By Mohammed Abdullahi.
A friend, a father of three, who had been without any reasonable job for as long as I can remember, told me sometime ago that he was exploring all means to “escape from this hard country.” It was not as if he had not attempted the ‘escape’ in the past. The first time he had, in desperation to get a visa at all cost, submitted to the Embassy documents that had both an invitation to visit a friend as well as a letter of admission into one of the not so popular schools in the U.K. Confused of his actual intention, the Embassy officials denied him the visa and, according to him, decorated his passport with NQ (Not Qualified) stamp from the first page to the last. That was how his first dream of ‘bailing’ out of the country ended.
About two months ago, my friend decided to make another attempt. This time, he went around seeking advice and guidance from anyone who has ever traveled to anywhere, even if it was Cotonou or Ghana. Someone had obviously told him that he missed his chance of ‘escaping this hard country’ because his application was not well put together the first time, and he was determined not to repeat the same mistake.
Therefore, knowing I attended a University in England, my friend came to me for advice on how best to go about obtaining a visa. But instead of availing him the advice he sought, I adorned the toga of a preacher and gave my buddy a lengthy but unsolicited sermon.
I told my friend that America, England and other European countries are lovely and beautiful and radiant; but that only very few enjoyed the beauty of those countries. What many actually experience when they run to those countries, like he was trying to do, is the pain and anguish of living in a foreign land with little or no support network, the type you would ordinarily take for granted in Nigeria. I asked my friend how he has managed to feed his family of five even when he had no tangible job. He said it was due largely to the support and assistance he received from family and friends. This type of assistance, I told my friend, would not be readily available outside
the shores of Nigeria. Over there, everyone would be in OYO (On Your Own) like we say in Nigeria.
Thereafter, I narrated to my friend the experience I had as a student in Manchester. My girlfriend, who was also a student from Nigeria, joined me severally to hunt for a student job. We combed everywhere from Oxford street to Stratford Centre. We even went to a small town
known as Crewe in Cheshire. But we were never successful. May be this was our fault, because it is possible that we didn’t try hard enough. After all, I know of a brother, a successful Advertising Executive back in Nigeria, who was then working as a sweeper in ASDA. I also had a classmate who was engaged to wash toilets in TESCO. So, while it may have been partially our fault that we didn’t get anything to do, the sorts of jobs many Nigerians had back then, as evident from the two
jobs I said my Nigerian brothers were doing, were also not very impressive. They were mainly jobs meant to keep body and soul together.
No doubt, my ‘sermon’ worked. My friend has now agreed to stay back in Nigeria to sweat it out and make something out of his life. However, we are still battling to dissuade another friend who was thrown out of United States of America two years ago from going back. After spending four years in Staten Island without accumulating anything tangible except a Laptop, he is still insistent on going back. The allure of God’s own country must be very irresistible.
To be sure, not every Nigerian abroad is suffering. Some have nice jobs and fantastic life. However, the success of this category of Nigerians who are doing well abroad is partially responsible for why we now have so much hatred directed at them. Either jealous or intimidated with the achievements of immigrants, the citizens of many countries are now singing a loud ‘pack and go’ song. Xenophobic attack in South Africa is now incessant. Donald Trump became the President of United States largely because he promised to get back the jobs hijacked by immigrants. Brexit occurred because citizens want government to protect their jobs from been taken by citizens of other countries. Almost every country is now flushing out immigrants and closing its borders. We seemed to have come to the end of the race for ‘greener pasture’.
In the last one month alone, over a thousand Nigerians have been sent home from South Africa, Belgium, United Kingdom, Libya and Italy. To drive home the point that they were no longer welcomed, many deported Nigerians, especially those from Libya, were said to have spent months in detention facilities, with many killed in the process. As I write, many Nigerians who have spent a large part of their productive life abroad are returning home, not with the proverbial treasure but with wounded hearts and broken spirit. It is most unfortunate.
One thing we Nigerians are very good at is pointing out the faults of others while ignoring ours. We are never a people known for reflective
thinking and self appraisal. This is why for as long as this deportation issue lasts, we are likely to see many commentators cursing Trump and insulting South Africans for sending our people back home. We are not likely to ask ourselves what we need to do in order to discourage the exodus of our people from their country. If we have a good country and responsible government, not many Nigerians would risk everything to travel out just to go and confront indignity and dehumanization.
Today, our big population is one of the things we are proud of as a country. Many Nigerians would smile when our country is referred to as the most populous black nation on earth. We have so many ‘papa dozens’ in our midst who have continued to push up our population figures with
the full encouragement of the government. To us, numbers are very important. We have continued to increase our population at a very alarming geometric rate, while the income of an average family has remained largely static. We continued to have children we can’t or do not bother to cater for and we expect the world to take up the burden.
‘Naija for show’ is a popular cliché around here, so it is expected that when our amenities and facilities failed to grow at the same exponential rate as our population, our people who, like many other creatures of God, love the good life would want to run to those countries that have what we do not have. Now, the world has tolerated us enough, because for a very long time Nigerians flooded countries of the world; stretching and overstretching infrastructures that those serious governments deliberately planned for their own citizens. We can’t expect organized countries to continue playing the big brother and sacrifice their comfort just to make up for our inability to plan our existence. The new language is ‘self-protection’ first.
I came across a theory that put this whole anti-immigrant issue in perspective. It was an excerpt from a 1974 book, “Life Boat Ethics: The Case Against Helping The Poor” authored by Garrett Hardin. The book offers a reasonable explanation to the current frustration faced by our ‘run-away’ brothers and sisters across the world. According to Hardin, “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…”
From the foregoing lengthy quote, it is very obvious that our policy makers don’t even need to go too far in their search for solution. It is very clear that we cannot keep on breeding children like rabbits without a corresponding growth in our economy. It will simply not fly.
We need to revisit our misguided euphoria over big but largely useless population. And now that many of those who want to run away from the country cannot even do so, it is important that we begin to deliberately organize our lives in such a way that we can attain a minimal level of comfort right here in our fatherland.
__________________________________ *This article was first published on 22nd March, 2017 by THE DISCOURSE Magazine. It features here as part of ‘WHEN I USED TO WRITE’ series, a compilation of the previous writings of the author.