THE euphoria of the recently concluded Federation of International Football Associations, FIFA, World Cup in Russia has turned sour for Nigeria. Beyond the early exit of the Super Eagles at the preliminary stage, hundreds of our compatriots got stranded after the championship.
Days after the end of the global fiesta, distressing videos and photos of stranded Nigerian youths sleeping on the streets of Russia trended like wildfire. In a scenario reminiscent of the migrant slave trade scandal recently exposed by the CNN, videos of Nigerian young men calling for help to return to their country made the rounds.
These Nigerian fans became isolated when their peers from other countries went home because most of them went there for reasons other than cheering the Super Eagles. Some went to look for work or economic opportunities, while others were said to have fallen into the hands of travel scammers.
Help was slow in reaching them. A Russian charity, Alternativa, was reported to have helped bring back 50 out of the estimated 200 Nigerians. The Governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, also assisted another group of 50 Nigerians he ran into while in Russia, to come home. Finally, President Muhammadu Buhari, while on a recent official visit to the Netherlands, ordered the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State for Aviation to bring back the grounded Nigerians.
We join millions of grateful fellow Nigerians to commend the Russian charity group, Alternativa, and Governor Ambode for their kind gestures. We are also pleased that President Buhari stepped in proactively to get the helpless migrants back home just as he did when the Libya migrant crisis became a festering sore on the conscience of Nigeria.
It is very shocking that in spite of the harrowing experiences that thousands of Nigerians have been going through which have been abundantly shown on all platforms across the internet and social media, Nigerians still continue to troop to strange foreign countries in search of often non-existent greener pastures. Thousands of Nigerian and African illegal migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea, the Sahara Desert and at the hands of human traffickers. Thousands more were luckier to return with their bodies and souls permanently and irreparably scarred, yet, more youths are willing to risk everything to leave the country.
This is a great challenge for our political leaders to create opportunities for our citizens to thrive within our economy. Nigeria is richly blessed with enormous potentials but without visionary leadership, our people, especially the youth, will continue to advertise our shame for the world to see. The 2019 general election is another opportunity for Nigerians to search for visionary leaders to actualise Nigeria’s potentials into a great nation. But will they grab it?