Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
IKPOBA-OKHA, with administrative headquarters at Idogbo is one of the 18 local government areas in Edo State. Covering an area of about 862 km2, it has a population of 371,106, according to the 2006 census. But current statistics put its population density at about 488,000.
Another local government area, Oredo, home to many eminent citizens including the Oba of Benin, Omo Noba Nedo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Erediauwa, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion the Esama Of Benin Kingdom, and other prominent princes and chiefs, has its headquarters in Benin City. Said to cover an area of 249 km2 and to have a population of 374,671 as at the 2006 census, current projection puts its population density at more than 500,000.
The names of the two local government areas struck a note when, in a recent report released by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations agency established in 1951, to work closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people, re- vealed that Edo State alone accounts for 42 per cent of 18,079 stranded migrants received by the agency and the Nigerian government, from April 2017 to October 2019. And the figures came mainly from Ikpoba- Okha, Oredo, Etsako West, Egor and Orhionmwon local government areas.
The ancillary report
An ancillary report by WAKA Well by IOM X, working in Nigeria says more than 58 percent of survey respondents in Oredo and Ikpoba- Okha said that they get their migration information primarily through friends and family. The survey of 419 respondents in the two local government areas showed that more than 80 percent aspire to migrate to another country.
It added that employment-seeking migration accounts for the biggest share of inter-regional mobility as youth migrate from one country to another looking for better job opportunities. In West Africa, it stated that some families rely heavily on remittances sent from children and spouses, and therefore the pressure to migrate on behalf of the entire family can be significant.
According to an IOM Nigeria report, the majority of these remittances come from friends or family living within Nigeria, either in the same community or another state. On regional migration, the report revealed that an estimated 7.5 million migrants move around West Africa. “The high number of West Africans on the move is linked to several factors, including visa-free movement among the 15 Economic Commu- nity of West African States (ECOW- AS) members.’’
Migration from poverty to prosperity
In Edo State, over the years, long before the free visa policy of a thing came into existence, the migration changed the narratives and has continued to do so. Mud houses gave way to brick ones, carpets to tiles, wooden windows to ‘Alumaco’, ceilings to POPs, and zinc to asbestos, thanks to availability of euros, pounds and dollars. In the aforementioned local government areas, hardly will you find a home where no relative, son or daughter, does not live overseas. The quest became so high after few of those who travelled abroad earlier on came back to start showing off their acquired wealth which turned their families fortunes around overnight.
In the course of time, many parents resorted to selling off their landed property in order to send their children overseas with the hope of seeing them lift them out of poverty. Those who didn’t have landed property to sell or give as collateral entered into agreement with those who have, with the promise to pay back the borrowed money at a given time. And, to ensure that the money was paid back at an agreed date, covenants were sometimes made and entered into before shrine deities and their juju priests.
Although many individuals had, in the past, lost their lives in their bid to make their way through the Sahara Desert, or the Mediterranean Sea, into Europe, the misadventures have, in no way, diminished the desire to travel in search of a greener pasture. Rather, it remains as high ever in the hearts of the natives, especially young ones from Etsako West, Oredo, Egor, Ikpoba-Okha and Orhionmwon local government areas.
Travelling in time of a pandemic
Then entered the COVID-19 pandemic! Recent report posted on IOM’s website tells the story of 13 vulnerable migrants originating from Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone who were stranded at Noé, a small town located in Côte d’Ivoire near that country’s border with Ghana, and who were forced to spend more than a month seeking makeshift shelter, as well as food and medical attention after authorities in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire closed their respective borders to travellers.
The migrants, comprising four women and nine men, had been stranded in Côte d’Ivoire since 22 March, the report said. Among them were “bus drivers who work shuttling passengers between Liberia and Ghana, who now found themselves unable to move. Others among the stranded were traders seeking to enter Côte d’Ivoire for commerce.”
It stated further: “At first, the stranded migrants slept at the border station, although a few found temporary lodging at a small hotel. IOM became aware of their plight on 15 April, nearly four weeks after the border closure, and persuaded authorities in Noé to repurpose two schoolrooms—also shuttered in response to the pandemic—to safely house the men and women.
“On Saturday, 9 May, IOM provided food, hygiene products and other essential items to the stranded travellers. IOM also began registering those willing to return to their country of origin. Unfortunately, later that same day, one man who was already ill – but not with the coronavirus- died in the classroom in Noé… As of 11 May, more than 1,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported by the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene of Côte d’Ivoire. The closure of border posts has a heavy impact on the border communities’ economic activities.”
Edo youths who want to travel despite COVID-19
When Saturday Sun correspondent wanted to find out how this news report reads with some of the young men from the mentioned local government areas in Edo State, he was shocked to observe that it hardly cut an ice with them. Speaking on his desire to travel abroad despite the pandemic, Mr. Moses Idahosa, from Oredo, said he is ever prepared, ever willing, if the opportunity is made available to him.
