By Hope Eghagha
In the last three odd weeks some pictures carrying horrible images of victims of the Desperate Journeys to Europe trapped in the hell of Libya have been in circulation. No African anywhere in the world, indeed, no sane human being can bear the sight of the tragedy which the pictures conveyed. I felt humiliated. I felt violated. I felt insulted. And I think most people felt the same way. It drained the blood of the air which I breathe. I felt betrayed; betrayed by African governments, by the AU; betrayed by the fate that has befallen those young men and women whose dream to get to Europe ended in the harsh conditions in the failed State of Libya. For some of these young people, their lives were truncated through brutal and unrecorded deaths, discarded into the deep sea which centuries ago received bodies of millions who died during the slave trade. Some of the women were raped, slashed and killed. Pathetic. Tragic.
I saw hollowed looks. I saw desperate eyes. I saw resignation too. I saw emaciated bodies. I saw a picture of three young men hung upside down, bunched together like plantain, on what looked like a scaffold. I saw the picture of an Arab man urinating on the body of a young buxomly lady, with the pee concentrated on her breasts. There was no anger in her face. She seemed to have accepted the insane depravity of her captors, hoping it was a sacrifice to make to get to the ‘Promised Land.’ I saw pictures of men bunched together on the bare floor, on ships, in rooms. Some were on a queue like criminals and herded to the slaughter house. I also saw pictures of some who had died. I remembered the slave ships and the violations which some of our ancestors suffered in the hands of slave traders 400 years ago. I saw in the eyes pictures of my youth, the youth and the hope of tomorrow. And I shed tears for my continent, for the Black race.
The pictures, broadcast by CNN brought home to us the sad reality of that which we had always suspected- that thousands of our youth who embark on the journey through the harsh conditions in North Africa never ever make it. While some are trafficked into prostitution, others are held in one or another of slavery. The pictures shamed Nigeria and some other African countries about how the leaders have failed the people. They brought memories of the transatlantic slave trade in which men and women were violently removed from Africa and transported like cattle to be sold in Europe and America.
Before then there was the story of 26 young ladies who died and their bodies were recovered by the Italian coast guards. They were given a befitting burial by the Italian government. I saw no Africa government. I saw no Nigerian government official. I saw Italian officials. Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa made some noise in the media about the issue. But it ended there. By the way, does Nigeria have a Foreign Affairs Minister? I miss the likes of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi on the driving seat of foreign policy. What has happened?
For the Nigerian government, it would seem that the lives were well wasted. For the Italians those who died while trying to seek a better life deserve some decency. In Nigeria we blamed the girls, the desperate ones, the men and women who believe that with a hard trek across the desert, conquering all the obstacles, they would become Hercules, heroes like some of their counterparts who have sent them pictures of the prosperous cities and countryside of Europe. If their counterparts dared and have ‘conquered’ the world, why should they not try and conquer too?
I saw no angst in the Nigerian government. I saw shame in some eyes, in the eyes of compatriots who feel the disgrace and humiliation. Such compatriots know that the indignities rained on our brothers and sisters in a neighbouring country or inside Nigeria or anywhere in the world is indignity on all of us. If our government will take no action, then the world will continue to treat us badly. If we are worthless, if our migrants are worthless in the eyes of the home government why should it bother other people? Poignantly, after the videos aired on CNN there were protests in France, against Libya. There is a picture in circulation now reported to be that of a Libyan Ambassador who was beaten blue and black by angry Africans somewhere in Cameroun. Not in Nigeria.
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The pictures from Libya should galvanise the government at state and federal levels, to embark on a massive restoration and reconstruction programme. With the right spirit and will, it is possible to create an environment in which desperately embarking on fatal trips would not be an attraction. I envisage a massively funded youth programme on agriculture, expansion of existing infrastructure and construction in order to provide employment. I envisage a government pumping millions into IT development to engage the youth. The multiplier effects of these would have a profound effect on the economy. In spite of the pictures from Libya there are still thousands of young men and women who are lining up the borders in order to undertake the desperate journeys to Europe and America.
Sadly, the pictures did not provoke enough anger to rouse the Nigerian government to action. There is no equivalent of a Marshall Plan to intervene and free trapped Nigerians in Libya. The subtext is clear. No Nigerian life is worth the trouble. Why did they breach the border and end up in a dangerous territory? If we remember, it was the picture of a Syrian toddler, the three-year old Alan Kurdi lying prostrate on the beach near Bodrum Turkey, having drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 that spurred the world into some action on the refugee crisis in Europe. It even became an election issue in Canada because his parents were actually heading for that country. No such luck here. In life and in death our people suffer indignity. Our leaders love to have it so.
I have also listened to some fellow citizens compare the Libya pictures with what some of our governments have done here at home, about the notorious SARS and what their men are doing to young men across the country, about mothers selling off their children or of kidnappers killing their victims or of ritualists butchering innocent people and selling off their body parts for money. These are all terrible experiences. They are bad for the psyche; destroying whatever image we have left. But they are indicative of one fact: desperation. The situation at home has become intensely desperate. And for those who blame people trying to escape what they consider a terrible situation, they should remember that migration for a better life is a right. It is for this reason that refugees are protected by law. The monsters in Libya are Arab Africans, who have always held Africans in deep contempt all through history. The pictures from Libya should, ought to spur us into some action.