Within two weeks this month, more than 300 young Nigerians were repatriated from Libya in two batches by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with the Nigerian embassy in Libya. These are just the latest groups in an exercise that has reportedly been on for the past 14 months. In some cases, the returnees have acted voluntarily; in others, they have been forced out of the country by Libyan authorities. In every case, however, the returnees have nothing but tales of woe and expressions of regret for their decision to leave their country in search of the so-called, and as it has turned out, elusive, ‘greener pasture.’
One lady spoke of being ‘sold’ to a ‘connection home’ where she, and others were forced to ‘work’ or suffer inhuman punishment; another who returned with a four-month pregnancy complained of repeated rape by Libyan security officials. Those who were lucky to find work at all eventually lost their savings in the confusion of arrest, detention, and eventual deportation. In sum, frustrated but hopeful young Nigerians who mustered the courage to seek their fortune outside these shores only to return in hopelessness.
Certainly, the repeated mistreatment of Nigerians in foreign lands continually puts the embassies in bad light as derelict in the most basic of their responsibilities. Notwithstanding the understandable limitations that they face, notably funding, it is important to state that the missions can only justify their presence and value if they meet the constitutionally stipulated purpose of any government which is to protect the security and welfare of Nigerians wherever they are.
It would be easy to quickly accuse the returnees of believing stories of distant lands flowing with milk and honey; of foolishly rushing into places of which they were never certain; even of not trying hard enough to ‘find something to do’ here.
Talk can indeed be cheap in the mouth of a person whose ‘yam has been roasted for him by the gods.’ This is particularly so among people in government. But the point must be quickly established: these returnees were not foolish. They were unhappy and frustrated in their fatherland. With no help coming from incompetent, corruption-ridden governments at all levels, they decided to take their destiny in their hands, for good or for ill. ‘These people have gone in search of greener pasture. However, it turned out to be a terrible experience for them. They shouldn’t be ashamed of themselves.’ This statement from the government is very apt and re-assuring.
Indeed the returnees are not ashamed of themselves; they are ashamed of their country. And every one should be. Everyone, but especially those who have been part of formulating, and implementing policies at government level should be doubly ashamed that this Nigeria, blessed with unbelievable variety of natural resources, with exceptional people who excel phenomenally when exposed to other climes, is in so sorry a state. In truth, the grass in other countries is hardly greener than here. But the managers of the affairs of these other countries have done a far better job than the persons who have run Nigeria in the last four decades. By every yardstick to compare, every country that started out on the path of self-governance in the same year as Nigeria has left Nigeria behind. Nigeria’s youths who flock Libya en route Europe or some other ‘greener pasture’ cannot be blamed for this. On the other hand they may be blamed for a particular form of ignorance. In a manner of speaking, the grass in other places is greener by a deliberate act of the people who stay to nurture it. Nigeria will not improve by the act of running away from it. No.
To keep the nation’s restless youths within these shores, they must be productively engaged in many and different ways. Only the government, with its immense legislative and allocative power, and other resources, is best positioned to bring this to pass.
The most efficacious way to open up the Nigerian space for maximum productivity in all areas, of course, is to practice a true form of federalism that enables the federating units to harness their own resources in order to develop their areas and liberate their people’s respective creative and productive energies. In a country where the federating states possess so much human and natural resources, there will be no shortage of opportunities for the citizens as each unit leverages on its area of comparative advantage and all engage in a healthy rivalry for development. It happened before, in the days of the regions. That done, foreigners would be finding their way to Nigeria instead of Nigerians seeking their fortune away from home.