For months now, the news has mainly been about Nigerians making their way to Libya in North Africa, from where some plan to cross over to Europe, while others choose to remain there to make quick money that never materializes.
Even to get to Libya is a tortuous journey laced with danger and death. The journey to Libya is mainly done through the desert where half of the travellers perish due to the harshness of the elements. One of them who opened up to Fides told of how he saw many sun-bleached carcasses of those who fell on the way.
He also recounted how they were often waylaid by bandits who steal, beat them up and rape the women. These hardships are just samples of the fate awaiting them at their final destination.
Indeed, the tales emanating from the North African country are not funny at all. Daily we read about how Nigerians there are brutalized, turned into slave labourers and women turned into sex toys. Many are herded like sheep and thrown into prison to rot away. Others who work are no better than prisoners as they are fed on meals not fit for pigs. Some even told the world of how they were made to live on tiny slices of bread a day. Things are so rough there that those who finally make it back to Nigeria, via repatriation, count themselves lucky. They usually return with nothing, with many looking more like mad people.
Yet those at home who listen to such tales of woe still line up to toe the same perilous path.
While I was talking with the commissioner for women's affairs, Dr Mrs Victoria Chikwelu, I learnt that those who rush for the so-called Golden Fleece in Libya and other countries are not just the young. She told me of a 60-year old man who was among the returnees. According to her, the man sold his property to go to Libya where he stayed for eight months before being repatriated. She said she wanted to know from him what he could still be looking for outside the country at that age.
Really, the case of the 60-year old man succinctly captures the mind set of many Nigerians. The average Nigerian youth, including the elderly, as has been seen, believe that once they leave the shores of the country, their lives will change automatically, with today's paupers becoming tomorrow's Dangotes.
Granted, the situation in Nigeria is hostile and discouraging. Hard work is not rewarded here in most cases. Merit is often shunned on the altar of nepotism and ethnicity. The rich steal our common wealth and go free, while the poor victims wallow in misery. While these poor folks have barely enough to eat, the rich throw money about at parties, oblivious of the sensibilities of the watching poor. They forget that the society they are today abusing will take revenge on their children tomorrow (apologies to Peter Obi). But then, with what we are seeing now, the narrative may well have changed as that revenge has started happening right in our very before.
But how did we get here? Methinks that years of bad, poor, visionless leadership and wrong orientation brought us here. In the mid-70s under the leadership of Gen Yakubu Gowon, when we should have been building for the future with the quantum of money we had, we declared that our problem was how to spend the money. We thus embarked on the jamboree called FESTAC. We never thought of diversifying our economy, we did not think of building more oil refineries, we never thought of consolidating on our gains.
But then, what would one expect from a young, starry-eyed general whose rise to power was merely because of where he hailed from? Did we expect wonders from a country where capable people are side lined simply on account of their surnames? Would one expect miracles from a country where policies are deliberately skewed against some people, even when it is clear they have what it takes to turn things around?
Well, those in the power corridors have had their say and the country has been plunged into an abyss from which climbing out looks all the more daunting, owing to the repetition of the same age old mistakes.
But then, isn't it said that hard times create tough people? We had such toughness during the war when our fathers rose above the suffocating situation to prosecute a war that experts initially described as a mere police action and predicted a quick end. Our valiant fathers manufactured bombs, guns, built military tanks and refined oil. They wowed the world with their ingenuity and the few days of police action turned into a 30-month gruelling war.
At the end of the war, it was expected that the FG would call those bomb makers and tank builders and entrust them with the technological advancement of the country. Nothing such happened because it would have amounted to giving credit to a defeated and hated people. That's why today, with those experts gone, the country can barely produce a pin.
Things have turned from bad to worse in the country and the worst thing is that there is no hope of recovery in the foreseeable future, reason being that the same set of people who have pinned us down as a country are still there. The same punitive policies are still being made and the visionlessness and planlessness of the days of yore are still with us.
With the seeming collapse of the country, her youths who should have been her future are daily trooping out of the country to seek greener pasture, even in countries that should not ordinarily have been talked about in the same breath as Nigeria. They youth of the country are just desperate; desperately clutching at any straw like drowning people. In doing that, they go to where they should not go and thus reap the dire rewards.
That is why today, Libya has suddenly become a metaphor for success in the eyes of our youth and even adults. Italy has become a haven, even if going there is to prostitute. Indeed, to these people, anywhere is better than remaining in this hell-hole called Nigeria. Sad, ain't it?
But then, should that be the case? Is the hardship in the country enough to push some people into a life of crime? Is it enough to send them scavenging for food in just any country? What has happened to that priceless virtue of hard work? Where are our ideas? Where lies our determination?
The other day, I was driving out for lunch when near the place I was to eat, I saw a young girl working as what we call shoemaker. I was intrigued. I had to look at her again and again to be sure that I wasn't seeing double. But, yes, I saw well. I saw a girl happily and proudly doing what is not just seen as a man's work, but as the last thing a woman should do.
On another day, at Stanel Place in Awka, I had seen a young woman working as a vulcanizer and proudly so. I have also seen some young women disposing waste materials as workers of the state sanitation outfit. They do it with pride.
While these women and some young men humbly work to survive, there are many others who look for the easy way out. They are the ones who rob, kidnap and kill and sell human parts. They wait until some hard working person makes it and they swoop and take everything such a person has worked for. Our prisons are littered by people who lived on the fast lane but got caught.
Others believe it is abroad that their destiny lies. They go there and do the type of menial jobs they refused to do here. Others take to drug trafficking after which they are hunted down and either imprisoned or killed, depending on the country they live.
These are the impatient ones; the lazy ones. Who tells them they cannot remain in Nigeria and attain their dreams? It only requires a strong will to survive, humility to take on any legitimate work, and commitment to what they do. But because we have a generation of those for whom hard work is anathema, we will continue to hear tales from Libya, Italy, Malaysia, et al. They will continue to look at the few who made it through illegal means in those countries but will look the other way when they see the many who got caught and were punished.
This category of people should not blame their stars in the face of any mishap; they should put the blame solely on themselves. For them, Libya will remain their heaven.