by Helen Afam
IRENE Obaseki was my classmate in Benin City. We became friends because each of us had what the other did not have; while he was better in Mathematics, I loved and excelled better in the English Language and Literature. So when it was time for us to move on to higher institutions, he choose to study Statistics and later Mathematics Education; I studied Sociology. Our dreams and hopes were high, so was our admiration for our future.
I was worried when I called his number without response severally sometime in 2008, while I was just rounding off my NYSC. I later called his younger sister, who informed me that my swarthy friend had left Nigeria for Italy. Some part of me was happy, while the rest was sad. I was happy because I thought he would soon get his permanent stay, but I was sad because he did not discuss the trip with me; I felt betrayed and disappointed.
Mind you, he trekked through several mangroves, mountains, deserts and rivers to arrive Libya. We spoke severally while he was in Libya and when he crossed to Italy through the ocean, the communication continued.
But for the past four years since Irene has been in Italy, it has been a sad story for him. He currently does not have job. Although, he has been seeking for permanent stay, there is no immediate hope. But my friend is not thinking of returning to Nigeria (Black Area of the World). Not when he remembers that most of his classmates cannot boast of three square meals a day and they do not have decent jobs in their home country. His elder brother who has Masters in Microbiology is currently jobless in Benin.
In 2009, when Irene told me that he was ill and was going to hospital, I pitied him. But he told me: “Helen, do not pity me; here is not like Nigeria where things don’t work. The healthcare system in Italy is very efficient. I will be fine soon.” I know he could not have expressed that optimism if he where in Nigeria. And true to his words, he was fine few days after because health workers, as he later told me, do not go on strike in Europe.
Irene is desperately looking for permanent stay in Italy. But that is not forthcoming and things are not getting easier for him in Europe. However bad Italy seems to be, Irene is not ready to return to Nigeria.
Like him, droves of youths are leaving Nigeria for greener pastures abroad. However bad they end up there, they never think it is a wise option to return home because home is a broken reed. The sad part of it is that many of these buddy youths have died on the way while trekking African dangerous deserts and rivers to Europe. While some of them died of hunger on the way, wild animals have eaten others up. Some have survived on the road through urine they bought and drank as water; others have become armed robbers in Libya – robbing their fellow Nigerian travellers. Most of the girls who have been lured away from their parents have become prostitutes in African countries – servicing as much as 30 ‘customers’ on daily basis. Many Nigerian youths who are stranded have become beggars in poorer African countries. The sad part is their parents do not know where they are. There are many dead Nigerian youths, whose parents are still expecting them. That is what Nigeria has made us all. Everyday Nigerian wants to travel abroad without knowing where he or she is going.
My uncle has been living as an asylum in the U.S. for the past 14 years. A man in his 60s, he was happy last time when we spoke because he is going to become a citizen of United States next year.
Is it my former classmate, Roseline, who has traveled to UK I want to talk about? Although she earns big where she works in the UK, she is not happy because she is overtaxed. She complained to me the other day how expensive it is to live in the UK. But she is not ready to relocate to Nigeria anytime either “because nothing is working in Nigeria.” She even told me: “Nigeria has no education when compared with Europe.” Like my uncle, she is happy that she will become UK citizen in the next two years.
An advert executive friend of mine in one of the frontline advert companies recently told me that he was planning of relocating his family abroad, even though he may likely start off there on a menial job. One of my public relations executive friends had since relocated his family to Canada.
But sadly most Nigerian youths abroad are doing menial jobs such as bus drivers, restaurant attendants, toilet cleaners, security personnel, social workers in old peoples homes among others. Others are, however, languishing in prisons in countries like China and India for one offence or the other, including drug trafficking. The few fortunate ones are doing fine as medical and economic development experts –developing another man’s land ,while theirs is in penury. Our leaders have refused our finest youths to contribute to our national development because of greed.
Our youths are leaving in droves but never returning because our leaders have plundered us dry; they have left nothing for us as youths to feed on. We, the Nigerian youths are the most to be pitied. With high rate of unemployment, high cost of living and high level of corruption, the average Nigerian youth is left in despair.
But come to think of it, our leaders are only living in fool’s paradise, because when these youths, who have gone abroad to suffer desperation would return one day, they are going to be a problem to our system as bandits, terrorists, pirates among others. They would bring this saying to reality: “One day the poor will have nothing to eat, except the rich.”
* Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.