There is widespread uneasiness among community leaders in South-East and South-South states over the sudden migration of northern youths and some foreigners into their communities. The youths were caught tucked inside cement trucks and other vehicles that were not designed for transportation of human beings. On interrogation by local community vigilante groups, the youths said they travelled all the way from the North. Some said they came from neighbouring countries.
The mass movement is sudden but it appears to be premeditated. For these itinerant youths to move uninterrupted and unchecked, and to successfully pass through hundreds of checkpoints shows the high level of corruption in the police and other security forces that oversee checkpoints on our roads. It is not possible for youths, concealed as consignments of goods, to travel from the north to the south without being stopped, checked, and interrogated.
There is something unwholesome and sinister about the people who manage the checkpoints. It is not just a case of negligence. It is all about criminal conspiracy. And that is why any fair-minded government must conduct thorough investigations to unravel the mystery of the mass movement of people. The owners of the trucks used to convey these youths from one part of the country to another must also be deemed complicit in the conspiracy.
It is disingenuous for security forces to allow this kind of unauthorised cross-border migration at a time when inter-state movement was prohibited. The movements should never have been allowed because everyone was compelled to observe the stay-at-home order. Moving around so freely during the time of coronavirus, before some of the restrictions were eased, poses a serious health risk for everyone.
It is a shame the way we make laws and fail to implement the laws. In its attempt to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the government declared all inter-state travels illegal. Workers on essential duties were excused from this rule. Paradoxically, the same government that rolled out the laws has shut its eyes to breaches of the rules. When is a law a law in Nigeria? When should citizens treat national laws with contempt or with respect? The government must now define the parameters to guide compliance with COVID-19 regulations.
The idea that people should be allowed to move in large numbers from the northern to the southern parts of the country is ludicrous and outrageous. This is the time when the government ought to protect the health and wellbeing of citizens. A healthy nation, it is said, is a wealthy nation.
Why the government has chosen to keep silent at a time like this defies reason. But it is not surprising. It underscores a discredited policy of discrimination that privileges people from a certain region of the country while the same government preaches the flawed gospel of national unity.
The concept of national unity would make sense if all of us were accorded equal treatment, recognised as citizens, and made to feel important or valued within the same geographic entity known as Nigeria. However, the philosophy of national unity loses its meaning, spirit, flavour, mark, and value because of the way it is being applied selectively in Nigeria.
The idea of national unity or One Nigeria makes no sense when it is reflected in a preferred but preposterous way to advance the interests of people from one part of the country over the welfare of people in other parts. This underlines the argument by some civil rights advocates that the notion of a united Nigeria is just a farce – an idea written on paper and yet to be put into practice.
Public concerns over the sudden migration of youths at a time of the COVID-19 pandemic are well founded. The likelihood of a surge in crimes exists. The youths are unemployed. They have no known source of income with which they can sustain themselves in their new places of residence. They have no idea about where and how their next meal would come. This is a deadly mix of attributes. The human instinct for survival will force the youth into criminal behaviour. This supports the concerns expressed by community leaders in the South-East and South-South states.
Here is the tragedy of the Nigerian situation. In various parts of the North, over the past few years, terrorists seized various communities and turned them into enclaves fit for outlaws. Southern states do not want that to happen in their territories. This is the context in which local leaders now feel nervous over the recent arrivals in their communities.
The silence of governors of South-East and South-South states has heightened the state of fear and growing insecurity. Is there something the governors know that their people do not know? One of the responsibilities of every state governor is to advance the security of their people. Unfortunately, this has not happened. People cannot sleep soundly anymore because they have to keep an eye open at night in fear of the enemy. Sleep deprivation is harmful to human health.
Can state governors take the current situation more seriously? They must ask serious questions such as: Who sponsored the latest invaders? Who is feeding them? Who is providing accommodation and transportation? What is their mission? There are many unanswered questions about the movement of these unidentified wanderers in the southern states.
It is important to keep in mind that the youths who moved into the southern states are not there to advance any business or trade.
We have never experienced, in the history of peacetime Nigeria, this wave of migration by youths from one part of the country to another within a few days.
A reader’s reaction
Re: Africa in perpetual search of active leaders
You always not only distil issues superbly to their very essence, but always signal the road to redemption: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our mind.”
We always find it convenient to blame the West for our own crass incompetence and serial misrule. And those like you and many of us who hold Africans as being equally culpable are condemned as suffering from “colonial mentality”, etc.
Nigerians know very well how much we have regressed. Witness the nostalgic pictures and videos posted on social media ad nauseam about our “glorious post-independence developments”; how much more advanced Nigeria was as compared with Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea. And they always end with a rhetorical question wondering how much we have regressed.
The answer, my friends, is blowing in the rancid winds of fetid polities, rotten infrastructure and decayed healthcare systems that are now de rigueur nearly everywhere you look in Africa. In the end, we’re not the ones we’ve been waiting for. We’ve let ourselves down, and very badly.
•Doye Henri Youdeowei
Mayfield, East Sussex, England
EMAIL: [email protected]