If Nigeria Seems Heavenly… By Minabere Ibelema

“Sandra knew there was always a chance that her clients would kill her.” So began an in-depth story in CNN online about the plight of Nigerian slave-prostitutes in Europe. Sandra is CNN’s pseudonym to protect the woman’s identity, and she is a part of the trans-Saharan trafficking of Nigerians and other Africans through Libya to Europe in their quest for a better life.

As we are learning increasingly from various accounts of those repatriated from Libya, a majority of these modern-day slaves don’t even make it to Europe. Instead, they find themselves in hell in transit, usually in Libya. And most of those who make it to Europe find hell there as well.

Sandra’s hell was in Moscow, but it could have been in Berlin or Milan or Palm Springs in the United States. They would do anything to be returned to Nigeria, the country they put their lives at risk to get away from. And that says much about the extent of the hell they found themselves in.

The worst case of the inhumane treatments takes place in an African country, Libya. It is a country that, even more than Nigeria, now exemplifies the paradox of misery amidst plenty. Much like Somalia for quite some time, Libya is a country with no central authority, a country with competing governments and a multitude of warlords. And so it is now a valueless society.

The abuses Nigerians have faced there have included sexual torture, physical brutalization, and imprisonment without cause. Slave-prostitutes are forced into consecutive intercourse with up to a dozen men. “They might even kill you if you try to defend yourself,” Sandra told the CNN. “That’s the reason why it is very horrible. And in that process most Nigerian girls lose their life, because not every girl can withstand the pressure of 10 men.”

It’s all in the guise of recouping the ostensible debt the sex-slaves owe for being spirited into the country or arrangements for transit to Europe. The supposed debt sometimes runs as high as $60,000. As a demonstration of the bestial cynicism, even those who manage to pay off the “debts” are traded to other masters, with whom the ordeal starts all over.

That human beings are capable of such bestiality in this day and age says something not very complimentary about the human psyche. Collectively, we are not nearly as civilized as we tend to believe.

Even then, we’ll be remiss if we don’t address the other human impulse that propels people to place themselves in such horrific situations. Of course, there is the failure of government to make the country’s resources serve the people maximally. But there’s also the reality of seeking the better life at all cost.

A high proportion of the people who found themselves in Libya did so out of desperation. But there are also a substantial number who could have made the best they could for themselves and their families in Nigeria but who were lured by the illusions of bountiful life elsewhere.

Sandra, the Nigerian woman who found herself in sexual bondage in Moscow, for example, told the CNN that she was urged by an assistant pastor at her church to undertake the perilous journey to Europe. From all indications, she wasn’t starving in Nigeria; nor was her mentor pastor. Her journey was all in a quest for a more abundant life, which is preached in many Nigerian churches as the manifestation of divine reward for faithfulness.

The CNN story also states that Benin City is the centre of the prostitution trafficking business in Nigeria. From the historic Niger Delta city, the voluntary slaves journey to Kano, upward through the Republic of Niger or Algeria and into Tripoli. The question is why Benin? The ancient city which is noted for modern industries and commerce couldn’t possibly be one of Nigeria’s most impoverished. And geographically it is not a logical hub for trans-Saharan traffic. Quite the contrary, the city’s lofty economic situation may well be a factor of its being a hub for those seeking even greener pastures.

Whatever the impetus for the fatalistic quest to get to Europe, the words of a recent evacuee from Libya has to be telling:

“I thank God say we don come back. People weh dey talk Libya, Italy. Italy no easy-o. When they carry me on top water, four days, they lock me into house, no food no water. I nearly died. Nah God wey save me. Eeh no easy-o. People weh dey hear my voice…. If you get one naira for Nigeria, you say you no get, papa, you no get mama, naim make you comot. I beg-o. Go dey do farm work. Eeh better pass people wey enter road.”

Her points could be better phrased, but the message couldn’t be any stronger.

Nigeria’s World Cup prospects

It might seem odd to transit from a matter of life and death to that of soccer, the World Cup, that is. But the two have a lot more in common than one might think, and that is not just the Russia commonality.

On the day FIFA announced the draws for the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, analysts, of course, dissected the prospects of the various teams emerging from their groups into the elimination round. The four analysts for the American cable sports network ESPN all agreed that the Super Eagles have the talent to come second to Argentina in Group D, ahead of Iceland and Croatia, though they are listed at the bottom of that group.

There was just one caveat: the organisational debacle that dogs every Nigerian team in the World Cup. “Things are different now,” one analyst said, in apparent reference to the discipline of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. To which another analyst retorted, “I have heard that before.”

So, who will turn out to be right, the optimist on Nigeria or the sceptic? We’ll find out in June or July next year.

In case you still don’t see the connection with the sex-slave-trafficking matter, let me spell it out. They both result from governmental failures, which are considerably rooted in civic values.


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