In the past three weeks, no fewer than a thousand Nigerians have been deported from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Belgium, South Africa and Libya. Meanwhile, we are still awaiting the deluge that will come from the United States given the resolve of President Donald Trump to unleash a policy of “settlers and indigenes” on his country. It doesn’t matter that his own grandfather, Friedrich Trump, in 1905, wrote a letter to the German authorities begging that he and his family be spared the pain and humiliation of deportation.
If you excuse the diplomatic blunder in issuing an American travel warning which is not within her remit, I still believe the Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa has done well on the issue of Nigerian deportees from abroad. But it is time the authorities began to find a lasting solution to the problem of our citizens who, desperate to get out of Nigeria, now find themselves in a bind in foreign lands where they are no longer welcome.
Last week, another batch of 180 Nigerians arrived from Libya to join the 171 colleagues who were brought back a few days earlier by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) after they had spent several months in Libyan detention facilities. Among them were physically and psychologically broken men, malnourished children, nursing mothers and pregnant women. They came back not only battered and bruised but with harrowing stories.
From South Africa, where many of our nationals have in recent weeks been under Xenophobic attacks, 97 Nigerians (95 males and two females) were also deported back home last week by their government allegedly for committing various offences. As it would happen, they arrived on the same day 41 Nigerian girls who were trafficked to Mali for sex and labour exploitation were evacuated back home. On Tuesday night, another batch of 37 deportees arrived Lagos from Italy while many more are still on their way home from Europe and America. According to the Deputy Director, Search and Rescue, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Dr. Bandele Onimode, these unfortunate Nigerians “are coming back almost empty and this is a lesson to them to settle down home and be useful to their country” while assuring that the federal government “will ensure that they are well catered for.”
Even while I am almost certain that is an empty promise, it is nonetheless still comforting to know that the government is concerned about the plights of our stranded nationals who are coming home with traumas. “Several of our girls (who are innocent) are in prison, while many did not survive the gunshots when they (Libyan authorities) were catching (arresting) everybody. Some people were shot at the scene and some others died in prison yards. Many of my friends who went to Libya with us have died” said Miss Gift Peters, one of the female deportees who started out on a journey to Germany that ended in Libya.
I can relate to the stories of many of these Nigerians essentially because of the travails of my younger brother which formed the kernel of my 1st October 2005 ‘Platform Nigeria’ intervention titled “If We Stay Here We Die” which resonated with many Nigerians, given the feedback I got after. But my worry is that we are not doing enough to discourage the mindset among majority of our young people that tend to suggest that the grass is greener on the other side. And we are also not mindful of the fact that we need to control our largely unproductive population.
At a time when multiculturalism is under a serious global threat, it is important for our young people to know that attempting to go abroad is no longer a ticket to the good life that it used to be in the past. It is now almost like a death sentence for majority of those desperate enough to try the land route who may perish in the Mediterranean Sea or rot in some African jails. Even for the educated ones who may seek emigration for economic reasons with valid (tourist) visas, the opportunities for them abroad are shrinking by the day aside the indignities that now await them in the countries of their dreams should they be lucky to get in.
However, rather than blame Europe and America for the growing anti-immigrant sentiment, it is also important for us to reflect and put ourselves in their position. For instance, while the number of poor people continue to decline in other regions of the world, Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African countries currently account for half of the global poor, according to a World Bank December 2015 Report. The irony of it is that it is those same poor countries that are witnessing explosions in their populations, bringing up children whose future are hardly planned for.
About two years ago, Mr. Dimos Sakellaridis, The Country Director for DKT International, one of the largest private providers of family planning products, said a major concern about the rapidly growing population in Nigeria is the fact that jobs, national infrastructures, social services, housing, health care facilities etc. are not also growing at an equally comparable rate. “If you compare Nigeria with developed countries like Italy, a Catholic dominated country or even the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a Muslim country, you will understand that these countries have maintained same population for several years and this has caused them to organise their lives better and provide for their people,” said Sakellaridis who argued that religion cannot be an excuse for our uncontrolled population growth.
I have highlighted in the past on this page, a 2010 report sponsored by the British Council and coordinated by David Bloom, Harvard Professor of Economics and Demography, titled, “Nigeria-The Next Generation”. The report remains instructive as it states inter alia: “Nigeria is at a crossroads: one path offers a huge demographic dividend, with tremendous opportunity for widespread economic and human progress, while the other path leaves Nigeria descending into quicksand.”
The kernel of that point is to ask: what kind of population are we breeding? Even when I have not conducted any research, most educated and relatively comfortable people in our society no longer subscribe to having many children. They have only the number they believe they can care for. On the other hand, those who are at the bottom of the society have no qualms about having as many children as they like without considering the welfare of those they are bringing into the world. For instance, I have a friend, a professional with a very good job who has three children because, as he said, that is the number he can comfortably care for. Meanwhile, his driver has 13 children from three women!
