Two recent news items caught my attention: Desperate to go abroad (Vanguard, October 25, 2009), and Nigerians, others top list of asylum seekers (Guardian, October 27, 2009). Quoting United Nations’ statistics, the Guardian wrote: “Pounded at home and desperate to keep hope alive, Nigerians are among the top nationalities fleeing their own country and seeking asylum in industrialized nations…by the end of the first quarter of 2008, 2,471 Nigerians had been registered, while for the same period this year, that number is now 3,793.” No numbers were given for asylum seekers in developing countries.
The Vanguard tells us that, “the desperation on the part of many Nigerians to travel out of the country is believed to have reached an alarming level in recent times…visit to some embassies in Lagos revealed scenes of absurdity involving many Nigerians, both young and old, desperate to flee their country…always a crowd of visa seekers jostling and fighting desperately under the sun or rain to be attended to… the visa they seek is as important as the Holy Grail, which explains why they are prepared to sacrifice anything, including their dignity, comfort and personal safety in their quest for it.”
In a recent essay, I wrote: “Although conditions differ from one country to another, by and large, what we have is a continent where a sizeable number of the people – especially those between the ages of 18 and 45 — cannot wait to go into exile. They cannot wait to get out of their respective countries. Nigeria is an archetypal example of a country where, if embassies assured travel visas, 70 per cent or more of the college students would leave on their own volition.” The general conditions are also dire for non-students. The fact is that the practical reality of everyday life in Nigeria, for most, is that of misery and nothingness.
Things are so bad and sad and unfortunate and incomprehensible that, Sonala Olumhense, one of Nigeria’s great, is calling for a revolution of some sort. But of course, things have been getting worse by the month every year for the last thirty years. Really, Nigeria is a sad and sorry case. Our Nationalists endured all kinds of maltreatment, inconveniences and deprivations at the hands of colonial-Britain so that we and the coming generations may have a better life: a life of great possibilities and boundless opportunities.
There were political miscalculations here and there, challenges here and there; but for the most part, the early years of our independence were periods of immense optimism and sanguinity. Standing on the shoulder of giants, we were going to extend the frontiers of knowledge, and we were going to go into the world and make our country and the global community a better place for all. It was wonderful to be a Nigerian. And for a long time, our presence was felt in all the great institutions of the world. Within two generations — four at the most — Nigeria was going to be a member of the industrialized community. We had the human and natural resources. The energy and the creativity were also there.
But it was not to be. Painfully, the civil war came, followed by several years of military coups. In between, there were civilian administrations that were no better than military autocracies. Into this mix of maladministration were several incidences of religious and ethnic cataclysms, and corruption, and various forms of political malfeasances. Gradually, the political space became corrupted by men and women with no regard for the law or for ethics and morality. With no sense of nationhood, or of belonging to a caring nation, the people became detached, and in some cases, turned against the government and its institutions.
Almost fifty years after Awolowo, Dappa Biriye, Azikiwe, Osadebay, Balewa, Ikoli, Enahoro and hundreds of extraordinary men and women risked their lives so Nigerians can be free from the manacles of humiliation, servitude and oppression — we are back where we started: struggling. Today we struggle against tyranny and want; we struggle against fetid social conditions and diseases; we struggle against ignorance and mental slavery. We struggle for the most basic of all basic human needs. And so, one cannot but believe that the goal and the labor of our nationalists have been wasted.
THE PUSH FOR EXILE
Today’s Nigeria does not even resemble the Nigeria of the 1960s and 70s. Optimism has faded. In so many ways, one feels sorry for the next generation. To think we are not leaving a better life and a better legacy for them is just so painful, unconscionable. You look around the country, and you wonder: what does this country have to offer? For instance, the educational system in 2009 is not even half as good as that of earlier times. The country cannot boast of a quality health care system. Its network of roads and bridges and rail lines cannot be considered modern in any sense of the word.
The political system is such that it does nothing but encourage corruption, mediocrity and third rate leadership. The entire system — economic, cultural, social and political — stifles creativity, brilliance and good citizenship. We have a country where, unless you are of the wealthy and/or influential class, you, beginning at age 16 or so, know and believe that Nigeria is a wasteland, with nothing to offer. And so you plan. You scheme. You cast your mind to a country or group of countries where you could realize your full potential — a country where you can be more than your raw-self. At that age, you know that Nigeria is just a space, a mere space. Not a country that cares.
And even if you had managed to achieve a measure of success, by the time you turn 45 or 50, you may come to the realization that you have wasted the last twenty-five years of your life, doing and achieving nothing of substance. No job security. No investment portfolio. No retirement benefits. Nothing! You get desperate. You look into the future. What you see — assuming you see anything– is bleak. You look at your children and wonder if they too will go through similar life experience you’ve had. You wonder and you panic. At midlife, you may begin to plan for a life in exile.
A BLEAK FUTURE
You plan for a life abroad. At forty, forty-five or fifty, you become a stranger in a strange country. For some, the immigration process can be easy and smooth. They may have all the paperwork and have a family abroad that will accommodate them and show them the ropes. For the vast majority, however, they may have to take the illegal or not-so-easy route. Year after year, hundreds die crossing the Sahara Desert. Hundreds get arrested and gets incarcerated in various African countries. Hundred lost their lives crossing turbulent seas. Hundreds get enslaved or go into prostitution in various African and European countries. Either way, lives are lost or shattered; hope or aspirations abridged.
That is the destiny of some Nigerians. Their country failed them and they may also fail abroad. But does it matter? No! What matters is that they get the hell out of the hellhole called Nigeria. At that point, all they want to do is turn their back on a country that has turned its back on them. The destination of choice for most is the industrialized countries of the west. In recent years, Eastern European countries also feature prominently on the list. Within the African continent, South Africa and Ghana are the
two-top destinations; otherwise, any country would do: Iraq or Iran or Pakistan, Iceland, India or Malaysia, Burkina Faso or Chad, Mali or Madagascar. It doesn’t matter. Overseas is overseas. Anywhere but Nigeria would do.
In their desperation — and because embassies in Nigeria have sensed the desperation of many Nigerians — they are subjected to all manner of ill-treatments. By all accounts, some embassies have taken to treating visa-seeking Nigerians as though diseased and/or less human. Dogs and cats in America and Britain are treated far better than most Nigerians who visit these embassies. I don’t know what the requirements are for gaining entry into the kingdom of God; but whatever the requirements may be, they sure must be less stringent when compared to the sadistic hoops and loops at these embassies. In spite of all the abuse and dehumanizing treatments, Nigerians still flock to these embassies.
THE FUTURE OF NIGERIA
It wasn’t too long ago when people flocked to Nigeria. That was the time when Nigeria was the place to be; when Nigeria was considered the Mecca for all Black people and people of various color and nationalities. We have lost that aura, that power. The country has been in decline and is declining fast. David Brooks it was who said, “Centuries ago, historians came up with a classic theory to explain the rise and decline of nations. The theory was that great nations start out tough-minded and energetic. Toughness and energy lead to wealth and power. Wealth and power lead to affluence and luxury. Affluence and luxury lead to decadence, corruption and decline.”
Nigeria was tough-minded and energetic. No doubt about that. Without going through any of the predictable stages, it, in a spate of 35 or so years, found itself in decadence and decline. This was a great nation, at least potentially a great nation, that has now become a tragedy, a calamity, a wasteland.
In spite of the ongoing reality, and in spite of one’s sense of loss and disillusionment, one has to be hopeful about the future. However, the future of Nigeria lay in the hands of the younger generation, mostly the under 45. But they must truly want their country back and in the process redesign the type of country and system they want for themselves and their children.