At a time when many political impostors are celebrating the ‘dividends’ of democracy in a country with little to show for 20 years of democratic government, it must come as a shock to know that many Nigerians have joined long queues of asylum seekers in industrialised countries.
Eleven years ago, the number of Nigerians who applied for asylum in Western countries increased from 2,471 in the first quarter to 2,761 in the second quarter. The number shot up to 4,014 in the third quarter. A record 4,442 Nigerians lodged asylum applications at the end of the last quarter of 2009. While those figures, released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (also referred to as the UN Refugee Agency) might appear insignificant in the context of Nigeria’s population of nearly 200 million people, it is concerning that an increasing number of citizens regularly apply for asylum in Western capital cities. That, to me, is an odious scandal.
If you thought the number of Nigerian asylum applicants in 2009 would have improved by now, you would be disappointed to know the trend is worsening. Indeed, the number of asylum applicants is much higher today than it was 11 years ago when the report was released by the UN agency. Consider this. Of the top-15 countries of origin of asylum seekers in Western countries in 2014, Nigeria came eighth. That was embarrassing. A government that has a responsibility to provide for the welfare and security of its citizens must be worried that many Nigerians are applying for asylum in Western countries at a time when the country is not at war.
We must ask: What are the factors that drive people to leave their homeland to seek refuge in other countries? The answers are as bright, unequivocal, and obvious as daylight. Seeking asylum in other countries is associated with growing disappointment over lack of national leadership, political assassinations, devastating poverty, economic deprivations, social disorder, insecurity, corruption, poor healthcare, lack of basic infrastructure, pitiable quality of education, and high crime rate in Nigeria. Of course, there are those who migrate simply to enhance their economic status. If we want to understand why Nigerians are seeking asylum in other countries, we must look at diverse factors at home and abroad.
National political leaders boast about the country’s precious oil resources, but they cannot demonstrate how productively the oil revenue has been used to develop the country, to improve the lives and livelihoods of citizens, and to strengthen and drive the economy. Unfortunately, in a disorderly country such as ours, strange things never cease to happen.
Nigeria has been experimenting with the principles and values of Western democracy for the past 21 years (1999-2020). Regrettably, it has nothing to show for it. We were promised in 1999 that democracy would herald economic prosperity, that foreign investors would make Nigeria their second home, that democracy would prompt greater accountability and responsibility in government, that politicians would reject corruption, and that we will have a healthy deliberative democracy in which everyone would be free to express their views.
All we have seen after 21 years of noisy parliamentary debate and ceremonial yearly budgets are growing poverty, unemployment, decrepit infrastructure, a decadent public service, mortuaries that serve as public hospitals, poor quality of tertiary education, failure to harness new technologies to improve our socioeconomic conditions, inability to produce and sustain enough electric power to serve the country, and limitless appetite for illegal acquisition of public property.
In a way, we are all guilty of failing the experiment called Nigeria. We failed to respond vigorously to certain aspects of our political culture that have undermined the progress of the country. How do we expect things to work in Nigeria when we failed to take care of the welfare of youths who have become rolling stones that gather no moss? If the youths do not settle in one place, they cannot build up wealth or status, or take responsibility for their own personal development.
We do nothing when we vote during elections and politicians manufacture results that do not reflect voters’ choices. We show no concerns when oil producing licences are issued selectively to people because of old school ties (i.e., mateship), or on the ground of political party allegiance, or because of their ethnic identity and region of origin, or because of religious affiliation.
Civil society watches indifferently as politicians destroy the economy. While people in the oil-producing parts of the country are confronted with crushing poverty, including environmental damage arising from oil production and natural gas flaring, other people in non-oil producing communities live luxurious lifestyles based on the revenue generated through crude oil sales.
Nigeria has degenerated to this level because of the failure of civil society to hold national and state leaders accountable. The more indifferent we are to our predicaments, the more difficult our lives become. This point needs to be restated and reinforced. The country has remained a failed state largely because everyone failed to act when things were going wrong, when federal and state governments shut their eyes and ears to public expressions of concerns, and when corrupt and decadent high-profile citizens were being celebrated rather than apprehended and prosecuted.
If we want to reform Nigeria, we must stick with the letters of the law. There should be no exceptions to the rule when it comes to crime and punishment. That long-established impression that certain categories of political leaders, public officials, and businesspeople should not be chastised or jailed when they abuse the law must be discarded. In true democracies, no one is deemed to be above the law, not even the President or Prime Minister.
We must ask the question: Why is it that nothing works in Nigeria? Since its inauguration in 2015, the government has made numerous promises about how to improve the lives of citizens. Today, the government has continued to raise to a higher decibel the jarring jingle about its determination to tighten national security, improve the economy, and provide for the basic needs of citizens. If you believe those ear-splitting jingles, you will believe anything.
We observed painfully some weeks ago how the federal and state governments failed to successfully deliver food and monetary packages designed to alleviate the hardships that confronted many people owing to the coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdown rule. In general, the packages turned out to be fake, miserable, laughable, and too stingy. In most cases, the economic packages never reached the people for whom they were intended. How could the government be so insensitive to people’s economic conditions?