Archive for June 2007

Celebrating beer in Britain

June 24, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

It was about midnight on Cathays Bridge, Cardiff. Sandra (a student) apparently thought she was on her bed. She sat carelessly at a corner of the bridge, her head bent as if on meditation. Intermittently, her phone rang in her bag. Passersby giggled. But a gentleman came, pulled her up, and took her down the bridge even as she kept mumbling “Smith, my boyfriend, Smith, Smith…”

Binge drinking. That was Sandra’s problem. And that is the major problem currently confronting Britons, especially women. A recent survey of global alcohol consumption found that women in the UK are the worst binge drinkers in the world. The reason is that most of them see it as a social opportunity, a major way to relax.

For instance, March 1, was St. David’s Day. There were celebrations in most parts of the nation. What intrigued me most was the beer festival held the same day. Some restaurants and pubs even reduced their beer prices. People drank to their fill. I wanted to know if St. David, the patron saint of Wales, was a drunk. “No,” my British friend, Lottie, said, “The beer festival has nothing to do with St. David. It’s just that every occasion here is an opportunity to celebrate beer.”

Truly, another opportunity came on Saturday, March 17. It was St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Again, UK was agog with celebrations. Many restaurants and pubs were overcrowded. Residents, old and young, ate, drank and made merry. In the end, the food and drinks they threw away would be enough to feed most of the hungry kids in Africa. I remembered Darfur and its dying citizens. I thought about the malnourished children of Chad, Somalia and even Nigeria. I just felt sorry for Africa.

Currently, a supermarket called Lidl has reduced the prices of most beer brands on its shelves. It calls the promo beer festival. And everybody is urged to come and be part of the unique opportunity. To some, beer festival is everyday. To others, it is every weekend. Nothing bad about that if only they will stop soiling some places with their vomit and claiming rape whenever somebody tries to take advantage of their sorry state.

Campaigns to curb this trend have not yielded the desired result. Instead, the culture seems to be gaining more ground. Violence and different forms of anti-social behaviour are the result. The BBC recently reported that one Nadia, a 25-year-old mother of one, lost her eye when a drunk woman threw a pint glass at her.

Some Nigerians also drink as much. But what keeps their thirst in check sometimes is the price. On festive occasions, Nigerian Breweries or Guinness will increase rather than reduce their prices. Beer dealers will follow suit. Christmas period will soon come. That is when beer prices rise to the roof tops. In a way, this is good for us. Otherwise, most frustrated Nigerians would have been singing “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” everyday at popular bars in town.

 Feedback. Re: Dilemma of Nigerian Immigrants in the UK 

A visit to an Internet café in many Nigerian cities will reveal to any interested observer the desperation of many Nigerian youths to leave the country in search of greener pastures.  

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office noted on its website that the estimated population of Nigerians in the UK could be as much as 3 million comprising different categories of residents. The 2001 UK population census put the size of Nigerian-born UK residents at about 89,000.

Even though there is rising popularity of professional migrant schemes such as the highly skilled migrant programme (HSMP) and the enhanced science and engineering graduate scheme (SEGS) which provide opportunities for skilled individuals and graduates of UK universities to secure employment in the UK, a large number of Nigerian migrants in the UK are unable to avail themselves of opportunities provided by such schemes as a result of their ‘undocumented’ status in the UK which restricts them to certain kinds of odd jobs where available. In some instances, employers take advantage of such migrants’ situation by paying them far below the minimum wage.

With the recent and continuous tightening of immigration rules and controls in the UK, one can say a new wave of pressure is on irregular migrants as it becomes increasingly difficult to secure jobs or explore other avenues of securing the rights to live and work in the UK. In addition to the stricter immigration measures, there is stiff competition for jobs due to the influx of citizens of newly admitted EU countries. 

For migrants who feel they have explored all options of staying in the UK and are considering returning to Nigeria to start over, it might be worth considering the opportunity provided by an intergovernmental agency in the UK called International Organization for Migration (IOM). As part of its mission, it provides different categories of assistance to migrants in the belief that migration should be dignified, orderly and voluntary for the benefit of individuals involved and the society at large. One of such categories of assistance provided by IOM UK is a voluntary return scheme that assists irregular migrants in the UK who wish to return to their countries of origin.