“Certainly I will like to travel, with or without this pandemic, because certainly it is not an end to humanity,” he said. “As we look at the country at present, the government of the day has really bastardized our economy. It is always good to seek greener pasture anywhere although nowhere is greener as we speak but I will still prefer to travel abroad.”
He explained why the world-dreaded COVID-19 cannot deter him. “There are a lot of gains traveling abroad. You can talk about the economic benefits, infrastructure, easy access to health care facilities unlike in Nigeria where you have death trap as hospital. Abroad, you can have access to all these things. Their governments are always proactive when it comes to the issue of the welfare of its citizens but in Nigeria, nobody cares.”
As a proof of his point about no- body caring, he fingers the recent sharing of the palliatives. “Just imagine what is happening in the said palliatives that they are distributing. Instead of giving them to the vulnerable ones, they are sharing it among themselves. It goes to show that the system is corrupt. So nothing stops me from travelling overseas if the opportunity comes even now.”
Noting that there was never a time that travelling overseas was not in vogue, he admitted that the number of those eager to do so has increased astronomically in recent times. “I could remember vividly my uncle, in the early 80s, traveling abroad. They even told them that before them, some other persons had travelled for studies but now that we have more people traveling abroad, you can see development. Go to some places in this Benin like Amagba in Oredo Local Government Area and others, there would have been no development but the benefits of traveling abroad have helped to develop the areas.
“If you go there, you will find that it is like the new GRA in Benin. Most of them are not employed by the state government but today they can feed their families and do whatever they want to do without depending on the government. I can tell you that in the past six to seven years our state government has not employed anybody. But for this traveling abroad, how would you have expected them to feed their families? Though there are dangers in traveling abroad through the desert or Mediterranean Sea, the gains are very much.”
His view is shared by Mr. Nosakhare Agbonavbare, from Egor. Like Idahosa, Agbonavbare, Founder of NAME Foundation, said despite the pandemic if he is offered the opportunity of jetting out of the country right now, he would grab it with both hands and without giving it a second thought. “I will, because traveling abroad in these trying times is still as lucrative as it was before now,” he insists. “Nothing has changed and from what we have seen, the benefits are far better.”
He explained: “In 2018, $360b came as remittance to the world from those who travelled from their countries and Nigeria has been a major factor because it is a sending, a receiving and a transit country. So, it is massive here. Edo State has been number one in the last 14 years in the NAPTIP (National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons) radar as the largest sending state in Nigeria.”
He agreed with the IOM report that out of the 18 local government areas in the state, five are noted for regular migration. “The number one is Ikpoba-Okha; two is Orhionmwon; three is Oredo; four is Etsako West and five is Egor Local Government Area.” He added that the benefits ac- cruing from the regular migration are enormous and for that, believes that it will be very difficult to halt.
“There was a time Al Jazeera, the international TV network, did a sur- vey and found out that Benin City has the highest number of uncompleted buildings in Nigeria,” he recalled. “But now that is no longer the case. What this means is that the remittances have brought us development. If you go now to Evbomodu, Urura, to Eyean, to Bypass, to even Idokpa and the rest, let us say within the last five years that when those places opened up, you now have people buying land even as far as Ekiadolor now in Ovia South West.
“So, if we are looking at some of these developments, one of the major things happening to us is not just taking for granted the Edo people going abroad. We have also found out that quite a number of them travelled overseas because of what they stand to benefit. We may speak against it. But the truth is it has been very beneficial to our people. Although I am one of those people fighting against it, I can tell you that for such migration abroad, Edo today would have been a den of robbers. We found out that the remittances they send to the state are huge. And this is why it has one of the largest bureau-de-changes owing to the high rate of citizens of the state travelling abroad. In America, they have over 16 locations where you can send dollars directly and you will pick it up in Erie in less than an hour yet it’s not really documented. It is not counted as part of the remittances because it is more like a black market. If you discover that Christmas was sweet in any house, go and find out and you will see that it is one son or daughter abroad that has sent just 100 euro and that, as at today, gives you about N45, 000.”
The fear of a virus, futile attempt at getting official view
But Mr. Massy Osunde from Ikpoba-Okha is not as keen as Idahosa and Agbonavbare are to travel abroad within this pandemic period even if he is issued with a visa to any of the overseas countries. Life is very precious and has no duplicate, he tells you. “I am the type of person that loves to travel,” he said. “But with the prevailing pandemic ravaging the entire globe, I will not like to travel now. The virus is not something one should be eager to expose himself to or to damn the consequence. But I am assuring you that after the whole pandemic, if I am given a visa, I will be willing to travel out of this country. I will not want to go through the desert or the Mediterranean Sea though. Some people take a lot of such risks. But I will not want to do that. If l want to travel, I will like to get my visa before I do so.”
Attempts to get the view of Prof. Yinka Omorogbe, the chairperson of the Edo State Taskforce against Human Trafficking and who doubles as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, proved abortive as she refused to pick her calls and to respond to a text message sent to her mobile phone, on the issue.