My friend Imuetinyan (not real name) lives in Milan, Italy. At other times, you’ll likely find him in Iceland hot at the heels of a master’s degree. But he has told me that he is more at home in Milan, than in any other city in Europe. The last time we spoke via Skype, it was possible for him to let me see the cleanliness in the pavements and sidewalks of both Helsinki and Milan.
But he has assured me that feeling at home in Italy has nothing to do with the fact that he sometimes runs into his brethren from Edo or Delta state, or that he could visit an African shop and buy yam or plantain. Imuetinyan says that most times he walks home from work, he runs into ritual sacrifices – calabashes with bloated goat head, chicken and blood strewn at road junctions. My friend tells me that even though the Italians as well practice juju and are involved with voodoo, theirs is more to get the attention of an object of affection. He tells me these are the sacrifices of sex workers from Edo and Delta States who seek the assistance of the gods of Igodomigodo to corner easy prey or clientele. Most of these sex workers are said to be in a covenant with their madams, those who have sponsored or trafficked them to Europe. These covenants are said to be sealed with very private items of these sex workers, and the covenant is said to invoke the spirit of death on the sex worker if contravened.
A recent CNN expose on the horde of migrants who have either died or rescued off the Italian coast of Lampedusa revealed that nearly half the migrants who brave the odds via roads and sea are from Edo and Delta states. When one of the lads rescued from one of the boats was asked why he was leaving his country for Europe via a boat, he said that back in his village in Edo State, bombs and gunfire from the Boko Haram war with Nigerian soldiers constantly fall and sizzle past him. But can this be so? Why are so many young men, women and girls mostly from Edo and Delta states running away from home? Why are they seeking to be sex workers and drug peddlers in Europe? Edo and Delta states are oil producing states. A recent report from the Independent newspaper of Tuesday June 21 2016 said that the Federal Government of Nigeria had spent over N7trillion between 2010 and 2014. Both state – Edo and Delta – have governments seen to be more forward-looking than all other previous ones. In spite of this then, both states do not have the kind of industries and capacity building programmes to engage young people and make it easy for them to explore their entrepreneurial potentials. But is this the real reason why the young ones are running away to Europe, draining Nigeria of her human potentials?
What brings the situation a bit closer to home is that there is an economy in Edo and Delta states funded from the proceeds from prostitution and drug money. In the early 90s in Edo and Delta where there were no facilities for the personal and collective development of our young people, dilapidating houses were getting torn down and in their place imposing mansions which had no relationship with the incomes of the owners of those houses sprang up. As a matter of fact as well, very flashy cars sent into town from Europe were also running on streets with the kind of potholes you find on Ibiwe Street in Benin City.
Life in Benin City in those days was a communal one, where everyone knew the other person both by name and by family background. Therefore, if an Osaro whom everyone knows to be a never-do-well eventually finds his way to Europe and returns with six or seven choice cars, what clout would a serious-minded person on that street have to be able to exercise any leverage and continue to be serious-mined? The values that our forefathers left us would have been for everyone to come together in a ‘family’ meeting to ask Osaro where in the world he came by six posh cars. But ultimately, values and customs have collapsed and paved the way for parents to begin to look for sponsorship, either from the devil or from man, for a chance to send their children to Europe either to prostitute or peddle drugs or do both to send money home.
A report carried out on Western Union several years ago had it that there were more remittances from Europe to Benin City, than to any other city in Nigeria. As soon as that report hit the streets, nearly all of the banks in Nigeria began to scramble for space in Benin City and Delta so as to benefit from those remittances. In those days, banks would serve you tea, and spice it up with shortbread just to entice you to always come to their bank to collect Western Union. But in trying to ascribe theoretical affiliations to the spectre of migration from Nigeria to Europe, I went to town to pick the brains of a man I consider very wise. He agreed to talk to me if I keep his name from this discussion. He said to me: Edo and Delta people are closely tied to their cultural antecedents. This is a bond which takes from them without giving something back. As a result, what you have is a people who would be looking for succour in faraway lands which do not offer them anything apart from an exploitation of what is inherently negative.
In 2015, onward migration from Edo and Delta states was over a million girls and boys. That accounted for about 0.59% of Nigerians who live outside their country of origin. A migration app run by the International Office of Migration, IOM, reveals that there is no other country whose citizens are as migratory as Nigeria. Therefore, I want to say that the plan by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to partner with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) to strengthen access to justice and victim Support is one way to tackle this problem.
But we must make one fact very clear: Nigeria is one among nations endowed with humanity and natural resources. Spain, Italy, Portugal and some of the countries our boys and girls are running to are not wealthier than Nigeria. Their young boys and girls are not migrating to Africa and Nigeria. Unfortunately for us all, we -our people - leaders and followers, are the ones driving our youth away from this great country. If we do not ensure that there is transparency and good governance in the conduct of public business and expenditure; if we do not condemn impunity and official high-handedness; if we continue to allow and wallow in ethnic, religious and primordial considerations to drive the heart and soul of the great country, we may just as well invite the British once more to colonize us once more.
I wish to thank Mr Ofure Osehobo of The Nigerian Pilot. Osehobo is my former editor at the Nigerian Observer in the 90s. Thoughts on this discussion flowed fast and free in his office.