The scheme, which is co-funded by the European Refugee Fund and the UK Home Office, has two categories of this voluntary return assistance – Assisted Voluntary Return for Irregular Migrants (AVRIM) and Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP).  While the AVRIM provides assistance for irregular migrants who have overstayed their visas or have been smuggled /trafficked into the UK, the VARRP provides assistance to asylum seekers at any stage of the asylum process (applied, appealing or refused). Both schemes provide support in helping migrants secure travel documentation, purchasing flight tickets and domestic transportation from their location in the UK to their final destination in the country of return. In addition to this, VARRP provides reintegration assistance (currently to the tune of £2,500 per person) towards helping such migrants to establish small businesses, purchase equipment, continue their education or engage in vocational training that will enable them reintegrate into the system and sustain themselves on their return.

This assisted return programme provides a plausible option for irregular migrants who are increasingly finding it difficult to live under the circumstances they find themselves in the UK. The ultimate solution to the dilemma of Nigerian migrants rests in the hands of our leaders who need to stand up to the challenges of entrenching the right conditions that will make living in Nigeria worthwhile for the citizens. Creating job opportunities, ensuring security of lives and property, improvement in our infrastructure especially regular power supply among others are critical to reducing the brain drain facing the country.

Adeyemi Oyewumi



Season of nudity and eccentric romance

June 17, 2007

Published: Sunday, 17 Jun 2007

It is unfortunate that I have some ladies as next-door neighbours in Cardiff. Most times when I open my window to take in fresh air, the sight of these girls usually confronts me. Their backyard is adjacent my window. And whenever they come out to soak themselves in the summer sun, all they wear are pants and brassieres. Ordinarily, there is no problem with this as it seems to be part of their culture.

The problem though is with my wife. Ever since she returned to Nigeria from the UK, the woman has been seeing fantastic visions. Each time I speak with her these days, she signs off with, “You are enjoying yourself abi?” Her recent text message says it all, “Dear, how are you? Hope fine. I had wanted to tell you this; you will say I have come again. But the message is coming steady. I am seeing you with women. I am not accusing you, but you know yourself…I leave everything in the hands of God.” Perhaps, those neighbours of mine are part of the women blurring my wife’s vision.

Gradually, nudity is becoming a thing of pride and a campaign instrument. On Saturday, 9 June, hundreds of naked cyclists cycled through central London and some other parts of the Western world. They called it the World Naked Bike Ride. And it was to protest the damage done to the environment by over-dependence on cars. The ride was also to project the environmental benefits of cycling. The BBC News website quoted one of the organisers, Duncan Blinkhorn, as saying, “Bikes and naked bodies harm nobody. Car fumes…are driving us all to climate chaos.” This year’s was the fourth with more than 60 cities participating. It started in London and Edinburgh in 2004.

In Cardiff University, the rave now is ‘Get it Out for Cardiff 2007.’ It is a campaign to encourage students to put out their end-of-term rubbish on time for collection and recycling. To draw attention to this, posters advertising it have two nude students – one female and one male. They only cover parts of their nakedness with the rubbish bags they carry. The students union newspaper, Gairrhydd, quoted one Leanne Jones of Keep Wales Tidy as saying, “We have found that in general, campaigns which are off the wall (eccentric or unconventional) work better in claiming attention in a media competitive world.”

Recently, a Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf, published the story of a group of naked people who posed in an Amsterdam multi-storey car park for US photographer Spencer Tunick. About 4,000 people applied in advance to be part of the work of art. Tunick is famous for taking pictures of naked people in public since 1994. Last month, he reportedly took a photo of 18,000 nude people in Mexico City.

Last year, one ex-marine called Stephen Gough was reportedly jailed for four months for stripping in the toilet of a plane flying from Southampton to Edinburgh. The man, who believes that people should be allowed to move about in their natural state, had also been convicted of walking into Edinburgh Sheriff Court naked. He has allegedly been convicted eight times. But in April this year, he escaped another conviction due to insufficient evidence.

