From Nigeria To Europe By Road

From Nigeria To Europe By Road

Editor's note: The Nigerian youths are not ready to accept the life conditions in Nigeria. Some keep fighting to turn the situation around; some, frustrated by failures, turn their heads to other contries and even continents. Having lost all hope, desperate, they sacrifice everything to get to "greener" pastures, only to find, in the majority of cases, that they are not welcome.

the columnist, writes on Nigerians embarking on dangerous journeys to reach Europe and the ways the Nigerian federal government could make Nigeria more suitable and "attractive" enough to stay.

On Wednesday, 2nd September, 2015, the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, was washed up on a beach in Turkey. Alan’s parents, Syrian Kurds from Kobani, a town near the Turkish border, had embarked on a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. The plan was to find sanctuary in Europe. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. The boat the family was traveling on capsized, killing 12 people, including Alan, his five-year-old brother, Galip, and their mother, Rehan. His father, Abdullah, was the only family member to survive.

Images of the toddler’s lifeless body lying face down on the beach reverberated across the globe, stirring public outrage and embarrassing Europe’s political leaders. The fate of Alan’s family brought home the full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe, but was also a reminder of the dangers people around the world face in search of a better life.

Ways of escaping

Every year, thousands of young Nigerians leave the country illegally in pursuit of a better life in Europe and elsewhere. Some take the "academic" route. They secure admissions into sham universities in Europe knowing full well that certificates awarded by these establishments are not worth the paper they are printed on. But who cares? Such schools are fit for purpose so long as they open the doors to Europe.

Other desperate travelers take the "tourist" route. But their tours have nothing to do with the Trafalgar square (why in the world would they care about an overrated public space – or are there no pigeons in Nigeria?). Don’t even bother asking if there is a camera in their luggage. They simply do not have time for nonsense. Funds for their one-way ticket to Europe were raised with blood, sweat and tears. They are in Europe for business and their plan is simple: get past the immigration counter, slip into the European city and melt into the population. This is as far as the plan goes. The rest?

If you consider this route to Europe dangerous, then you probably haven’t heard the term "Europe by road". Yes, some Nigerians actually travel to Europe by road. How? Well, there are syndicates that handle that for a fee.

But make no mistake; the voyage isn’t as smooth-sailing as it sounds. It is fraught with dangers that are stuff of horror fiction.

Just one story

At a recent public gathering, a leading Nigerian journalist recounted his brother’s journey to Europe (by road) together with a group of other desperate young Nigerians. It was a journey that lasted four agonizing years; a story of desperation, pain and untold misery. Several times this young Nigerian and his co-travelers were waylaid by bandits who killed some of them before dispossessing the lucky survivors of their valuables. Most of the travelers were hauled into prison, others were duped by traffickers who offered to help smuggle them into a transit country. So many eventually lost their lives. According to the journalist, only four Nigerians out of the 26 that began the journey made it to Libya eight months after they departed Nigeria. His brother was one of them.

By the time they arrived Libya, their hopes of making it to the shores of "sweet Europe" must have begun to diminish. The drudgery of the tortuous journey must have started to take its toll. But Europe is not for the faint-hearted. Buoyed by his unyielding determination to reach the "promised land," the journalist’s brother soldiered on. After three months in Libya, the young man boarded a fish ferry and headed to Sicily, Italy. He was later arrested in Rome and incarcerated for three months without trial. When he was finally granted bail, circumstances forced him to become a drug courier. But on his first trip to Spain, he was arrested and repatriated to South Africa (the drug lords he worked for had helped him arrange for a South African passport).

After spending one agonizing year in South Africa, the young man decided to return to Nigeria like the prodigal son. But there was a problem — he had no Nigerian passport. After several futile attempts to get one, someone helped him obtain a Sierra Leonean passport with which he returned to Nigeria, four years after he began his journey to Europe by road.

This story encapsulates the experience many Nigerians who leave the shores of our country illegally (in search of a better life abroad) face. Their odyssey is typically tough, uncertain, perilous and potentially fatal. Yet, thousands of youths, driven by desperation, are prepared to take their chance; not necessarily because they think the streets of Milan, London and Brussels are paved with gold, but because they believe that in Nigeria they are damned anyway, so it makes sense to at least take a chance on reversing their fortunes.

Desperate youths are fleeing Nigeria

Nigeria’s population is said to have reached about 170 million people. The National Population Commission states that about half of this population is made up of youths (defined as individuals between 15 and 34 years of age). But does Nigeria’s youthful and growing demographics bode well for the country? In many respects the answer is no.

While various Africa Rising (and Nigeria Rising) proponents posit that the continent’s growing population could be the engine for future economic growth, there is still no evidence that economic growth in Africa is being driven by the continent’s swelling population.

In fact, in Nigeria (and many other African countries), youth population has been growing with little or no job creation, and as a result, the number of desperate, frustrated and disillusioned youths is on the rise. In their desperation, these youths have been lured into prostitution, crime and suicidal journeys  in search of greener pastures abroad.

While unemployment should not be an excuse for criminality, our country’s leadership has an important role to play in rolling back the nation’s soaring crime rate as well as our youths’ desperate ventures to Europe and elsewhere.


Our government should offer alternative to suicide missions to Europe

So what steps should the government take? Should it build impregnable walls along our borders? Go after these evil syndicates who feed off the desperation of our youths? Ramp up our nationalist rhetoric — reminding young Nigerians that ours is a great country, a nation aflush with bountiful natural endowments? My guess is that these measures won’t cut it. Our youths will only be happy to stay home if we make home attractive.

Home will be attractive if we build educational systems that equip our graduates with the skills that will make them employable when the graduation party is over. Home will be attractive when we create an economy that innovates and produces most of the goods and services it needs. Home will be attractive when we create an environment that is conducive for entrepreneurship to thrive.

When we correct the weaknesses of essential economic structures such as taxation, inclusive financial systems and low literacy levels, then we would be on our way to creating a truly "sweet home". We must quickly dispense of the idea that Nigeria is rising simply because we have a growing consumer market for imported goods. When we make our country attractive by creating jobs for Nigerians, we would significantly reduce the number of youths who embark on suicidal missions to Europe.

No place like home

In a recent article, the Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, recounted his conversation with a young Arab doctor he met in the United Kingdom many years ago. His dialogue with the doctor sheds light on the predicament many young people from developing countries face. Here is Sheikh Mohammed’s recollection of the conversation:

"In 1968, while studying at the Mons Officer Cadet School in the United Kingdom, I needed to visit a hospital. There I met a doctor who, to my surprise, spoke fluent Arabic. I learned that he was new to the UK, so I asked if he intended to stay long or return home. He replied with an Arabic saying that translates as: 'My home is where I can eat'.

"That doctor’s words stayed with me for many years, because they underscored the contradiction between our idealized view of 'home' and the harsh realities of life that push talented people to leave their homes."

It is safe to infer that this encounter strengthened Sheikh Mohammed’s resolve to do whatever was necessary to build a "home" his countrymen abroad would readily return to. My hope is that Nigeria’s new leadership also resolves to create a better "home" for Nigeria; a home with jobs for youths, a home where public policy does not only favour a narrow elite, but creates shared prosperity for the majority.

Unless this home is built, desperate Nigerian youths will sustain their quest for a better one abroad. Even if the price is a long, treacherous journey to Europe by road, many will stand ready to pay.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of, its editors or other contributors.

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