‘Not poverty’: why many Nigerians are risking their lives in the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea
“Warnings cannot stop adventurers, nor can the agony and death of others, for somewhere in every human being lies the belief that their own life story will be different, until the experience convinces him otherwise.
he campaigns seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Thousands of people drowned or died of hunger and thirst; others were killed by kidnappers. Slavery, rape and other inhumanities have been inflicted on migrants traveling through Libya to the Mediterranean Sea en route to Europe.
Yet despite the calamitous terrain, many Nigerian migrants are not backing down. In fact, this migration route is so busy that several support groups have evolved from it, rescuing kidnapped or trapped migrants on a daily basis.
Although economic desire can be a life or death hunt, Nigeria abroad finds that other factors explain the desperation displayed, at least for some of the travelers who embark on what analysts call a suicide mission.
Many are fleeing not poverty but arrest, prosecution and jail time after committing serious crimes, according to sources familiar with the process. If they can escape the crime scene alive, they travel to major cities like Lagos, Kano, Katsina, etc. From Lagos, some find their way to Ghana; others, from the Kano-Katsina axis escape towards Agadez in the Republic of Niger, and towards Qatrum or Saba in Libya.
Some, members of a cult, move to Italy, where they meet and meet members of their fraternity or friends, and enjoy complete freedom. According to one of the migrants, it is better to perish during the journey than to die for nothing in a Nigerian prison deemed equivalent to death itself.
This may explain why Libya and Italy were witnessing a Nigerian crime wave committed primarily by members of the fraternity who hold regular meetings and constantly clash with rival groups.
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The source recalls the cases of two men from a southern Nigerian state: one stabbed a lady to death and fled to this day despite being declared wanted; the other guy, a company driver, fled with money given to him to pay in a bank, leaving the company vehicle at the side of the road.
“Today they send money home and their sins are forgiven. No one except the victim’s family remembers it.
The setback is another reason why many risk their lives in the journey, according to another source. “Some of these guys are frustrated on the street; they must leave the neighborhood urgently, no matter the cost. I met a guy in Edo State during my service year who dropped out of school due to worship and postponement.
“Sagamu’s family made fun of him to the point where he begged me to give him my NYSC kits so he could wear them home just to show his mum he finally made it. I gave him my clothes after pass out; a few weeks later, he called me to inform me that “everything was not started”. Out of shame and frustration, he paid his way to Libya and Italy. Today he has been reintegrated into the family and all sins have been forgiven with the money he sends home.
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Setback and shame once a deported Nigerian migrant living in Lagos continued to lie to his family that he was abroad. And in June 2020, hundreds of Nigerians who voluntarily returned from Libya had barely spent weeks at home when they began planning another exit. They were struggling with the stigma of failure.
The stigma can be worse for ex-convicts in Nigeria. When they regain freedom, they are too discouraged to face life’s challenges again; in shame, they risk their lives in the macabre journey.
Ignorance is also a factor, the results show. Many migrants do not know how the migration process works, and regardless of the anti-travel awareness, they easily believe anyone who tells them they have a reliable way away from agony. Some may travel to Europe having spent more than expected, usually including ransom payments from their families back home. Others pay with their lives.
Everyone has their own story: especially the ladies, who were lied to about the destination and the purpose of the trip; criminals fleeing justice; unsuspecting dreamers; and frustrated young people. The goal could be freedom or a better life, but its path goes from the desert to the sea.
Warnings cannot stop adventurers, nor can the agony and death of others, for somewhere in every human being lies the belief that their own life story will be different, until experience convinces him otherwise.