Celebrating beer in Britain

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





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