I predicted on this page several years ago that the 1974 controversial book, “Life Boat Ethics: The Case Against Helping The Poor” by Garrett Hardin could one day become the handbook for policy makers in most immigration departments of Western countries. Now, I have been proved right as most countries close their doors on desperate economic migrants. That was what brought Mr. Donald Trump to power and led to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
To appreciate the message, I want to republish some parts of the rather interesting theory so that the relevant authorities in our country can begin to appreciate the challenge before us as we strive to reposition our economy while at the same time thinking of policy options on how to control our population. It is a compelling choice that we must make. In Hardin’s words:
“If we divide the world crudely into rich nations and poor nations, two thirds of them are desperately poor, and only one third comparatively rich, with the United States the wealthiest of all. Metaphorically, each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world, who would like to get in, or at least to share some of the wealth. What should the lifeboat passengers do?
“First, we must recognise the limited capacity of any lifeboat. For example, a nation’s land has a limited capacity to support a population and as the current energy crisis has shown us, in some ways we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of our land. So here we sit, say 50 people in our lifeboat. To be generous, let us assume it has room for 10 more, making a total capacity of 60. Suppose the 50 of us in the lifeboat see 100 others swimming in the water outside, begging for admission to our boat or for handouts.
“We have several options: we may be tempted to try to live by the Christian ideal of being ‘our brother’s keeper’ or by the Marxist ideal of ‘to each according to his needs.’ Since the needs of all in the water are the same, and since they can all be seen as ‘our brothers,’ we could take them all into our boat, making a total of 150 in a boat designed for 60. The boat swamps, everyone drowns. Complete justice, complete catastrophe.
“Since the boat has an unused excess capacity of 10 more passengers, we could admit just 10 more to it. But which 10 do we let in? How do we choose? Do we pick the best 10, ‘first come, first served’? And what do we say to the 90 we exclude? If we do let an extra 10 into our lifeboat, we will have lost our ‘safety factor,’ an engineering principle of critical importance. Suppose we decide to preserve our small safety factor and admit no more to the lifeboat. Our survival is then possible although we shall have to be constantly on guard against boarding parties.
“While this last solution clearly offers the only means of our survival, it is morally abhorrent to many people. Some say they feel guilty about their good luck. My reply is simple: ‘Get out and yield your place to others.’ This may solve the problem of the guilt-ridden person’s conscience, but it does not change the ethics of the lifeboat. The needy person to whom the guilt-ridden person yields his place will not himself feel guilty about his good luck. If he did, he would not climb aboard.
“The harsh ethics of the lifeboat become harsher when we consider the reproductive differences between rich and poor. A wise and competent government saves out of the production of the good years in anticipation of bad years to come. Joseph taught this policy to Pharaoh in Egypt more than 2,000 years ago. Yet the great majority of the governments in the world today do not follow such a policy. They lack either the wisdom or the competence, or both.
“On the average, poor countries undergo a 2.5 percent increase in population each year; rich countries, about 0.8 percent. Because of the higher rate of population growth in the poor countries of the world, 88 percent of today’s children are born poor, and only 12 percent rich. Year by year the ratio becomes worse, as the fast-reproducing poor outnumber the slow-reproducing rich…”
What the foregoing suggests, as I have written in the past, is that it is no longer easy for our nationals to run abroad in search of the proverbial greener pastures that are not there anymore; even for the citizens of the host nations. The only solution is for us to put our house in order. That also entails having to rethink the issue of population control. It is in our collective interest.
Death of Onukaba
The late Mr Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo was running from armed robbers when he met a most gruesome death last Sunday on what has become one of Nigeria’s most treacherous roads. And there can be no better tribute to the accomplished journalist than the one paid on Tuesday by my brother, Dr. Reuben Abati. In Onukaba, Nigeria lost an illustrious citizen and a fantastic human being.
Incidentally, while I had a good relationship with Onukaba, as to be expected of people in the same profession, it was not journalism that drew us close. It was our children; or rather, their (former) school. When my family returned from the United States late in 2011, my wife decided that our children should not return to the school they were attending before we left Nigeria. That was how they ended up at Funtaj International Primary School, Asokoro, where the late Onukaba’s daughter was also attending. And with both of us doing school runs most days of the week, it was natural that our paths would cross with several opportunities for interactions.
Even though my senior by some years both in age and in the profession, Onukaba treated me like a friend and an equal. When I heard about his sudden death on Monday, I could not but shed tears. I pray God to comfort the family he left behind.