By Babatunde Jose
In times like these, we need a Savior
In times like these, we need an anchor
Travelling across the Sahara Desert with a view to crossing the Mediterranean into Europe is not a new phenomenon. It started years back with the deterioration of the country’s economy and the lackadaisical attitude of our leaders to the plight of our teeming youth population.
Several years ago, an old friend told me a tale of his woes in search of the proverbial ‘greener pastures’. He had been a station officer in the Nigeria Airways, and had even served in various stations including the London Office of the airline. Suddenly, the airline developed hiccups and my friend alias, ‘Baba Seventy’ found himself in the unemployment line. In desperation, he joined a band of ‘Andrews’ who wanted to check out, and found his way to Gaddafi’s Libya: It was to be a harrowing experience for him and the lucky few who survived the tortuous journey across the Sahara Desert. Armed with ’Cabin’ Biscuits and water; which had to be rationed like ‘holy sacrament’, they had a very gory story to tell. And you bet, it was not like Gulliver’s Travel. In the end there was no Eldorado in Libya but suffering; the like of what Fela would describe as ‘Pansa Pansa’. But, unlike today’s émigrés, our friend voluntarily, found his way back to Nigeria, courtesy of the Nigerian Embassy. Compared to the travails of today’s Libya slaves, Tunde was very lucky; he has since picked up his life and is living well in the evening of his life.
The horror stories of the Libya slave trade; brought to us in living pictures, of man’s inhumanity to man, is a sad commentary on a continent and its leadership that has jettison youth education, employment, development and empowerment. Here in particular, it is very telling on a nation that has sentenced its army of youths into a state of tattered penury and despondency. They have been sociologically, politically and economically castrated, emasculated and impoverished. Having become hewers of wood and drawers of water, in their own country, and unable to find succour within their immediate environment, many have decided to jump the sinking ship called Nigeria to find whatever life holds for them in another clime: Hence, the decision to embark on the ‘slave route’. It is however, no surprise that active participants in this ignoble trade include fellow Nigerians.
Hope is the greatest motivator of the human mind. Hope makes the difference between going forward and despondency. When there is hope, the struggle continues, and efforts to change the situation is not jettisoned; but when all hope is lost and the future is bleak without a silver lining in the clouds and frustration and depression have set in and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, the mind will accept whatever alternative that is suggested to it. At that moment in the life of a desperate creature, projects such as the ‘Libya Slave Route’ becomes an attractive proposition. There is no doubt; the opportunities available to the youth in this country are very limited in terms of avenues for getonity. Before now, making a living for fresh graduates was a possibility and there was hope for a better future; however, that hope for a better future has been progressively eroded. There is therefore, no surprise when able bodied young men pay some unscrupulous travel agents, good money for a journey of no return to the slave market in the deserts of North Africa.
Desperation will make a man accept a diner invitation from the devil. There is this joke about a lady who was promised a voyage to Europe by a sailor. He allegedly stowed her in one of the holds in the ship and brings her out only at night. He was supplying her with food, water and drinks and off course regular sexual intercourse. One day, the Captain came across her and asked what she was doing on his boat. She then told him of her arrangement with the sailor and that she was on her way to Europe. The Captain could not contain his laughter. He informed her that she had been suckered: She was on a ferry that plied between Lagos and Ikorodu. If this was a joke, the plight of other girls is not. Many have perished on the sea, in inflatable rubber dinghies, trying to cross the Mediterranean.
There is no doubt, if the country has been conducive to their general wellbeing and they have the hope of a better tomorrow, things would not have turned this way for them.
According to UNICEF, everyday thousands travel this route, with the hope of reaching safety in Europe; fleeing wars, violence and poverty. They endure exploitation, abuse, brutality and detention. Thousands die. It is not only a risky route taken by desperate people, but also a billion-dollar business controlled by criminal networks: It is called the Central Mediterranean Migration Route. It is among the deadliest journeys in the world for children. A lack of safe and legal alternatives means they have no option but to use it. In 2016, over 181,000 migrants, including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children, put their lives in the hands of smugglers to reach Italy.
It is a pity that in this 21st century, Africa is still finding it very difficult to provide the necessary leadership for its ever-increasing youth population. Many African youths still cannot see the hope of ever achieving their dreams in their respective home countries, hence, the need to leave their respective countries on this gruesome journey of having to cross the Mediterranean, seeking for a greener pasture in Europe.
Lasting solution must be put in place to help the youths of this continent. Opportunities must be created for these young ones to thrive in their own countries. It is sad that a country like Nigeria that claims to be the giant of Africa and Africa’s largest economy, cannot have value for its youths than creating unemployment crises among its growing population. There is no continent in the world which has forsaken its youth more than Africa. If Africa as a continent would ever become great, it must rise up for its young people. African leaders must quit being irresponsible and wake up to do the needful. When there are structures and programs in place to help African youths thrive and grow in their respective countries; the notion that if people don’t get to Europe or America they wouldn’t make it would be systematically eradicated.
Let African leaders develop our educational system and make them robust; let them create opportunities that would create jobs for young people after leaving school. Let African government create opportunities for young people to start their own businesses and then thrive in it and every bottleneck for young people participating in politics is removed: At independence, the likes of Obafemi Awolowo 37; Ahmadu Bello 36; Tafawa Balewa 34; Okotie Eboh 27; and Azikiwe being the eldest at 42 had fought and won for us our emancipation from colonial rule; what then is the hope for the Nigerian youths? At Ojukwu 33, Obasanjo 29 and Buhari 24; all played pivotal role in the building of this nation. It is instructive that at 35, many are still under the roof of their parents. Yet, in 1966 Nzeogwu led the coup at 29; Murtala Muhammed was 28, Danjuma 28, Babangidas 25, Joseph Garba 23, Abacha 23, Yar’Adua 23: Note also that MT Mbu was foreign minister at 23 and Pat Utomi was a Presidential Adviser at 23. We might then as: Wither the opportunities for our youth? The answer is blowing in the wind: Paradise Lost.
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend