Against the background of our recent experiences especially the FBI harvests of suspected criminals, social and criminal vices and reactions to our citizens in South Africa, it is imperative we engage in introspection. Legal practitioners are wont to say that ignorance is not an excuse. Everyone above age 18 years may not be granted any reprieve or compassion by the courts in the event of being found guilty as charged. In the same vein, suspicion, no matter how strong cannot take the place of legal proof. Most of those vices hanged around the necks of Nigerians in foreign countries need to be checked. In mot cases, they are stereotypes whose provenance may not be justifiable given the fact that horrible similar situations occur in foreign nations and we are simply somehow unlucky because we don’t have powerful media to propagate our own position.
VALUES: Our society is built of such non-negotiable values of integrity, honesty and good name. All over the world, Nigerians are setting the pace. The entire world envies our uniqueness as an entity, living together despite our ethnic diversity. One single country with over 400 languages! We get labelled as scammers and cheats, and how Nigerians are into drug peddling abroad. It has reached an alarming proportion and a stage where we must show the whole world that Nigerians are positive inclined people, not given to frivolities, and are ever prepared to work very hard anywhere they may find themselves.
OUR IMAGE AS ILLEGAL MIGRANTS: Common reasons for visits abroad are for leisure, business, studies, and medical. It is to be noted that travelling abroad first became fashionable in Nigeria immediately following the end of the slave trade era, when people shipped from Africa to foreign lands started coming back to their countries civilized, having imbibed Western cultures and traditions. Several people were lucky to acquire Western education and constituted the elites and intelligentsia in the society. Soon, people started travelling abroad to attend universities in foreign lands. where it was easy to work, and at the same time pay for tuition and acquisition of university education. The nearest university to Nigeria was Fourah-Bay University, Sierra-Leone, to which people trooped. It was not until 1948 that Nigeria’s premier university – The University College, Ibadan, (as it was then known) came into existence as an affiliate of the University College, London. The struggle to acquire education became very feverish, with (as it was then known) ambitious young and middle-aged Nigerians travelling abroad in search of the proverbial ‘’golden fleece.’’
PLANNING: The popular saying goes: ‘’If you fail to plan, then you must have planned to fail.’’ Why are we travelling in droves? It is important we educate our citizens on the situation abroad and those constraints they could face so they are not misled And what are the issues that ought to be considered by those wishing to travel abroad? It is important to place all options open to a traveller of the scale of preference and the financial capability of the intending traveller. It would sound very odd for anybody to decide to travel abroad and start roaming the streets without a mission. The points for reflection are as follows:
- Why must I travel?
- What are my career objectives and are these easily feasible?
- Do you have the finances to sponsor your visit?
- Do you have sponsors resident in the country being visited?
- Do you have enough ties that would guarantee your return to your country at the expiration of your visit?
THE DIFFERENCE: Travelling out of Nigeria used to be a simple matter in the early part of the last century. But with the increased urge and presence of foreigners in Western nations alongside the global economic regionalization and downturn in the global economy, these countries have tightened up their immigration laws. The difference today is that while the early nationalists who went abroad to study were eager to return home to contribute to nation-building, many people travelling abroad nowadays long to stay in the advanced world because of biting socio-political and economic factors in the developing world. Many people would rather be second, or even third-class residents of other nations than be reckoned with as first class citizens of their native countries. In the process, they lose so many privileges and rights that are directly and indirectly withdrawn from them on account of several economic and political factors.
JUSTIFIABLE REASONS FOR TIGHTENING IMMIGRATION REGULATIONS: Depriving visitors the rights and privileges that foreign nationals enjoy in their own countries is easily justifiable by the fact that these nations pay particular attention to policies of long-range visioning and planning and do not reckon with huge numbers of immigrants that besiege their nations as a result of their eagerness to enjoy ‘’good life’’ in foreign lands. One strong point is that tightening of immigration regulations is largely due to two factors: Socio-political, economic as well as global security concerns. Up till about the mid-1980s, Nigerians, as citizens of the Commonwealth Organization were entitled to ‘Visa on Arrival’ at immigration posts in the United Kingdom. That means that you could wake up, pick your travelling passport and decide to travel to the United Kingdom any time without let or hindrance. That situation has changed and could only return if our economy recovers substantially and we have much money to throw around again. Those societies know what they are doing.
IS TRAVELLING OUT A VIABLE OPTION?: The downturn of the economy of Nigeria is the root cause of the exodus of Nigerians in large numbers outside the country. This phenomenon started in the mid-1980s with sound professionals looking for better prospects in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Soon, people started moving out on exploratory missions to other nations including countries of the Far East. It is difficult to visit any part of the world and not find a Nigeria making a living in that society. The love for travelling by Nigerians could also be described as an obsession provoked by class distinction, values and customs. Very brilliant minds and professionals have found solace in foreign lands contributing to the development of the economies of foreign nations. Many have returned; but it is unlikely that several Nigerians in the Diaspora will never return home because they are now firmly-footed in those societies. Today, millions of ethnic Nigerians live abroad, and the largest communities can be found in the United Kingdom with over 3 million people and the United States with over 1 million Nigerians. Other countries that follow closely are South Africa, Gambia, and Canada respectively.
BLESSED NATION: There are also large groups in Ireland, Portugal and many other countries. In the United States, Nigerians are the most educated ethnic group, with the highest percentage of Bachelor degree holders amongst African immigrants and have an average household income of US$94,030. (2010 U.S Census). Without any large scale and formal structure, the Nigerian Diaspora continues to contribute significantly to the development of their home communities and Nigeria. In 2012, Nigerians in the Diaspora contributed more to Nigeria’s economy than 34 of the 36 states. $12 billion was remitted by the Nigerian Disapora in 2012, (World Bank) and only Lagos and Rivers states had higher GDP’s. (NIDO Website) Now remittances have risen to 25 billion United States dollars that is close to the figure adopted for financing an annual budget of the federal government of Nigeria.
MISPLACED INTENTIONS: It is to be noted that conditions which travellers dream about in foreign lands are now drastically different from what was obtainable four decades ago. Highly organized people like Chief Obafemi Awolowo as far back as 1981 cautioned against profligacy and faulty planning; but was abused. For those with good education, particularly in the medical profession and some aspects of the sciences, it was a good option following the decline of Nigeria’s economy in the early 1980s and the open arms with which advanced nations and Middle East countries welcomed Nigerian professionals with open arms. Nigerian professionals in the diaspora are reputed to be some of the most intelligent professionals, with strong visible presence in the economies of foreign nations. The remittances back home is relatively huge. This might be a contributory factor to the ‘Exodus’ of Nigerian professionals. The fact that they are succeeding in those countries is making the urge by Nigerians to travel abroad very feverish. The truth is that the labour markets in the advanced parts of the world have become saturated, posing threats of job losses to even highly qualified professionals. In the case of students and others who can afford, the choice of spending huge sums to educate themselves is theirs.
PROBLEM OF ILLEGAL MIGRATION & REFUGEES: The truth remains that all nations of the world are suffering from economic difficulties and they need to devise long-term plans to develop their societies. Those plans, largely, do not take into account the huge numbers of ‘’unwanted’’ visitors who besiege their nations, thus making their projections for socio-economic development useless. Additionally, there is the need for the nations to be security conscious these days of serious terrorism. The perpetration of crime is another reason why foreign nations may restrict immigration into their territories. Illegal migrants suffer untold hardships, with their families, including toddlers and infants, embarking on precarious journeys, fraught with huge negative repercussions in an attempt to breach immigration rules. Many of these intending illegal emigrants are professionals with good jobs in their home countries at one time or another. The upsets experienced by refugees are grossly underestimated. Many refugees die, experience sickness, hunger, lack of safety, exposure to harsh elements, and further abuse, Sexually transmitted diseases, hunger, lack of opportunities, education and medical care, as well as lack of secure housing or any hope for the future.
A DANGEROUS TWIST & DAMAGE TO SOCIETAL VALUES: There are some recent developments that would make right-thinking people wonder if it those who engage in illegal migrations are in their right frame of mind. How can a reasonable person see death and engage in an act that has 99 percent possibility of terminating his or her life? Are there no better options these days when there are concerns about the global economy? Regrettably, most of those engaged in this horrible trend are youths in their prime and productive ages who consider illegal migration as the only way to escape from the harsh economic conditions prevalent in Nigeria. But they fail to take into account the prevailing conditions in countries they believe are modern day ‘’heavens’’ with streets paved in gold. They also turn deaf ears to serious problems on their oaths to their ‘’Promised Land’’. An illegal migrant these days has no prospects of perfecting papers because First World nations too have their own problems. Frustration would eventually set in and repatriation would follow. It is just a question of time. Sadly, the image of Nigeria is being soiled as a result of massive attempts to enter other nations illegally through routes considered to be very dangerous.
THE NIGERIAN PASSPORT & DIPLOMATIC RESPONSIBILITIES: The Nigerian passport introduces the holder as a citizen of the federal republic to which all privileges should be accorded by officials of the receiving government. Officially, the passport belongs to the federal government of Nigeria and may be withdrawn on the orders of the Minister of Interior if misused. Most Nigerian visitors to foreign countries do not know the importance or usefulness of their country’s missions abroad. Regrettably, even many Nigerians residing abroad temporarily or permanently don’t relate or interact with diplomats of Nigeria’s embassies/high commissions, that are supposed to attend to the official requirements of Nigerians and document them appropriately. This should not be the case, even if visiting for a short period of time. In the same vein, let all Nigerians in the Diaspora maintain excellent conducts that would justify the posture of the Nigerian government. In travelling abroad, let us adopt positive mindsets. It is no use obeying regulations abroad only to come back home to flout similar regulations designed for lifting our nation higher. A Yoruba proverb says: ‘’One slave causes caustic utterances against 200 slaves’’.
