By Gbemiga Olakunle
We are expressing our profound delight with the Federal Government for the prompt action it has taken on the repatriation of Nigerians who were in slavery in Libya under very dehumanising conditions. According to reports credited to Blueprint newspaper, about 2,778 Nigerians are scattered and languishing in different detention camps in Libya. And, since the outcry which followed the video clips aired by the CNN, the Federal Government of Nigeria through its Foreign Affairs Ministry said it has been repatriating 250 people every week in conjunction with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Even though it is the CNN report that drew the attention of the whole world to the modern day slavery of Black Africans on the African continent by fellow Africans before the Nigerian authorities and their counterparts in other African states rose up to the challenge, it is still better that the rescue mission is on course. Unfortunately, for some victims, this repatriation exercise is almost belated. This is because some of these people who had been in Libya for many months have either died, are sick or have developed psychiatric problems. Their evil taskmasters, the Arabs popularly called the ‘Arabos,’ used to beat mercilessly.
Drawing the world’s attention to fellow Nigerians still awaiting repatriation from Libya, Akume (one of the returnees), said “people out there are suffering. They need help. Sometimes, when they call us to eat, we eat five five. Five means one spoon for five people, and that is for the whole day. So, when the United Nations discovered that they were giving us five, five, it called them and began to drag them. So, they now began to give us two times a day” (Blueprint, Friday December 8, 2017, page 26).
Another returnee called Hannah gave a further horrific story of the physical horrors she faced. “They shot at us, they flogged us. If we want to eat, they flog us. If we want to use the toilet, they will flog us. They call themselves soldiers, but they are buffalo soldiers- criminals. They just gave them uniforms. All of them are wearing uniforms, we do not know the real ones. All of them are wicked people.”
While welcoming and rejoicing with our fellow Nigerians on their safe return from the land of horror and death in Libya, we are at the same time using this medium to alert the Federal Government to the likely security implications of this rescue mission. For a nation like Nigeria that is still battling the issue of mass youth unemployment, it may not be a tea party for the authorities, because of possible social and economic problems that may arise. We decided to reproduce some of the ordeals and tough times that these Libyan returnees were forced to pass through in the land of their captivity because such unpleasant situations might make some of them to prepare themselves for productive ventures at home, no matter the challenges involved.
Unfortunately, the same ordeals may also turn some of them to criminality. They may have become hardened criminals by their sufferings in the hands of their Libyan taskmasters. Our security operatives are still battling the increasing waves of kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and gangsterism in the country. And, since kidnapping seems to be the most lucrative criminal venture in Nigeria now, some of these returnees in an effort to recover whatever hundreds of thousands of naira they might have lost in their misadventure to Europe might be tempted to join well established kidnapping gangs. Some may also venture into other criminal activities like armed robbery, fraudulent practices including advanced cybercrime popularly called “Yahoo – yahoo plus boys”. The females among them may also turn into voluntary prostitution since that is what some of them were forced to do as sex slaves with some forms of dehumansation of the worst level.
With the level of disparity between the high income and low income earners, our society has been reduced to the groups of haves and have nots, with the gulf between the two groups getting wider every day. To confirm this assertion, Nigeria is the only country that has the highest salary package for its public office holders while paying the lowest minimum wage to its workforce, especially those in the lower cadres in the Public Service. Even with that ridiculously low minimum wage, most state governments still owe their workers salaries ranging between six months and 24 months. Paradoxically, it is within the same economy that some political office holders are flaunting their wealth in the midst of abject poverty. Little wonder, their opulent lifestyles have been attracting criminal elements who kidnap some of them at random for ransom because the kidnappers know that the Public Office holders have the means to secure their “bails” from their dens. And, it is this wanton display of wealth that has led to the springing up of evil republics of kidnappers within the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In this regard, a particular serving Senator of the Ruling Party-the APC is known for flaunting his fleet of exotic cars on the social media without any known concerted efforts/projects geared towards reducing youth unemployment or youth empowerment in his constituency.
In order to avoid the unexpected backlash that the repatriation of our fellow Nigerians from Libya can cause if there is no adequate plans for their rehabilitation and integration into the society at home, we advise NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and faith-based organisations such as Churches and Mosques, and philanthropists, to come forward and collaborate with the Federal Government to provide relief measures for these people who have fallen victim of the action and inaction of our political leaders in Africa. Undoubtedly, some of these victims were running from the frying pans of their crisis-torn and poverty-ravaged countries to real fire in the hands of their taskmasters in Libya and Saudi Arabia. The faith – based organisations and corporate bodies can take this challenge as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. However, these palliative measures are for the short term. It does not stop the Federal Government and the other political stakeholders from finding a lasting solution to what led to the mass exodus or migration of thousands of our youths in search of the so-called greener pastures in foreign lands despite the obvious risks involved.
We have earlier recommended some of these measures in our previous articles. To make them clearer, the holistic way to solve security challenges in this country is to fight corruption in all its forms, be it stealing, embezzlement, looting of the treasury and nepotism, among others. When the government provides a level playing ground for Nigerians irrespective of their political, religious or ethnic affiliations, the incidence of crime will reduce drastically. Investing in arsenals of weapon to tackle the increasing crime wave is not the answer. It is better and less expensive to prevent crime than to fight it, provided the monster called corruption is dealt with in all its ramifications as stated above.
Olakunle, General Secretary, National Prayer Movement via Abuja.
On this note, we welcome back the victims of this modern day slavery who are lucky enough to tell their sad stories back at home in order to warn other Nigerians who may be nursing the idea of embarking on such misadventure. From their respective experiences in the detention camps in Libya, there may be, indeed, no place like home.
In addition to the above measures, we also hope and pray that the Federal Government will speed up efforts to make every part of this country to be safer for human habitation and conducive for economic activities by solving the problems associated with Boko – haram insurgence, the Fulani herdsmen menace and other security challenges.