It is the children of the few middle class and the poor who will bear the brunt if the world decides to do something decisive about the many problems that Nigerian migration has been giving and our attempt to bamboozle countries that we have no moral standing to dare. These issues just do not look good on us. Being black, we have to carry double the burden.
In December 2019, I wrote an article about Thomas Cook, arguably the first ever travel agency and how that firm accidentally established tourism as we know it today. The company collapsed earlier that year, sending shockwaves across the world. The travelers’ cheques part of the business had since been sold to Travelex and that is still thriving as bureaux de change in many airports in the world, even as global travel has taken a hit in the hands of this godforsaken COVID-19. Well, many critical thinkers believe there is an agenda or idea to totally curb travel as we know it – by de-democratising annual vacation travels as conceived by the Thomas Cooks of this world – such that only the super-rich will retain the privilege. With local and international airlines groaning and many of them in the throes of death presently, one can only expect a shakeout that leaves only a few remaining, many routes shut, and perhaps all travel will commence from the business class. Some countries may even be shut out entirely if per capita and disposable income in them is deemed inadequate to service the required profit of the airline, many of which are racking up losses presently. Last week, news came out that some $601 million of airlines’ funds was stuck in Africa as a result of these lockdowns and inability to fully bounce back. Also, we can see that in Nigeria, some 30 minutes flights now cost as high as N80,000 for coach (economy), even as in-flight entertainment has been fully cut out. The times are sad.
In the referenced article, I wrote about how the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – especially Dubai – opened a new vista for travel and enlightenment for sub-Saharan Africans, after we had been totally traumatised, ‘defrauded’ and disrespected by Westerners. The pain of multiple visa fees being lost to embassies and multiple honest applications being shockingly rejected, became a bit dulled when travel to the UAE became democratised for whoever wanted to go. Indeed, visas were very liberal in the beginning – I reckon they allowed even Nigerians to collect visa on arrival – but gradually things got worse for Nigerians, as they normally do everywhere. In time, Nigerians were given one of the strictest visa regimes to the UAE, and we were excluded entirely from some certain types of long-stay visas. The next level, perhaps, is for the UAE to start inviting Nigerians for physical interviews before visas are granted (like the U.S.A, U.K. and the rest do). Of course, Europe and the U.S.A remained suspicious and difficult for us to visit – even for those who could afford it and just needed the invaluable education that comes from travelling. Business travel remained dicey as well, because our reputation for scams and all sorts preceded us. Anyone who has attempted some level of international business will be able to confirm that they sometimes meet with stonewalls and there are many people around the world who will immediately put up a shutter once they know you are Nigerian. Many prefer to deal with Ghanaians and an increasing volume of our businesses – especially exports – are now routed through our West African neighbour because the world believes they adhere more to standards.
Let me itemise the issues. International travel remains very important and cathartic for the reasons identified by Thomas Cook in the 1800s – in the heady days of colonialism – for the following reasons:
1. Workers need a getaway, at least once yearly or once in two years. This is good for psychological balance (I know that even peasants and artisans in developed countries regularly go on vacation, so I now know that Nigerians do not travel enough, contrary to my earlier belief). Only the rich travel here, but more people down the food chain should travel. This means we have to have better leaders who can help manage our resources better and spread the wealth. Every adult needs the catharsis and exposure that travel brings.
2. Traveling is the best education. It teaches a lot more in ways you could never be taught in school. So, it is the most efficient way of increasing literacy. What you see, you never forget. Traveling is important for Africans because the mental transitioning that we have to do from where we are to where we need to be, is more profound and bigger than for most peoples around the world. It is profoundly difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the current strides of civilisation or lives that are fundamentally different from what you are used to, if you don’t travel… Traveling enables us to see what the ideal situation should be. Some things we believe impossible will be shown not to be so, with travel.
3. Our children (poor or rich) – being citizens of the world – need the inspiration that traveling offers in order to create a better picture of their country on the canvass of time. It is for them to notice the architecture of other countries and try and replicate here. It is for them to notice working systems and orderliness and replicate at home. However, they need guidance from older folks. If we only focus them on how much money we can spend when we travel with them, or how to enjoy luxury, or worst still, we denigrate our country in front of them and praise others, the outcomes will be worse than what we have today.
With the UAE presently, we are having a problem whereby many of our travelers go with fake negative COVID-19 results but when tested abroad, they turn out to be positive. This is just a subset of the problem by which many of our people carry fake documents around. We cannot forget all of a sudden, that the world is still in the middle of a health crisis.
4. Traveling allows Nigerians and sub-Saharan Africans to find opportunities to integrate with the global economy – for those who are entrepreneurial and understand that ultimately being a local champion leaves you in a vulnerable position. Whereas Nigerians are not welcome to open companies abroad, on a few occasions they may be able to collaborate with foreigners to establish companies. At other times, they can meet foreigners and become agents and distributors. What is not acceptable is not to know what is happening in other parts of the world and not connecting at all with the development of humanity.
