About a year ago, I watched with my children, how migrants engaged security agents in a battle of wits at the port of Calais on an international television channel. This is an international border barrier put up by France and the United Kingdom to prevent illegal immigrants from reaching UK. They were mostly Africans who have braced all odds including the risks and horrors of Sahara desert, determined to reach Europe at all cost.
My children could not understand how adults could be attempting to climb walls to get to another country when they could simply have presented their passports at border control. Knowing fully that they were still young to understand international politics, I did not bother to explain what would prompt individuals to risk all to embark on a journey that could lead to death. But we all know the reasons, or at least some of those reasons. And that’s why when news of the death of 26 Nigerian teenagers whose bodies were discovered in the Mediterranean last week, it did not attract more than a whimper from most Nigerians.
Of course, it was a foreign news medium, which broke the story, and apart from a press release issued by our Foreign Affairs ministry spokesperson, there has been nothing else from the Buhari government. Watching Geoffrey Onyeama at the budget presentation last week smiling for the cameras without a word about these teenagers’ deaths reinforced more the fact that our government does not care about the citizens. Interestingly, the Senate ordered an investigation into the deaths and asked some committees to report back their findings. It is surprising that our sybaritic senators, whom this column have had causes to pillory many times in the past, are now more efficient than the executive.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, a special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Diaspora actually offered some words but she could only point to government efforts in facilitating the return of some Nigerians from Libya and added a warning that young Nigerians should not seek to emigrate without legal documents. Good, but that’s little comfort to the parents and relatives of those 26 teenagers killed by their country. I’ve had reasons to lament serially on the anonymity of deaths in our country that one could be perceive as a broken record.
Media organisations seemed not interested in the story of these deaths too as the reports on the disaster have only been from the angles of statements and releases. Maybe I missed it, but I’m yet to come across any serious reportage of the disaster. In a week that the international media focused its attention so much on this perennial migration problem, a newspaper in Nigeria led twice with the perpetual crisis in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as though other parties are free of contretemps. Our journalists seem fixated on politics alone as issue worthy of reportage. One of the best pieces on this issue I read was by The New Yorker earlier in the year. It followed a young lady from Edo State till she got to Italy and chronicled how she became a sex slave until she was rescued by a charity in Italy. Sadly, she decided not to come back but to pursue her application for asylum. Granted we do not have the resources the international media boast of, but we must step out of the rut we have turned journalism into in our country. How deep is the malaise, which makes our young men, and women traipsed deserts and accept maltreatment including but not limited to rape and slavery just to get out of Nigeria?
Interestingly, the president presented budget estimate of N8.6 trillion last week and which other template do we need to show how successive budgets do not lead to better living standard for Nigerians? There is a nexus between the ritualistic budget presentation annually and little implementation culminating in pain and agony of citizens. Till now, we don’t know the names of these 26 teenagers aged between 14 and 18 years and possibly their families are still expecting remittances from them in Europe. While our government statement merely confirmed what we knew before, it did not indicate whether our mission in Italy will be making any form of representation to the Italian government as the country investigate these deaths. We should note further that all who died were women thereby accentuating more the dilemma of the girl child in Nigeria.
The Cable last week launched a BreakTheSilence campaign to expose sexual harassment and pimping of secondary school students after stories on such happenings in some secondary schools. That’s a good start, but our government, citizens and other media groups must go further. Let’s pull the curtain back on this shameful aspect of our lives; however, a major deterrence remains a functional society where young people can actualize their potentials. Sadly, we’re failing in that aspect.