Just recently, my class had a picnic at Bute Park in Cardiff. At the park, romance was at its highest. Some lovers were lying on top of each other, smooching and having all sorts of fun. The only thing that remained for them was to have sex openly. However, Cardiff does not hold the world record for simultaneous kissing. That record, according to recent media reports, goes to Hungary.

Maybe, East European countries are trying to recoup what they lost in the era of communism. Remember that a Polish national cut off his penis at Zizzi restaurant in London in April. Reason? He was allegedly unable to get a Polish girlfriend since he came to England. Polish girls tend to prefer black men to their own men. A spokeswoman for the restaurant reportedly said members of staff tried to stop the man when he attempted to enter the kitchen. He then ran into the second kitchen area, picked up a knife, dropped his trousers and slashed his genitals. The police later subdued the 35-year-old man with a CS gas, recovered his severed penis and took him to hospital where surgeons battled to reattach it.

It’s good that our culture still frowns on some of these strange behaviours. We still maintain some form of decency in our dressing and love life. In some places even, you dare not wear seamy dress if you are a woman. Small boys will make caricature of you. Old women will spit at you. But then, things are gradually changing. We are returning to the medieval age when nakedness was a virtue and polygamy, a proof of wealth.

Or how does one explain the advice of our former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, that young Nigerian men should marry two wives. This, he said, would force them to spend their money in Nigeria instead of taking it abroad. It would have been out of character if he had said otherwise. In a forwarded email I received recently on Obasanjo’s scorecard in office, some individuals mischievously scored him highly on women affairs. The major subjects and the scores are reproduced below:

Presidential Exit Certificate

Name of Student : Aremu Mathew Okikiola Olusegun Obasanjo

Class : Second Term (Aso Rock Villa)

Year of Graduation : May 29, 2007

Subject                           Score                   Grade

1. Energy:                         12%                     F9

2. Education:                      8%                      F9

3. Poverty Eradication:        5%                      F9

4. Telecommunication:         40%                   C5

5. Globe Trotting:                100%                 A1

6. Fuel Price Hike:                175%                A1+

7. Credible Election:              2%                   F9

8. Women Affairs:                200%               AAA

Remark : Outstanding! No resit please.

Performance : You be the judge

Signed: Nigerians

Tel: 08060925492/ 08028222988

Thank God for my background. Those female neighbours would have tempted me to also score higher in women affairs than in the main course that brought me to Cardiff.

Job skills Nigerians acquire in the UK

June 10, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 10 Jun 2007

Like an abused widow, he came in, looking agitated. It was not as if something was pursuing him. Rather, this young Nigerian (name withheld) was the one pursuing something. He was at the Graduate Centre of Cardiff University to fill some admission forms. Cardiff University has just asked him to withdraw due to poor performance. That does not seem to perturb him. He is seeking admission into another university. If he is successful, life in the United Kingdom continues. Like some other Nigerian students in Britain, he did not actually come to study, but to work and make money.

Work in this Queen’s land is something most Nigerians treasure. This is because an hour’s work here gives you a minimum of £5.35 (about N1, 364.25). International students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week during term-time. They can work any number of hours during holidays. And the easiest way to get jobs here is to register with recruitment agencies. These agencies can help one to secure a job. Most universities and colleges also have Student Employment Services or Job Shop. They help students to find part-time or holiday work. If you already have some experience, you will be at an advantage.

The major work most Nigerian students do is waiting. As a waiter, you need to know the names of the various food items you serve your customers. You need to be able to distinguish between a French mustard sauce, for instance, and English mustard. You need to know that a horseradish is different from tartar sauce. And you also have to stand for the number of hours you are expected to do the job, serving food, picking plates and wine glasses and attending to some other needs of the customers.

Bar attendants have their own peculiar skills. They are expected to know the names of different wines and beers they sell such that if a customer asks for Brains beer, he does not get Carlsberg instead. In most of the pubs and restaurants, bar attendants serve these drinks in wine or pint glasses filled from a tap. Operating these taps requires some expertise.

Kitchen porter a.k.a. KP is another work most people do in the UK. The major skill you require here is to know how to wash plates. On a very busy day, you can stand at a place washing plates for 12 hours. Even if your palms are as hard as a stone, water will soften them. If you are lucky to have a dishwasher, all you do is to wash off the plaques on the plates a bit and then the machine does the rest.

