What is responsible for the mass migration of Africans to Western Europe? Is it the desire for a better life? Can it be greed or bad leadership? Can it be squandering of resources by corrupt politicians? Can it be wrong policy and planning that leaves the citizens jobless, hopeless and in abject penury? Can we say that the mass migration of Africans to the shores of Europe is daily nurtured by the relentless portrayal of Europe as a land flowing with milk and honey? Is it driven by the myth that projects Europe’s cobbled roads as being overlaid with gold? Why is mother Africa with all her natural resources sending her able-bodied men and women into the cauldron of temperate Europe, with its markedly different culture? Can it be the conditioning of every African that forever hungers after a life of ease and luxury?
Yearly, Nigerians in their thousands still gamble on looking for a better life in Europe. Husbands leave behind long-suffering wives in search of greener pastures. Wives abandon jobless husbands to escape to London in search of the almighty pound sterling. Sometimes, and this may sound cruel, very young children are carted off to grandparents, while their fathers and mothers make a choice between survival and starvation.
Do we all have right, as parents, to abandon our kids to fate by emigrating abroad in search of tomorrow’s world? This is unfair. And because we live in an unfair, mad and get-rich-quick world, many are taking the risk, the trouble, expense and the emotional heartbreak of uprooting themselves and starting life anew in an untried and hostile environment where they must strive harder than the host to survive.
Adaptability to the new conditions must quickly be won over. And thank God for the resilience of Nigerians. Many are now conquering frontiers as far flung as Siberia and Iceland in a pioneering spirit. However, there is a thin line between resilience and selfishness. Can we really say that resilience is behind our ability to absorb sudden break with family ties and known familiar way of life? Is resilience behind our ability to cope with emotional, mental, psychological and social stress afflicting black residents in hostile and racist Britain?
The old 60s and 70s black Africans travel genre had a different narrative. Among Nigerians, travel to Europe was mainly dictated by burning desire to acquire western education, knowledge and skills.
Our society ascribed first class respect and honour to every proud possessor of polytechnic, technical and university certificates that originated from Britain. After the completion of their education and the acquisition of western skills and knowledge, few Nigerians stay behind in England. Most of the early Nigerian migrants were genuine students. They treated Britain as a place to acquire education and saw no reason to become citizens. They trooped back home to take up government and corporate appointments that were readily available. In this bygone era, Nigeria was a country of promise. The economy was robust. Corruption had not taken on its present pandemic proportion. Affluence was visible and greed had not entwined itself like poison ivy round the neck of this nation. We were known for fairplay, decency and honesty.
Then the decay set in, and with it, a new travel genre of desperation and survival. Economic and social decay have both paralysed a nation blessed with limitless resources but lacking in visionary rigor.
As the economy nose-dived, and looter-rulers made their fatal assault on oil and gas revenues, smart Nigerians from lower to middle class homes started voting with their legs and passports. The reality of rat race began in earnest. To reach Europe, some Nigerians, invoking the ancient Israelites woes in the wilderness, had to pass through perilous desert of Morocco. Women offered their bodies as rape currency to libidinous Arabs along the Mediterranean coastlines. Men offered scarce dollars and lived under severe restrictions and slavery rules.
The lucky ones end up in Ceuta, the Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast. There, they are kept in detention centres to await charges of illegal entry into Spain. The bones of the unlucky ones remained unclaimed and unsung under the forbidden bed of the Mediterranean seas. They died mostly from disease and thirst. The millennium-day migrants, the opportunity-seekers and risk takers, whatever their reasons need more than a wing and a prayer. They require enterprise, ambition, determination and stubborn desperation to pull off from their roots, severe the past and face a new life in a brand new clime.
What is visible is the new paradigm shift. New Nigerian migrants are coming to Britain not to acquire education but to gather pound sterling. I call the shift, the ‘pound offensive’. This is true of average Nigerian instinct to travel to London and work to gather enough money for a better life back home. And money being a universal magnet does not respect race, age, educational achievement and gender. Therefore, London is now home to experience university lecturers on career exchange as security guards because of pound sterling. Pastors are leaving behind bewildered congregation to become cab drivers in London. Strange still, the ‘mama’ Afusa and Ramonu of this world are abandoning their market stalls at Balogun and Dugbe markets to clean hospital toilets in London.
These new tribes of migrants are the direct beneficiaries of our world becoming a global village. Within 36 hrs of arrival in London, it is possible to start a new life as a porter in a 5 star hotel. Though on a slave wage, nevertheless the porter has proved the truth that it is easier to succeed in London than in Lagos or Abuja. It is now a myth that black Africans endless tribal wars form the decisive cause of migration towards Europe and North America.
New arrivals are neither fleeing from tribal warlords nor oppressive regimes. The emerging pattern is that majorities of sub Saharan Africans are economic migrants and they fall under the dreaded category of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants are the stubborn enemy on Britain’s doorpost. They are invisible enemies with no postcodes. They are the shadowy enemies fuelling so much hysteria and bellyaching among the British voting public. They are the detestable sub-human species causing anxieties, and thus, leading to xenophobia and racism among British people.
There is social tension following the ever-growing illegal immigration, especially from black Africa. Poor and jobless lower class whites blame the influx of illegal immigrants as the source of their misfortune. Homeless whites blame illegal black migrants as the source of their sleeping rough on the streets. Old, conservative whites shake their arthritis-damaged fist at the poor underclass blacks as the cause of rising crime waves in their neighbourhoods. Illegal immigration is now leading to the notion of difference. The ‘us and them’ syndrome is the new racist currency. Black African culture and way of life are backward, so they say. We are still apes somersaulting from trees to trees. Also, the tabloid campaigns demonise the blackman and also fuel resentment. Citizens from the Dark Continent are still being seen as ethnic beasts with prehistoric savagery in their blood veins. Our hygienic and moral values are detestable to the white model. In Britain, a black South African falls into the ready trap of an illegal immigrant than a white person from same country. They have the same passports but differential treatment in the European wise eyes. There is no explanation to justify why the white South African is heavily favoured other than racial preference.
To quell public anxiety and placate the pampered ‘middle England’, British government is on the horns of a liberal dilemma.
A gloss is being applied over the ugly canvass of racialised view of illegal immigration. The British government now stresses the cultural and economic dynamism that comes with relatively high levels of immigration. However, Britain like the rest of EU is rolling out draconian immigration legislations to discourage the tired, the poor and the huddled masses of economic migrants from black Africa. Mainland Europe, from the coastal enclave of Ceuta along the Moroccan shore, to the rolling fjord of Norway have all barricaded themselves behind a double exclusion fence, surrounded by razor wire, electronic sensors and closed circuit television. The subtext is clear. Many of us are here and the house is full.
But it is too late to keep away the ‘barbarians’ massing at the gate. Black Africans are among the billions of other people reduced to penury and living on less than $1.00 a day. This is through the massive economic exploitation of the black man’s resources. Mr Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, once publicly acknowledged that proceeds from slavery transformed Britain into what it is today. Would any barrier or law deter majority of poor Nigerians living under N200.00 a day from crossing the Atlantic?