By FIDELIS EGUGBO
To most people, it is ‘illegal migration’, but the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has continued to preach that there is nothing like illegal migration but irregular migration.
Life is all about movement. Most people have severally moved that they can no longer trace where their forefathers migrated from. Imagine the fact that we all migrated from the Garden of Eden and you may want to know how long it took your forefathers to get to where you are today. In short, without movement, life will not be interesting as people move to different locations for different reasons. In the Holy Book, the first migration had to do with God throwing out Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruits. That movement was the beginning of migration and it gives credence to the fact that people move for different reasons.
According to the Book of Genesis 1:1-5, Adam and his household were chased out for committing the sin of disobedience while in Genesis 12:1-3, God also made Abraham to migrate from where he was to a land which would be more fruitful, journeying for about 400 miles with his household.
Therefore, no one can stop people from migrating, and the terms of migration are not really different if we are to compare biblical narratives to present day happenings. Abraham had to manoeuvre his way when he was migrating; and, today, boundaries also exist between countries and when you enter other countries without valid documents, you are seen as an irregular migrant.
Irregular migration has led to many people losing their lives. Some of the irregular migrants pass through untold hardship to enable them get to their destinations. Then, getting to the so-called destinations unfolded another bundle of harrowing experiences as such persons might be compelled to go into hiding for God knows how long, engaging in menial jobs or jobs that you cannot proudly talk about. A friend once told me that there are some countries that encourage irregular migration due to the fact that there are jobs citizens of such countries would not contemplate engaging in but the irregular migrants would happily do and the authorities would pretend as if they were not aware. That means such jobs are not only unhealthy but, very likely, inhuman.
In the 1960s to early 1980s, available records show that Nigerians were not keen on travelling out of the country as they were very comfortable as Nigerians living in Nigeria. That was when refined petroleum products were enough for local consumption; vehicles and their accessories were being assembled or produced in the country; the textile mills were producing enough not only for local consumption but for export. Even our own Delta State was proud to play host to Michelin.
However, in the 1990s, the situation changed. Instead of Nigeria playing host to foreigners who were willing to do the menial jobs, the economy was in comatose, the political environment became economically unconducive. It was like war situation such that people sought every opportunity to ‘flee’ Nigeria. Perhaps, the most frightening part of it was that most of those who were leaving had neither valid documents nor definite jobs waiting for them at their preferred destinations if there were any at all.
To make matters worse, the value of the country’s currency, the naira, had collapsed. So, if you were able to send $500 (five hundred dollars), it meant so much for your people back home; which encouraged families to go as far as borrowing or selling their property to send at least one member of the family out of the country. It was really ironical when one recalls that in the 1970s and 80s, parents were proud to borrow or sell property to send their children to school.
Activities of successive military juntas could be linked to the derailment in the country’s value system and collapse of several institutions, but on May 29, 1999, the armed forces formally handed the baton of leadership to democratically elected Nigerians. So, if the men in khaki were careless and never bothered about the welfare of the people, those chosen by the people, not withstanding the fact some were retired military leaders, must find a way to get things back on track.
More importantly, with restoration of democracy, people started asking questions about their relations, they started blaming government for allowing their relations to be in bad situations in other countries. Naturally, no one wants to accept responsibilities for bad situation; and, with democracy and the aid of new information communication technology, secrets were been unravelled and, of course, governments began to take actions to change the trend.
Delta was one of the states of the country where people were being lured with promises whereas the likes of our late reggae star, Majek Fashek, had warned that the streets of New York were not littered with gold. There is a common saying that there is no free meal even in Freetown. So, you must work to earn a living because the days of waiting for manna to fall from heaven were ended with biblical times.
Sixteen years after the rebirth of democracy in the country, an Ika-born, University of Ibadan-trained medical doctor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, emerged as the Governor of Delta State. It is a common saying that the ‘best footballer’ is one watching from the sideline. Okowa was a commissioner, secretary to the state government (SSG) and later, a senator of the federal republic. In all of these positions, he obviously knew what was going on but was handicapped in changing the drift, because he was confined to playing advisory roles, until the onus fell on him as Governor; one who is no longer a spectator but a key player in the field.
As a humanist and a medical doctor who is aware of the fact that some of these persons who were being lured into embarking on irregular migration were at great risk of not only losing their lives and everything due to lack of means of identification, but losing their lives in the course of embarking on the journey or having their vital organs harvested by heartless traffickers in human beings, Dr Okowa resolved to make Delta more enabling and investment friendly to halt the dangerous drift.