Some other popular jobs here are store assistant, security, chef, care work, cleaning and fund raising. To be a chef, you need to have the training and a certificate. If you are a fundraiser, then you need to have excellent communication skills because you will be required to be in the streets or go from house to house to raise fund for charity. If you are a care worker, then you need the patience to handle old people and the fortitude to bear their mess.

For skilled professionals, there is the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. This is designed to allow them to migrate to the UK to look for work or self-employment opportunities. To qualify for this scheme, applicants need to score 75 points or more and meet the English language requirement. Points are scored in four main areas: qualifications, past earnings, age assessment and UK experience.

There is also the visiting holidaymaker scheme, whereby a Commonwealth citizen aged between 17 and 30 can come to the UK and work. Successful applicants in this case can stay up to two years in the UK. But you must be able to support yourself and live without claiming certain state benefits.

To most Nigerians, this is better than the no vacancy situation at home. Even those working are not sure of retaining their jobs. In the federal civil service, for instance, about 82, 700 workers have reportedly been sacked since the Nigerian government introduced reforms in the public service in 2006. More are pencilled to go.

For some workers, sudden closures of their companies bring them back to the status of the unemployed. In February, a US oil and gas services company, Willbros, pulled out of Nigeria. The company’s exit after 44 years in Nigeria was sequel to the spate of violence and kidnappings in the Niger Delta region. Also in Port Harcourt, no fewer than five manufacturing companies closed down recently due to some operational difficulties. Among them is the tyre manufacturing giant, Michelin.

High rate of unemployment in Nigeria has persisted principally because of the inconsistencies in government’s macro economic policies. At the inception of his administration in 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo pledged to institute different reforms to jumpstart the economy and create jobs for many jobless citizens. To make this work, the government created the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy. One major aim of this policy was to create millions of jobs. Ironically, millions of jobless citizens were created.

Rural-urban migration and the high population growth rate of the country have also resulted in the rapid growth of the labour force. Besides, educational institutions in Nigeria turn out thousands of graduates every year. Unfortunately, these graduates are not equipped with the necessary skills to face the challenges inherent in the production sector of the economy. And the schools hardly teach students how to be self-employed.

In any case, self-employment is not an easy option. Those who summon the courage to establish their own private businesses soon find out that they have to contend with poor infrastructure. Many companies, for instance, run their operations on generators. This results in low capacity utilisation in most industries and consequently retrenchment and unemployment.

The effects of this high rate of unemployment in the country are enormous. In most major cities, criminal gangs flourish. Those who do not have the heart to go into armed robbery suffer depression, frustration, hopelessness and migration to foreign lands.

The best thing the government can do is to create the enabling environment for the informal sector of the economy to thrive. Some Nigerians have shown through their successes that with focus, determination and the right environment, Nigerians will triumph over unemployment.

Wealthy individuals and non-governmental organisations should complement government’s efforts. They should emulate such organisations as the Youth Business Initiative and the FATE Foundation that are helping to raise young entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

The most important thing is for people to identify their purpose in life. Identifying it attracts people, resources and opportunities that will enable you to succeed. Failure to do this brings about a life punctuated by drifting, confusion, frustration and an escape to foreign universities to seek jobs instead of knowledge.

Dilemma of Nigerian immigrants in the UK

June 3, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 3 Jun 2007

Chris (not real name) was a successful businessman in Lagos. He lived in a duplex and had a fleet of cars. A few years ago, his problems began when the Federal Government banned the importation of the items he was dealing in. First, he moved out from his duplex to another modest accommodation. Then, he grounded some of his cars. And in June last year, Chris had no option but to relocate to the United Kingdom. How he managed to get to the UK is a top secret. But now that he is there, his heart is always in his mouth. Not that he is a criminal. But being an illegal immigrant, any raid by the police anywhere tells him he could be the one they are looking for.

Many Nigerians are in Chris’ shoes. While some are professionals contributing to the development of their countries of residence, the majority are illegal immigrants. Some get to their destinations with fake passports. Some come in as stowaways. Some even walk through the deserts, preferring to die there to living in bondage in Nigeria.