CHANGING MINDSET: All Nigerian citizens are entitled to consular services at Nigeria’s Missions whenever they travel abroad, depending on the type of services required; especially counselling/trade/information and related services. Anyone who is arrested or detained has the right ask police or prison officials to notify the Nigerian Embassy/High Commission immediately. However, this does not permit any Nigerian citizen the right to violate the laws of foreign nations. Accordingly, it is very advisable for Nigerians travelling abroad for a relatively long period of time to register their presence in foreign countries to enable the country’s mission document them for official purposes. For instance, any Nigerian government has no responsibility for its citizens who reside abroad illegally, or who flouts regulations of host countries. Such people will NOT be documented because they have no right to be in the country. Such persons also have no right to ask for the protection of government or enjoy any diplomatic benefit because it is assumed they are in Nigeria and not in that particular country.
PARENTAL & LEADERSHIP RESPONSIBILITIES: Let us agree that people may be forced to act by circumstances, including poverty and hunger, that are two strong factors that make a prospective illegal migrant resolute to confront death, by engaging in hazardous trips. The current global food crises, for instance, is a serious problem that needs to be addressed through reforms in order to further guarantee world peace and development. In the words of Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth; “there are, in absolute terms, more hungry people in the world today than ever before; and the numbers are increasing”. The gap between the rich North and the poor South is widening on current estimates, and there are little prospects of this trend being reversed”. The role parents and teachers have to play in promoting the level of education is gargantuan. For our country to be able to build a nation that is not subservient to others, we need the proper vision and thought and prioritization of our programmes to accord education enormous resources. The onerous responsibility that devolves on leaders of various levels of governance is a clarion call on leaders to critically examine themselves and inculcate rich values and virtues of honesty, transparency and prudent management of resources.
PREVENTING YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN SOCIAL & CRIMINAL MENACE: There is no doubt that the very harsh economy of Nigeria is taking its toil of the psyche of the citizenry. Particular attention must be paid to those exercising parental roles and general upbringing of the child, in consideration of the fact that it is possible for children that lack adequate parental care to be negatively influenced. It is to be noted that no amount of foreign interest or support would be adequate to substitute for indigenous engagement in finding solutions to problems of youth development. No solution can be more enduring than home-grown solutions. The dreams and aspirations of the young ones are every so often violated by such vices as child labour, forced marriages, discrimination, violence, and lack of equal opportunities. Additionally, there is a huge number of males that are suffering deprivations that negate the provisions of the Child Rights Act. The world will be a better place to live in if issues militating against the proper development of these children are addressed. The global community, through the United Nations realizes the importance of the matter under reference and has, therefore, inserted this factor in the Sustainable Development Goals that will end in 2030. The 2030 UN Agenda aims at unlocking their potentials.
HELPING YOUTH DEVELOPMENT: The 2001 ‘Kuru Declaration’ embodies the vision of the Nigerian Government as: building a truly great African democratic country, politically united, integrated and stable, economically prosperous, socially organized, with equal opportunities for all, and responsibility from all, to become the catalyst of African Renaissance, and making adequate all-embracing contributions sub-regionally, regionally and globally”. Furthermore, government is working strenuously to “create a Nigeria that Nigerians will be proud to belong to and grateful to inhabit; a Nigeria that rewards hard work, protects its people and their property and offer its children better prospects than those they may be tempted to seek in Europe or the United-States. All citizens, regardless of gender, race, religion or politics, should feel that they have a stake in Nigeria’s future and that their loyalty and diligence will be rewarded. Therefore, it is the responsibility of Government to muster all resources at its disposal to protect the lives and property of all citizens and all those living in a country, and to provide the required atmosphere for lawful productive activities.
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT: Government has a key role to play with regard to moderating the polity and the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) states without any equivocation that the primary purpose of Government shall be the welfare and security of the citizenry. as enshrined in the extant 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) as part of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Remarkably, one major factor that is common to nations of the world, especially countries with sovereign status is the strong desire of their governments to protect their nations, peoples and their sovereignty. Given its importance, the issue of national security is 12.2(b) states inter-alia: “The security and the welfare of the citizenry shall be the primary purpose of government”. Under the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) devised by the Nigerian government, the country “aims at fulfilling its potential of becoming Africa’s largest economy and a major player in the global economy” We have realized the ambition of becoming the leader of the regional economy. This must reflect in our lives.