He promised the people prosperity and he did live up to his promise through the Job Creation Office, the first of its kind in Sub-saharan Africa. Through the Job Creation Office manned by a University Don, Prof. Eric Eboh, it was all about professionalism devoid of political sentiments. Five years down the line, a lot of persons have become more confident about their abilities as they are no longer job seekers but employers of labour. They were trained, equipped, financed and mentored towards their entrepreneurial success in their chosen fields.
Ironically, at the beginning of the empowerment programmes, due to desperation, some beneficiaries of the training programmes were still deceived into selling their starter-packs to enable them travel out of the country through irregular channels. On getting to their destinations, they discovered that the situation in Delta was better. And, the Okowa administration in its commitment to protecting the lives of Deltans wherever they are, rescued such deceived individuals and brought them back.
One individual who is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that those who travelled out through irregular means returned home safely and were equipped and fully integrated into the society is an intelligent, focused humanist, Mr Peter Mrakpor.
Mrakpor has a mien of someone who cannot hurt a fly but his prowess in the legal field, which has earned him the position of Attorney-General of Delta State since 2015, has distinguished him as a no-nonsense fellow who will always insist that the right things are done. As such, it was Mrakpor, the no-nonsense man who has ensured that those who lured Deltans into engaging in irregular migration, through fake promises of gold lining the streets of foreign countries, were made to face the wrath of the law.
Mrakpor, who doubles as the Commissioner for Justice in Delta State, heads the Delta State Task Force on Human Trafficking and Irregular Migration. He had at a symposium on human trafficking and irregular migration said, “You don’t have to travel out of the country to be successful; it is a mindset. We have a growing economy that provides lots of opportunities.”
He also disclosed that over 3,000 Deltans who were victims of human trafficking have been rescued and brought back and that more than 34 human traffickers have been convicted thus far by the Delta State Task Force on Human Trafficking and Irregular Migration in keeping with the Stronger Delta agenda of the Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa administration.
One could not really ascertain what Mrakpor and his team are doing as COVID-19 rages, but no doubt they will be concentrating on enlightening the people about the opportunities that abound in the state. As an individual, I once told a friend who was determined to go out of the country “to go and make it,” that if he could only imagine what he would make in Nigeria if he had four hours of sleep and worked for 20 hours daily, he would not dream of going out of the country. That was when it dawned on him that leaving the shores of the country without valid documents may mean volunteering himself to be used as a slave in another man’s country.
There is nothing that can be compared to freedom. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted a lot of movement and also proven to the doubting Thomases that we are all humans and no country is really better than the other. All that is required is to use what you have to make your state or country to be what you desired it to be. Not too long ago, Dubai was a mere desert but many people today do not even realize that Dubai is just a state in United Arab Emirates.
As COVID-19 rages, most Deltans have heaved a sigh of relief that Governor Okowa’s efforts in the provision of infrastructure and ensuring good governance is paying off. While Delta, for instance, has well-equipped medical facilities, there are some states in the country that do not boast of any. So, while Delta is increasing the number of persons tested daily for COVID-19 symptoms, there are also some states in the country that are not engaging in any testing simply because they do not have testing facilities and kits.
It is also true that due to insurance coverage for Under-five as well as pregnant and nursing mothers, which provides for free medical services, there is an influx of pregnant and nursing mothers into the state. With such experience, Delta should also be ready to receive an influx of COVID-19 patients once the borders are opened because, residents of those states that are not prepared to handle the pandemic may find their way to Delta State.
Although the mandate of curtailing irregular migration does not cover movements within the country, Mr Mrakpor and his team cannot rest on their oars; they should continue to sensitize the people to key into the different opportunities that abound in the state rather than planning on how to leave the state through irregular means once the lockdown is over.
They should let those who engage in the nefarious trade of luring innocent people out of the country through irregular means know that they also risk prosecution.
The fight against irregular migration is collective and for those who want to travel and do not know what to do, they should also seek assistance from the committee which will direct them to appropriate quarters for them to travel with valid documents. Just imagine the years that the more than 3, 000 persons that were returned to the state must have wasted. Imagine the trauma they must have gone through; and, imagine what it will take to reintegrate them into the society. If you are planning to travel out of the country through the desert, ask yourself what it will be like to be without water and food for days; and, if they tell you that once you can cross the Sea, you are in Eldorado, imagine using a boat that will be paddled to cross the sea and know that you have possibly made yourself a ready food for sea creatures, whereas with less than the amount that you may spend to pass through irregular routes, you may still get your valid documents.
No one can stop migration. Imagine a world without migration! But as an individual, parent or group of persons, if Governor Okowa is working round the clock to make the state peaceful, a hub for entrepreneurs, and possibly the investors’ destination, what roles are you playing to assist the government to succeed, bearing in mind that the success of the administration will impact positively on all Deltans and humanity? Collectively, we can make the state better.
God bless Delta!