In his farewell nationwide broadcast last Monday, the immediate past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, said many Nigerians had lost hope for the future of the country. “Our citizens were leaving our shores in droves in search of better conditions in more advanced countries of Europe, the United States of America and the Middle East,” the former President said. But he erroneously believed that “many of these people are now returning home and are beginning to actively participate in the country’s development.”

Perhaps, Obasanjo based his statistics on people like the former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whom he lured back to Nigeria with ministerial appointments. Many other Nigerians who sing “He’s a miracle working God” in churches in the UK today are not just mouthing that song. To them, having the opportunity to leave Nigeria is the greatest thing God has done for them. It is immaterial if life in these foreign lands is harsh and brutish.

There is this story of a Nigerian who desperately wanted to live in the UK. He claimed to have come from Liberia on asylum after the UK police caught him and attempted to deport him. He reportedly went for an asylum interview but failed to name one of the popular bridges in Liberia as he was asked to do. He was deported.

Another Nigerian (name withheld) lived in Nottingham, UK, as an illegal immigrant. He reportedly had a heart failure and died in his room without the knowledge of his flat mates and fellow illegal immigrants. His corpse lay in his room for three days unnoticed. It was when the stench from his room became too much and when he could not also pick his phone, that his friends forced his door open and found him dead. They could not report this incident because their stay was illegal. They got somebody else to inform the police about the death as they packed their things and ran out of the house. When the police came, they allegedly found three passports in his room: one Nigerian, one South African and one Zimbabwean, with different names and fake visas. They also went to where he worked and realised he also used different names at different organisations.

The desperation to leave Nigeria at all cost is such that in December 2006, the US State Department ranked Nigeria as the second country with the largest number of applicants for the 2008 US Diversity Visa Lottery. Nigerian applicants totalled 684,000, second after Bangladesh with more than 1.7m applicants.

Britain has no visa lottery. But it plays host to an equally large number of Nigerians. Now, it has tightened its immigration control measures. Hitherto, one could pay some amount of money to get the British visa without attending any visa interview. But with the introduction of the thumbprint of all visa applicants, those holding fake visas are in for a tough time.

Last month, a young Nigerian who has been living in the UK for some years now, wanted to visit home. He had visited Nigeria many times in the past with a fake passport, but nobody had been able to detect that. But this time around, luck was not on his side. British immigration officials caught him at the airport as he came to board a flight to Lagos. They were able to detect that the passport he was holding was not his own. The young man is cooling off in prison now.

Most of those with fake or expired visas in the UK are apprehensive at the moment. They are afraid to go near the airport because they might be caught. They are not comfortable going to work anymore because they may be victims of an impromptu raid by immigration officials. Their condition has become that of a tick that perched on a scrotum – leave it, you are in trouble; kill it, you are in trouble.

If not for the self-centredness of our leaders, will Nigerians be dying to leave their country at all cost? The roads are deaths traps, but nobody cares to maintain them. The hospitals have remained mere consulting clinics. Constant electricity has continued to be a mirage. Some companies are closing down due to poor infrastructure. And unemployment is at its peak.

The country is richly endowed. But it has remained in the league of poor, underdeveloped nations because the environment is not right for its highly qualified citizens to thrive. They therefore help in developing the economies of their countries of residence while their own country rots away.

For the unskilled ones, migration means living as second-class citizens. All they do is to wash plates, serve as waiters and do security and other odd jobs. The women among them are even worse off. The Independent of London, in September 2006, reported that women migrants who travelled to Britain and other developed countries were put at risk of exploitation and abuse because governments overlooked and ignored them. The newspaper quoted a report of the United Nations Population Fund as saying that governments in the West were not doing enough to protect women from forced migration in the forms of sex trafficking, enforced marriages and employment abuses.

The new government of Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua should, as a matter of urgency, create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths. It should also improve the infrastructure in the country. This will encourage people to establish businesses that will employ jobless citizens. Hence, poverty will be reduced and migration will cease to be attractive.

By and large, Nigerians should realise that migrating to Europe and America will not solve their problems. Chris is in a dilemma now. He wishes to come back and pick the pieces of his broken life, but his visa has since expired. He leaves on borrowed time in the UK. When and how he will come back remain a mystery.