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How Economic Ordeals in Nigeria Push Youths to Die on High Seas

Divine sighs as he heaved himself back in the chair. He looked forlorn as he narrated his proposed journey to Europe through the Sahelian desert. He says he has been planning it for a couple of months now and he is desperate to leave Nigeria.

“The economy is just terrible. Nothing is working for me here and I have three children and a wife. You know, kids don’t really know what you’re going through. They just want to be fed and go to school.”

Divine lost his job in 2016 and turned his car into a cab to make ends meet. He says he has finally given up and is determined to leave the country via whatever route.

“I have to take care of my family. Right now, I don’t care how treacherous the route is. I just want to make money and take care of my wife and kids,” he says as he sighs heavily again.

The drive for survival and for greener pastures has continued to be a push factor for hundreds of thousands of Nigerian young men and women to gamble with death in attempts to cross over to Europe and other parts of the world. This quest to escape poverty, hunger, unemployment and insecurity, among other reasons, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), cause a major segment of Nigeria’s population to seek alternatives for better livelihood prospects for themselves and their families.

Migrants and asylum seekers use the Central Mediterranean route to enter the EU on an irregular basis. They embark on long, dangerous journeys from Nigeria through North Africa and Türkiye, crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, and to a much lesser extent also, Malta.

The large majority of the migrants’ transit through Libya on their journey towards Europe. This has contributed to the development of well-established and resilient smuggling and trafficking networks in Libya.

Abel (Not real name) is now based in Germany. He has been living in Hamburg since 2020. He says he got into Germany via Italy having spent more than three years transiting from his home town in Benin City through Mali to Mauritania to Libya where he spent more than two years in detention, held by criminal gangs who sold him twice to other criminal gangs.

“It was my family that sold all that they had to buy me my freedom. I refused to come back to Nigeria. To do what there really? My mother wanted me to come back but other family members advised me not to do so as there are no jobs and no hope there.”

He added that he found his way to Italy via a dingy boat, was granted asylum there and finally found his way to Germany.

Nigerians have been faced with eight years of economic slowdown occasioned by a gross mismanagement of the economy by the immediate past administration of Muhammadu Buhari.

From the economy to security, Mr. Buhari’s legacy was one of missteps and misdeeds. Under him, Nigeria became the world’s poverty capital – 133 million Nigerians now live in abject poverty.

Unemployment continues to be a challenge due to the slower-than-required economic growth and the inability of the economy to absorb the 4-5 million new entrants into the Nigerian job market every year.

KPMG stated in April that the Nigerian unemployment rate had increased to 37.7percent in 2022 and will further rise to 40.6percent, due to the continuing inflow of job seekers into the job market.

“Unemployment is expected to continue to be a major challenge in 2023 due to the limited investment by the private sector, low industrialisation and slower than required economic growth and consequently the inability of the economy to absorb the 4-5 million new entrants into the Nigerian job market every year. Although the National Bureau of Statistics recorded an increase in the national unemployment rate from 23.1percent in 2018 to 33.3per cent in 2020. We estimate that this rate has increased to 37.7per cent in 2022 and will rise further to 40.6 per cent in 2023,” the consulting firm stated.

In July, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that inflation hit 24.08 percent in July 2023, accelerating at the fastest pace in recent years.

The World Bank, in its Nigeria Development Update report for June 2023, said the loss of purchasing power from high inflation has increased poverty in the short term, pushing an estimated four million Nigerians into poverty between January – May 2023.

The bank estimates based on the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data show that 89.8 million Nigerians fell below the poverty line at the start of 2023, with an additional four million making it 93.8 million in May of 2023.

As socio-economic conditions continue to deteriorate, those seeking economic survival see irregular migration as the best alternative, given the difficulty and resources involved in migrating through regular and legitimate routes.

In many instances, very few of the original number who set out on these dangerous journeys live to tell their stories. While many regularly drown in the Mediterranean Sea, many also die in the deserts, and others are sold as slaves in a modern slave market.

Most of the victims of this trade are from Nigeria. Many of them leave home with expectations of getting to Europe and other destinations perceived to have better economic prospects for them, but they end up in the slave merchant nets in North Africa. The victims are put in camps and sold in open markets in Libya.

A study published by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that, almost all migrants arriving in Libya seek the help of smugglers or criminal networks to get there, who charge fees of around US$5,000. In turn the smuggling industry has grown increasingly dangerous and armed groups now play dominant role.

“Predominantly, it is young men who are on the move. However, trafficking for sexual exploitation also seems to be increasing, affecting Nigerian and Cameroonian women in particular. The number of unaccompanied and separated children travelling alone in Libya is also rising.”

The study found that around half of those travelling to Libya do so believing they can find jobs there, but end up fleeing to escape life-threatening dangers, widespread exploitation and abuse.

Interviewed in Libya, Nigerian migrants in Libya reckoned they had experienced being trapped in prisons and detention centres with limited food, water and/or electricity, regularly seeing other Nigerians and migrants being beaten and even murdered, slave markets and being forced to work for nothing, regular rape and violence and kidnapping by bandits who call captives’ families asking for money for their release.

In 2021, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), had said that many Nigerians are trapped in sexual and labour exploitation in various African and European countries.

The agency revealed that a ‘farm’ had been identified in Libya where Black African migrants were allegedly kept in cages like animals where their vital organs such as eyes, kidneys and lungs would thereafter be harvested and sold in the black market to service the medical needs of Europe.

It is not just irregular migrants that are being forced out of the country as a result of the debilitating economic conditions in West Africa’s largest economy.

Nigerian healthcare workforce, including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have continued to emigrate to developed countries to practice.

While the push factors include worsening insecurity and poor remuneration, the pull factors are higher salaries as well as a safe and healthy working environment.

Nigeria is reported to be the highest workforce exporting country in Africa. Topping her destination countries are the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), Canada, Australia, and Saudi-Arabia. A national statistical report published in August 2022 by the UK government revealed that 13,609 healthcare workers have left Nigeria for the UK between 2021 to 2022

According to the General Medical Council of the UK register, over three years preceding the Covid pandemic (January 2017 – December 2019), the total number of doctors that left Nigeria to practice in the UK was about 2,000 in comparison to around 3,000 recorded between January 2020 to September 2022, with many others currently writing or planning to write international licensing exams such as Professional Linguistics Assessment Board (PLAB) exam and the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). In addition, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria recently lamented that more than 100 medical consultants (specialists) and hundreds of junior doctors had left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia and others between 2020 to 2022.

The negative externalities for Nigeria and its citizens include increasingly poor healthcare delivery and medical education in Nigeria.

In 2019, Chris Ngige, a medical doctor and Nigeria’s immediate past minister of labour, claimed in a TV interview that the country has “more than enough” physicians to meet the needs of its nearly 200 million citizens.

The country has just 2.27 doctors working in the country for every 10,000 people. Nine in every 10 doctors are considering work opportunities outside Nigeria. And it is projected to keep rising as doctors continue to face systemic challenges, according to NOI polls.

A 2019 report by South Africa-based African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), “unless demographic growth is at the same pace with adequate economic growth, the lack of employment opportunities and economic survival in Nigeria will remain an important driver of irregular migration. In addition, the prospect of earning higher wages abroad adds to the attraction for migrants.”

Source : Business Day