By Evelyn Usman
A chartered Boeing 737-800 aircraft- Al Buraq, landed at the cargo wing of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja Lagos, Wednesday night, with 159 stranded Nigerians returnees from Libya ,alighting from the air stair.
Two of them could barely walk unassisted. While one sat on a wheelchair, the other was with crutches. They stood at the aircraft’s service door, unable to alight, until officials of the National Emergency Management Agency ,NEMA went to carry them to a waiting ambulance.
The returnees’ gloomy countenances changed immediately they stepped on the soil of their fatherland, a mission most of them thought was impossible owing to the near-death conditions treatments in their search for a better living condition in a strange land.
Statistics of returnee
This is not the first time stranded Nigerians would be assisted back home from Libya. Statistics at Saturday Vanguard’s disposal revealed that between 2016 and February 2022, 17,414 Nigerians have been assisted back home from Libya alone.
A breakdown of this figure showed that 315 Nigerians voluntarily returned in 2016; 6,806 returned in 2017; 4,123 in 2018 and 4,628 in 2019.
In 2020, 816 stranded Nigerian returnees were assisted back home from Libya and 360 of them in 2021. Between January and February 2022 alone, the nation has witnessed the return of 346 stranded Nigerians .
Out of this number, 167 were repatriated from Libya , in addition to the 159 Nigerians that voluntarily returned on Wednesday . Among the latest returnees were 80 adult females, four female children and an infant . There were also 67 adult males, six children and one male infant.
Astonishingly, the majority of the ladies whose ages were between 20 and 43, were discovered to be from the South West region of the state, as against previous insinuation that girls from Edo State were specialists in travelling out of the country.
With the number of Nigerian returnees from Libya and the constant reportage of their near death experiences there, one would have expected Nigerian youths to shun the temptation of attempting to go through the valley of death in their search for greener pasture.
Surprisingly, among those who just returned were undergraduates who abandoned their studies in Nigeria . Some of them were also discovered to have left just last year , thereby leaving one to wonder if they never read the robust reports of previous returnees either on the pages of newspapers or on different social media handles.
One of the returnees who proffered an answer to this question blamed some travel agents for their woes, saying they were never told from the onset that their destination was Libya. But this has always been the story, yet many yearly embark on this grave journey.
Too late to turn back
For Mrs Olaitan who hails from Oyo State, she had this to say: “ My journey to Libya started when I got the news that I could get a good job overseas. I left my job at Ikeja, Lagos to embark on the journey for a better life. I left Lagos in 2018, with some other people who were also deceived. The agents said some of us were going to Germany and others, Italy. We were excited as we prepared for the journey . We were told that the process would start when we got to Kano state.
The journey to greener pastures took us about a month. Some of us were stranded and ran out of cash. We passed so many terrorist camps before we got to Libya. We stayed without food for days until we eventually reached Libya.
“What we saw in Libya wasn’t what we were told. Rather, we were told that the available jobs were prostitution and house-help. By then, going back home was difficult. We were used like slaves, with no time to rest.
“We worked as a maid and were paid between N50,000 and N70,000, depending on the agreement with the family we worked for. But prostitution was the best chance of survival. Those who worked in the hospital also had their fair share of the hellish condition.
I paid up to N2million to settle with my agent. Many others went into prostitution because that was the fastest way they could pay their agents”.
On her part, 32- year- old single mother, Oluwande Aisha, who left Nigeria in 2018, also said her agent never told her she was going to Libya.
She said: “ We spent one month in the desert before we arrived Libya. On reaching there, I worked as a maid for one year and six months before I could pay N1.8 million to the agent who sponsored the trip.
Working as a maid is horrible. There was never a time to rest except after midnight. We were drained to the extent that we had no strength to work. Besides, security agents were very unfriendly too. I regret making that move and I am glad to be home”
Abandoned university education
For 28-year Foluke Olatunji, she abandoned her education at the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Ilorin, Kwara State, with the intention to go to Europe to further her study and at the same time, work.
