Mussing with AFOLABI GAMBARI, Email afo.afolabi@gmail.com

Prior to the ban on international travels occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic, a visit to the departure hall of the international wing of Murtala Muhammed Airport depicted a market-like atmosphere. First time visitors could believe that the lot of people either came into the hall to see off loved ones or were just on a casual visit. But a close observation would soon reveal that travelers were more than those accompanying them to say ‘safe trip’. Further probing would also reveal desperate faces eager to get into the departure lounge onward the aircrafts before taking to the skies to God-knows-where.

Some of the travelers would also volunteer words, if prodded even a little. “This country wastes and I just can’t wait to get out of here,” one would say with a grim posture. “I know it would be hard over there but I am also sure it would be worth more than staying back here and getting frustrated every day,” another would chip in.

To the non-travelers, there was only one question that stood out like a sore thumb: why are they leaving when they are not really sure what awaits them where they are headed? The answer can’t be far-fetched, though it can still be, depending on the honesty or otherwise in providing the answer. But there is something unmistakable, that is, things are fast falling apart in Nigeria, especially in meeting basic needs.

As risky as the venture of migrating without requisite documents, there are still humane people at the other end who just cannot afford see fellow humans suffer. Not without a huge sacrifice, anyway. In meeting the migrants’ needs, however, lots of problems have been created for the home governments. But the Nigerian migrants have been less considerate in dealing with the host governments than they are in their desperate move to leave Nigeria.

In Europe, there have been a unanimous decision that the solution to the migrant crisis cannot be delayed further in view of its escalation in recent months, particularly as it concerns the vulnerable among the African migrants who include children, pregnant women and sundry others.

It took a summit of European Union heads of government in Brussels, Belgium on June 28 and 29 2018 to avert a migrant crisis. But a deal reached at the summit could have caused a serious setback as the EU leaders failed to agree on the details of how the African migrants would be shared among member countries. Nonetheless, it was agreed that the summit would address the finer details which include carefully separating genuine asylum seekers from regular migrants.

To this date, not a cogent reaction has come from the Nigerian government in acknowledging the EU measure.

To be sure, there was still reaction, though it was feeble, to say the very least. President Muhammadu Buhari, apparently under pressure from the EU on the need to stem the illegal migration of Nigerians to Europe, declared that the citizens of his country who defied the odds to cross Mediterranean into Europe were on their own. “Our administration will not condone indiscipline or illegality and therefore will not support the illegal migration in any way,” Buhari told visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Abuja in August 2018.

In October 2018, Buhari also offered a reaction on the issue as the Namibian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Peingeondjabi Shipoh, paid him a visit at the Aso Villa in Abuja. “Illegal migration of our people to Europe, all in the bid to take up menial jobs, hurts our country’s pride,” he told his guest, although he also stated that Nigeria would give aid to its citizens who were trapped in odds and would be evacuated home when the need arose. Whether or not it was lip service, Buhari also said: “Our government is doing everything possible to make Nigeria livable for all.”

Nigeria has contributed the largest number of African migrants into Europe at 387,739 (according to December 2017 estimates) and there is unanimity in opinion that the migration owes mainly to the unfavourable living conditions at home.

In recent months as the Covid-19 pandemic raged, the Chairperson of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NidCom), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, made giant strides in either interceding for some Nigerian illegal immigrants facing raw deals abroad or overseeing the deportation of others who fall foul of the immigration laws of the countries they have migrated to. But despite her efforts, there is a steady increase in the number of Nigerians seeking greener pastures in Europe as soon as normalcy in international travels returns, with no legal documents to back up their quest. The last four months have witnessed evacuation of Nigerians from various countries around the world, among which are South Africa, Sudan, United States, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Italy and United Arab Emirates over immigration irregularities.

The coming months would determine if Nigerians have learned enough lessons in travelling legally. But doubts are still cast, however, as long as the dreadful conditions at home continue to breed desperation among the citizens. 

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