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04.04.2009 Africa

A Thought Before the Exodus

By Kunle Oyatomi /vanguard
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The latest United Nations report mentioning Nigerians as one of the highest asylum seekers in the world should not escape our critical attentions.

We all know how much Nigerians love adventure. We are aware that they are all over the world doing what they know how to do best- hustling hard for access to the good life.

There is a flood of them in West Africa. Before the civil war, places like Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cote d'voire, even Liberia had a very sizeable population of Nigerians who were most of the time welcome in these countries, with the exception of Ghana in the 70's during the Busia regime, which expelled Nigerians on the excuse that they were compounding his country's economic problems. There was a tit-for-tat expulsion of Ghanaians as well during the notorious "Ghana-Must-Go" heady days. We are aware what pains these unwholesome events caused both countries, but which they have made up.

For the first time in our history, Nigerians started seeking asylum in other parts of the world in large numbers during the civil war between 1967 and 1970. After that period, the question of asylum seeking, in limited cases, occurred during the NADECO struggle to reverse Babangida's annulment of M.K.O Abiola's electoral victory of June 12, 1993. We thought that the situation had since stabilized with the restoration of civilian democratic governance from 1999. But now we know we had been wrong.

The fact is that between 1999 and today, and in spite of a period of unprecedented financial windfall from the oil boom, economic hardship in Nigeria has been geometrically escalating to the unbearable point for many, who are increasingly relocating from this country to foreign land to escape the worsening conditions at home. This movement out of the country is generally known, but patently ignored by government which characteristically would not bother to keep track of its citizens outside the Nigerian boarders.

Now there is a global economic melt-down which is exacerbating an already parlous condition of hardship in the country. More than at any other time in our history, the present incidences of poverty and hardship are serious enough reasons for anyone who could to relocate outside. But the problem also is that virtually every other part of the world is currently grappling with the crisis of global economic collapse, leading to recession and unemployment. It is certainly not a time to welcome "economic refugees" from Africa- most especially Nigeria!! But if we know our countrymen well, the fact that they are unwelcome in any country is not a deterrent for the desperate ones who are determined to escape economic hardship at home.

So they will use every trick and subterfuge to practically "invade" a country of their choice in order to get out of the mess at home. This is most likely the immediate cause for the increase in Nigerian asylum seekers abroad. And to pretend ignorance of this fact is to live in denial of our failures and failings. Our rulers and governments are totally insensitive to the real needs of our people, much less talk about effecting plans (if there is any) to assuage their hardship.

At this juncture we must stop and give real thought to the possible consequences for the image of Nigeria, should an economic exodus occur in the months ahead as Nigerians flee the horror at home!! Our dear Dora of the re-branding mission will have an already difficult job made several times more difficult and frustrating. Earlier in the week, reports had it that Nigerians were amongst the African migrants who drowned in Libya. Possibility is that several more will end up that way, while others will have to contend with torture and rejection by countries that won't welcome the burden of economic migrants from Nigeria.

We have experiences to draw down on which should give a clear picture of the kind of humiliation and hardship migrants suffer. We have had economic migrants from Niger and Ghana, and we saw with our own eyes what fate befell them in this country, in spite of the generosity of Nigerians towards our West African brothers. Now, can we imagine what will happen to Nigerians if our citizens begin to pour out into other African countries as economic asylum seekers? What humiliation for the country, what disgrace, what rotten image despite the re-branding? We are only one stop before the exodus, and the government isn't doing enough to prevent it.

Some critics, not least amongst who is our Nobel Laurent Prof. Wole Soyinka, have been warning against a possible implosion in Nigeria. The concerns had been and still remains political, but a more dangerous dimension has developed in the unfolding economic crisis, which is putting enormous pressure on existing tensions, and could well be the flash point for the implosion. The immediate consequence of such disaster will be a population movement that will swamp West Africa and put us at great risk of becoming a global nuisance. Can Nigeria afford such disgrace?

Is there anybody out their still day-dreaming that a disaster of this magnitude is unlikely to happen to Nigeria? Let nobody under-rate the crisis. We ask the government to stay wide awake and act with urgency before the exodus begins, Human beings are more important than the structures and institutions we are trying to protect. We must find a quick way to ease suffering of the poor, the jobless and the homeless. They need help more urgently than the banks; more urgently than members of the National Assembly, more urgently than buying weapons of war to fight militants and terrorists.

Aso Rock should take a cue from the developed countries. Help the poor and the vulnerable first and bail out the institutions later. We are not seeing any such thing in Nigeria and time is running out!!!

By: Kunle Oyatomi /vanguard

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