The flow of migration to foreign countries by Nigerians no doubt reflect our country’s old regional structure – the northern region, the western region and the eastern region. With Yorubas most likely making England their second most important country after Nigeria, the Igbos heading to the United States while people from northern Nigeria mostly head to Saudi Arabia.
It is also interesting that you find two categories of people engaged in this wave of migration, the professionals, particularly medical doctors and engineers, as well as students, some of whom choose to stay in these countries after the completion of their studies. The second category being individuals who migrate to these countries in search of a good life but are also ready to engage in any business, legal or illegal, in order to stay abroad. Sometimes I wonder how some of these guys found their way either to the UK, US or other countries.
But the subject of this write up is on Nigerians living in Saudi Arabia, particularly the women among them, called Kano-to-Jeddah. Last year, on a visit to the Holy land, I witnessed something that shocked me. We were going to the Haram for Fajr (dawn) prayer when we saw a small girl, no more than five years old, sitting in between the roads that lead to the Haram. The sophistication with which the girl was begging requires a lot of rehearsal even for an adult to emulate. Her hands were raised, voice twisted, eyes twinkling, neck bended, and legs folded. The mere sight of that little girl would provoke deep sympathy in any person who cares about the life of a child. Just imagine your daughter in that situation.
Few meters away was another woman monitoring that little girl, keeping an eye on the money people were giving to her as charity. My wife and I approached this woman to offer a word of advice, that she should fear Allah and think of what she was putting the little girl through, to imagine the cold, and the time of the night. There is no other word to describe the situation of that little girl other than child abuse.
After listening to our admonition, the woman responded with the worst abuse you can think of. She told us they (her family) migrated from Nigeria after “you have made it ungovernable, yet even in the Holy land you cannot spare us, are you not ashamed that you cannot even provide electricity. We migrated in search of a better life”. On hearing that, I told her I wasn’t one of the Nigerian elites she referred to. That in fact, I don’t even live in Nigeria. That I am simply a journalist, and the condition I saw that little girl was simply touching and pathetic. That It is good to respect ourselves and protect the dignity of our children.
But that calm explanation was not enough to pacify the woman. We left her and proceeded to the Haram.
On our way back after the Fajr prayer the woman had already assembled other women engaged in the same trade. Unknown to us she had trailed us and saw us enter the Haram and then proceeded to lay ambush for us on our return journey. On our way back, she continued with her abuses in the assembly of those women, my wife and I refused to join issues with her. But we kept thinking about that little girl, who is just one among thousands of children that are being abused in order to make money. On visiting Madina I narrated this story to a friend and a brother who had concluded his PhD at the International Islamic University Madina. His response was “you have not seen anything.” Even the Saudi government, he said, was struggling with the situation and looking for solution to this unending problem. The authorities had deported some of the people. Yet they always find a way to return.
Last week, by Allah’s grace, I was in the Holy city and on my way to the Haram, I saw a similar group of women. This time around, the number of little beggar girls had increased. And even the best movie director will require exceptional expertise to train his actors to behave the way those little girls were acting. While we were watching the whole drama unfolds, amazed at what I was seeing, a Nigerian governor, who had just won a controversial by-election, walked past us on his way to the Haram.
Dear Muslim Governors in Nigeria, please when next you meet each other, think about the future of these little children that are being abused. Remember that while you pass by them whenever you visit the Holy land, your children of similar age back home are in school as you prepare them to have a decent future. When next you meet please, consider establishing a bi-national commission between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia in order to address this abuse. I know some people might say that you already have millions of these children at home, but in this case, think of the embarrassment they cause our nation, just like drug traffickers and money launderers are humiliating us in Europe, Asia and North America.
*Dr. Yusha’u (email@example.com), a former staff of the BBC, teaches journalism at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England. He is a weekly columnist for PREMIUM TIMES