However, as far as Nigeria is concerned, the following are the problems that we give the world, which has turned us into undesirable elements, and if we are not careful, we are at the cusp of becoming a proper global pariah:
a. With the UAE presently, we are having a problem whereby many of our travelers go with fake negative COVID-19 results but when tested abroad, they turn out to be positive. This is just a subset of the problem by which many of our people carry fake documents around. We cannot forget all of a sudden, that the world is still in the middle of a health crisis. This is not the time for our administrators to feign fighting for some pride (we have none left) on behalf of the people. This is the time to talk to ourselves and organise to ensure that these usual forgeries and other such nonsense is not being exported by our people.
b. Nigerians have become an unruly lot (a good percentage of us). Some Nigerians do not mind ruining the image of Nigeria further by misrepresenting us abroad. It used to be that our fathers bought suits or rented one, just to travel abroad back in the day. They showed respect to other peoples’ lands. I don’t know where we got this cheap new confidence from but traveling these days, I see young Nigerian boys, especially looking so rough, so casual, so indecent, so lackadaisical, so nonchalant in outlook; so unruly, so rascally and sometimes quite dirty. We are known to get drunk in-flight and cause trouble (ask Ethiopian and Emirates Airlines). We are proud of being loud and often impose our Nigerian-ness on others without a care. It is trite to note that many of our modern-day travelers lack orientation and believe they need none. A nation cannot be sinking further and further into the abyss. On my last trip abroad, I had to text Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa on this matter. It is not enough for us to fight fires after our people may have caused mayhem abroad. How can we begin to subtly establish better protocols for travel out of Nigeria? This is a monster that we must try and rescue. It is not enough for people to say, ‘I am traveling with my money’. Nigerians should understand that they are representing their country at every point.
c. Nigerians are known to be bold enough to commit real crimes abroad. All over the world, we are known to be prominent in the drug-trafficking business. Many of our young men languish in jails abroad. We are, perhaps, the most desperate nation where too many youths want to escape abroad. In the UAE, for example, we are the only country where boys can come in and organise armed robbery, not once, not twice but many times. Ditto in Ghana and elsewhere. How we expect to still retain the respect and love of these countries where we commit these crimes is a wonder.
I believe the world has a Nigerian problem as a result of the above issues we have with migration. I don’t believe this is the right time for us to enter into diplomatic tiffs with some of these countries who have opened up to our people in the past.
d. We migrate improperly. Over 13,000 Nigerians were deported within the last four years from 10 countries, as recently reported by Daily Trust newspapers. The fact is that Nigerians get deported from nearly every country on earth because we are in every country on earth – usually illegally. We should put our best feet forward. A situation where Nigerians migrate out of desperation is not good enough. Egypt with 100 million citizens and less numbers in the diaspora, recieves $29 billion in diaspora remittances yearly. With 200 million people and over 20 million of us abroad, we are fluctuating around $24 billion, with COVID-19 taking a huge toll as our brothers and sisters abroad are having to rearrange their priorities. This means that in spite of the loud din around our migration, we are not sending people who could earn very well abroad. What needs to be done is for our leaders to lead right, keep the money at home and ensure that young Nigerians have confidence in their country, rather than curse her everyday, while planning to run away because they believe elsewhere is better. This is largely a southern Nigeria problem. Northern youths stay at home or return home after studies. We better deal with that.
e. A branch of the crimes for which we are known is cybercrime. On this, we have posted some very high-profile cases, including hundreds of our young boys in the U.S.A and in other countries like the UAE. Very remarkable are the cases of Obi Invictus, who was bold enough to collect global accolades, including featuring in Forbes as a billionaire under 30 and on BBC. There is also the case of Hushpuppi, Woodberry and friends and many of our boys in the U.S.A recently rounded up by FBI. These were boys who daily display their ill-gotten wealth on social media, thereby garnering following from millions of young Nigerians. Our image is severely tarnished that it will take several generations to clean – that is if we start now.
f. Our illegal immigrants – many of whom go into the underworld economy of prostitution, drug dealing, street trading and whatnot – have given the police of foreign countries much work to do. In Sharjah, UAE, where many of our young ‘hustlers’ live, and in parts of India, there has been many cases of suicides when these Nigerians jump into chutes, or from high rise buildings when running away from police. It just cannot be right. We have to show responsibility as a country and create every reason for these young people to remain at home, find gainful employments or start something sustainable on their own. We must return to dignity of labour. Not everybody must or can be a billionaire.
I believe the world has a Nigerian problem as a result of the above issues we have with migration. I don’t believe this is the right time for us to enter into diplomatic tiffs with some of these countries who have opened up to our people in the past. The very rich Nigerians who are grandstanding on behalf of the rest of us today – like the Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika – know that they have alternatives; many private jets abound to take them and their children to anywhere they want. Sirika is not helping Nigerians with business to do in the UAE by starving them or ruining opportunities for them in that liberal country that encourages everybody. He has even made many lose much money due to recent diplomatic tiff, which is just he and his master exercising ego trips.
Our president has also commenced his usual junket (on the bill of taxpayers) starting on March 30. Buhari never cares about how his policies rub off on poor Nigerians, so long as he has maximum comfort, which we all pay for. Same thing he did in 2016. The First Lady only just returned from Dubai, where she has been for six months, only to come and launch a book that raked in hundreds of millions of naira. It is the children of the few middle class and the poor who will bear the brunt if the world decides to do something decisive about the many problems that Nigerian migration has been giving and our attempt to bamboozle countries that we have no moral standing to dare. These issues just do not look good on us. Being black, we have to carry double the burden. We cannot change this reality for now, except by admonishing ourselves to be extra clean in our dealings, and extra orderly, whether as individuals, groups, companies or governments.