware of the debates or questions agitating the middle class.
These are people to whom things like “PDP convention” or “Buhari’s illness” which although they dominate the news in certain circles, to most Nigerians mean nothing. These are people who don’t have ID cards, who live day to day without much knowledge or contact with formalised governance or statehood.
They don’t have bank accounts, jobs, electricity or any of the basic things the formal economy or society should provide individuals. They’re simply living off the grid, outside of everything. It could be 2017 or 1960 in some villages in this country and you almost wouldn’t know the difference. It’s not just tragic, it’s alarming.
“Checking out” has, therefore, been fashionable for a long time, in fact so much so that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) used to advertise leaving Nigeria, using the fictional Andrew character which encouraged seeking greener pastures abroad.
A generation of Nigerians, roughly between the 1970s and 1990s mentally “checked out”. We began to accept corruption and injustice as the norm, aggressively hording whatever opportunities we could, never minding the rest of society, believing that we could continue to be ok so long as we could get government contracts because we knew Mr. X or Y.
Falling standard of living
Over time we became too engaged in our own personal struggles for survival, coupled with our defeatist “na so we see am” attitude, to mount any sort of concerted response to the falling standard of living. Politicians turned Nigerians of all social classes to beggars, now we’re paying for it.
Today, Nigerians are a little less accepting. We voted out a President and voted in a new one, but it’s ironic that after barely two and a half years of APC, some people say “it’s worse than PDP”.
Where were their complaints during the PDP’s 16 years of misrule, when uncountable sums which should have changed all our lives vanished? We’ve been silent at the wrong times of our history and vocal at strange moments.
We fought the government when it arrested judges even while we acknowledge the judiciary is a huge part of our problem, because it is easily compromised and bribed, allowing thieves to get away with “perpetual injunctions” etc. When will we stop mentally “checking out” and allowing ourselves to be manipulated and impoverished?