She said: “ I had a friend who had been assisting me for a long time, when I lamented about the situation in Nigeria. At one point she stopped and suggested I should come over . I thought over the matter for two months before deciding to leave.
“My journey started at Agege, Pen Cinema, to Kano, where I met other girls . On our journey in the desert, our vehicle had technical problems. I got scared and started crying, I wanted to go back but I was told to pay N100,000.
“When I got to Libya, the woman I was supposed to meet was nowhere to be found. I was told she was in Italy. I confronted my friend who linked me up with the opportunity to express my disappointment to her because this was not what we agreed.
“ I spent three years and some months in Libya working as a house maid. I was told to pay 1.7million naira to the agent that facilitated the journey. I was shocked and surprised because none of this was mentioned to me, I was only promised help, and was told that whatever I wished to do after, would be appreciated. Other Nigerian ladies I met there told me how they were deceived with mouth watery promises of good jobs.
For me, the family I stayed with could speak English .So, it was easy for me to communicate. However after paying, my agent still collected my 10 months’ salary, without giving me a dime. This was because we were not paid directly.
“ I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t inform my parents about my journey to Libya. Even when I got there, I lied to them that I was in Dubai. I came back to Nigeria to continue my education, even if I have to start afresh. I hope other Nigerian youths will learn from my story” she said bitterly.
Chained for 10 days
During a chat with 23-year-old Bose, an Ogun state born, she spoke with difficulty as she was still writhing in excruciating pains from her broken leg.
Her ordeal was the most pathetic as she revealed that she was chained for 10 days for refusing to go into prostitution , in order to pay her agent.
According to her: “After completing my apprenticeship in nursing here in Nigeria, I got an opportunity to work overseas as a trainee for six months. I was not the only one involved. I got excited and jumped on the opportunity. I went with my certificate with the hope of getting a job after the training, unknown to all of us that we were being taken to Libya for prostitution and human trafficking.
“The picture of what we would face yonder started in the one month journey in the desert. When we arrived there, I was shocked that all they told us about getting jobs and training were lies.
“Rather, I was sold to a Nigerian family . This was a routine for everyone who was taken there with the promise of getting a Job. To my greatest surprise, the human trafficking business was mostly done by Nigerians who have stayed long there. That is one major way of making money. They sell us to families in need of our services, especially for prostitution ,so we can be used to make money for them.
On getting to the Nigerian family I was sold to, I was chained with wire and a cloth was put in my throat, with tape covering my mouth. They told me I would remain there if I refused to go into prostitution, that it was the only job they could offer me. I rejected the offer and I was kept in a room for about a week and three days. The wife of the man later directed that I should be untied and sold away. “ When I got to the second family, I was taken to a place called connection house for prostitution. In the connection house, both boys and girls were kept there for prostitution. That is also a place where human beings are sold as in the days of slave trade
“I was lucky to get a telephone call from a man there , with which I contacted my family. That was how I managed to escape to Nigeria’s embassy.
“ But other girls are still trapped there. Some died of diseases while a lot of them are living with different types of venereal diseases because of the different types of men who came to have them against their volition. Some of these men would not take their bath for days . Some of them who looked sickly would not use condom”.
NEMA DG speaks
Director General of NEMA, Alhaji Mustapha Ahmed who received the last batch of Nigerian returnees from Libya , Wednesday, admonished them to adopt a positive attitude towards life challenges.
Represented by the Lagos Territorial Office Coordinator, Ibrahim Farinloye, he said, “It is normal in life to struggle for better and improved living conditions. But in the struggle, we must avoid endangering our lives. There is nowhere in the world that its citizens will not have to strive to attain a good life within the limited resources available in that country.
“Nigeria is better endowed than most countries where young Nigerians are travelling to seek greener pastures. What we need to do is for all of us to look inward and avail ourselves of the countless opportunities in Nigeria.
“ Government of the day has been providing an enabling environment for us to thrive and will continue to cooperate with development partners in creating level playing grounds for all Nigerians in the country”, he said even as he advised them to discourage other youths who have the intention of migrating.