Seeking asylum in heaven

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 19 Apr 2009

LAST Sunday, somebody close to me pleaded that I take her to a prayer camp. The camp, which is somewhere at the Idimu area of Lagos, belongs to the Foursquare Gospel Church. And it costs N300 to secure a place there. I had advised the young woman who sought my help against this move. Even her husband, who is in London, was against the action. We wanted her to seek medical attention. But she and some of her siblings insisted on going to the prayer ground to table their problems to God. Their belief is that the camp is a holy place and that God answers prayers quicker there.

 The woman had actually visited two private hospitals, but doctors could not diagnose anything. They told her that her problem was fear. And whenever this fear grips her, she will jump out of bed looking for somebody to clutch. Sometimes, the sickness comes in form of a headache. Sometimes, it borders on hallucination – seeing things that nobody else sees.

 I knew the problem was psychological. Here is a woman who had most good things of life at her disposal. Her husband was very rich. Suddenly he had setbacks in his business, prompting him to relocate to London to eke out a living. Things turned from bad to worse such that even to secure the usual menial jobs in London is not easy anymore, no thanks to the global financial meltdown. This is partly what has affected the young woman.

To cut her long story short, she arrived at the prayer ground with much expectation. Nothing much happened that particular night as not many people turned up. Only a few women trickled in with one of them humming, ”I‘m married to Jesus, Satan leave me alone.” After two nights at the camp, she went back home, claiming she feels better.

 This is what life has reduced many Nigerians to. Over 40 million youths are unemployed. Some of those working are underemployed. Even with their meagre income, they still take care of many relations. Infant/maternal mortality is on the rise. Millions of children are out of school. Many are homeless. Some sleep under the bridge. Some sleep in street corners. Each Sunday morning when I pass through Awolowo Way, Ikeja, to buy newspapers, I see mothers bathing their children by the roadside. You begin to wonder how and where those children passed the night.

 Many have died from police and bandits bullets. Kidnappers have added their own terror. Last week, there were media reports of a nine-year-old girl taken hostage by kidnappers at Ovim in Isuikwuato Local Government Area of Abia State. And that was the girl‘s first visit to Nigeria from her base in England.

 As it is now, many Nigerians will prefer to seek asylum in any country, be it Togo, Benin Republic or Equatorial Guinea. Recently, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees released the 2008 asylum data. It grouped Nigeria with Iraq, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan as nations top on the asylum-seeking chart. In the year under review, about 5,333 of our countrymen sought asylum in Italy, 1,008 in Ireland, 970 in the United Kingdom, 500 in Germany and hundreds of others in many other European countries.

There are some who are too happy to send their children and wards into slavery outside Nigeria. To such people, anywhere outside the country is better than the brutish existence here called life. Last week, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters said it rescued 809 victims from traffickers between October 2008 and March 2009.

 Have you seen why many citizens of other countries, despite our rebranding, will continue to see us with myopic eyes? Our situation has so degenerated that even the countries we used to refer to as banana republics are the ones now making us go bananas. The other day, scores of Nigerians were deported from Equatorial Guinea under questionable circumstances. The deportees, who claimed to have valid documents, lamented the loss of their boats and money running into hundreds of millions of naira. Some reportedly died in the hands of security agents in Malabo. Scores of others have drowned in high seas while trying to migrate to Europe.

It’s as if there is no government in place. Government‘s promises of a good life for Nigerians have usually ended up making the citizens more miserable. Contracts for the rehabilitation of roads usually result in more potholes. Hospitals and chemists are swelling with typhoid fever patients, whose only source of drinking water is untreated neighbourhood borehole or the one they call ”pure water.” Generator fumes have continued to kill people as we wait for December when electricity generation will increase to 6,000MW. Companies are closing. Some are relocating to neighbouring countries.

 Typical of our penchant for playing the ostrich, our government has come again with another mouth-watering promise – to create a million jobs for youths every year. Hence, the Federal Government, last week, inaugurated a steering committee on employment generation. Part of the job of the committee is to find out why there is much unemployment in the country despite the high growth rate of our Gross Domestic Product.

Let’s hope that this committee will not just be another avenue to compensate government loyalists. We don’t even need to go far to get the reasons behind our unemployment situation. A study of the life and times of Dunlop Nigeria Plc, Michelin Nigeria Plc and the ailing Peugeot Automobile Nigeria will reveal why our unemployment figure is swelling.

 President Umaru Yar’Adua and those singing his second term song say his agenda is to study Nigeria‘s problems in the first two years of his administration and then move into action subsequently. That moment of action is now. Yar’Adua does not need to devote his energy in many projects. He should concentrate on fixing roads and electricity and then relax to see the impact that would have on the economy.

Today, the refrain of most Nigerians is, “God dey;” “Only God will save this country;” and “May God help us!” Our President needs to convince us that he too can do something to save Nigeria. Perhaps, that will make our women have fond memories of their marriage here on earth first and leave their marriage to Jesus until they get to heaven.

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