Deportees as symbol of a failing state

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 18 May 2008

IN JUNE 2006, some Nigerian deportees allegedly caused pandemonium at the Caracas International Airport in Venezuela. They had disembarked from a commercial flight from Trinidad en route to Lagos. As they were to go through Madrid in Spain, they got to the tarmac to board an Iberia flight to Madrid. But, as they were boarding, they reportedly started shouting “asylum, asylum.” Aboard the aircraft, the shouting continued. Nauseated, the captain of the aircraft refused to move, saying the Nigerians posed a risk to the flight. Normality returned when officers of the Venezuela National Guard ejected the Nigerians and took them into custody. The following day, Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard sent an aircraft that brought the deportees back to that country.

Although we are not fighting any war, nor are we afflicted by natural disasters, Nigerians have continued to emigrate from their country en masse. The unlucky ones are caught and sent back to the country. Last Wednesday, about 156 Nigerians were deported from Libya. Some of the deportees included a four-month-old baby and her mother, who said she was actually heading for Italy to join her husband. Last year, Libya repatriated over 700 Nigerians from its territory. The deportations were for either criminal or immigration offences. Also, last year, the United States Department of Homeland Security reportedly repatriated about 50, 000 Nigerian illegal immigrants.

Some of these deportations had ended on a sour note. In November 2000, thousands of Nigerian deportees from Libya staged a demonstration in Abuja. Their grouse was that the Nigerian government allegedly refused to pay them $25m the Libyan government purportedly provided for their resettlement. In May 2001, a 27-year-old Nigerian asylum seeker, Samson Chukwu, died in a detention centre in Switzerland as the authorities of that country attempted to deport him forcibly. Last year, Osamuyi Akpitanhi met his own untimely death when Spanish immigration authorities tried to forcibly deport him to Nigeria. Similar tragic death of Nigerian deportees had been recorded in such countries as Austria, Belgium, Germany and some other Western nations.

Perhaps, this was why some Nigerians decided to intervene to save their compatriot from forcible deportation at the Heathrow Airport in London last month. The intervention sparked off a row. One issue led to the other and, pronto, about 136 Nigerian passengers were asked to disembark from the Lagos-bound British Airways aircraft. Many Nigerians have expressed disgust over this incident and have been campaigning for a boycott of British Airways.

The fundamental questions are: if the living condition in our country is good, will our countrymen be migrating in their thousands to other countries? If there are employment opportunities in the country, will they seek asylum in Trinidad, Spain, or Belgium? And what could have made Nigerians prefer staying in prisons abroad to coming back home?

Recall that the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, last month, expressed surprise that Nigerian citizens serving various jail terms abroad rejected attempts to bring them back to serve their jail terms in Nigeria.

Surely, Maduekwe would have known the reasons by now. Earlier this month, THE PUNCH published a report, which indicates that the UK government spends £48,000 (about N11.8m) a year for the upkeep of one Nigerian prisoner in that country’s prisons. Due to this huge maintenance cost, Britain is seriously considering transferring those prisoners back home. Indeed, how many able-bodied free Nigerians can ordinarily afford half of this amount of money?

Recently, a lawyer friend who is a member of staff of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria expressed his strong desire to relocate to the United Kingdom. As he put it, “It won’t be out of place to find a way to fit in there as each day we get serious doubt that our leaders here have any vision.” For a privileged oil company worker to contemplate checking out of Nigeria shows the serious decay this nation has fallen into.

And why will anybody want to remain in Nigeria when we have refused to move forward as a nation? We cannot maintain our roads. We do not have access to potable water. Even the generators we buy to provide us electricity have turned out to be part of our major problems. Last week for instance, fumes from a generator killed a family of six at Ozuoba in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. The generator ran throughout the night because there was no prospect of getting public power.

Life has no meaning to the majority of Nigerians anymore. Even those who are working are not sure of what will become of that work tomorrow. Earlier this month, I read reports that Shell was planning to sack over 3,000 workers. The retrenchment was said to be a reaction to the cuts in output occasioned by frequent attacks on the company’s facilities by Niger Delta militants. The Niger Delta crisis is seriously threatening the revenue base of the country. Already, Angola has reportedly overtaken Nigeria in the last one month as the leading producer of crude oil in Africa. As at last year, Nigeria was still Africa’s leading oil producing country. But the way things are going, Angola may take over that position in 2008.

We have all failed and come short of the glory of Nigeria. The President who promised a seven-point agenda, but has no blueprint to achieve any of them after almost one year in office has failed Nigeria. A governor or local council chairman, who pads up his foreign bank accounts with public funds, has failed Nigeria. The legislator, who is only interested in foreign trips and fat allowances, has failed Nigeria. A legislature that has only passed 11 bills out of 65 before it in about one year, as admitted recently by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, has failed Nigeria. A judge who collects bribes to grant spurious injunctions has failed Nigeria.

A minister or permanent secretary, who corners unspent budget of his ministry and shares it at the end of the year as Christmas bonus has failed Nigeria. An accountant or auditor, who collects such loot and refuses to alert the nation about it, has failed Nigeria. A journalist who collects brown envelope and turns facts upside down has failed Nigeria. The auto mechanic who collects money for original spare parts, but fixes fake ones for his customer has failed Nigeria. The businessman/woman who sells fake drugs and fake drinks to kill their compatriots has failed Nigeria. The contractor who collects mobilisation fee to build roads or electricity, but pockets the money and does nothing has ruined Nigeria.

Collectively, we have contributed in sending our citizens abroad as asylum seekers. We have made Nigeria a fragile state, a failing state. At the fullness of time, we shall all pay for our sins against this country. But as an incurable optimist, I believe that collectively, we can still reverse the situation such that our people will change their chant of “asylum, asylum” to “paradise, paradise.”

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