Growing greener grass – The Nation

  • Governments should focus on the root causes of illegal migration

Edo State’s announcement that it would be partnering the Federal Government to facilitate a legal skills-based emigration regime for its youth is a problematic strategy which may cause more problems than it resolves.

The announcement was made by the state’s governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in his 2018 New Year Day’s address. Expressing the state government’s horror and grief at the spectacle of its indigenes being maltreated and sold as slaves in Libya, the governor stated that Edo State would be partnering with the Federal Government in offering training and certification, as well as visa-processing facilities to Edo youth who wished to seek careers abroad.

In his words, “Our skills acquisition centres will offer training, certification and process the issuance  of visas to those who want to travel  under well-defined structures to do so safely and with dignity.”

Equipping the famously peripatetic citizens of Edo State with the skills and documentation to travel to other countries legally, safely and with a modicum of decency certainly has its benefits. An estimated 10,000 Edo citizens were trafficked in the 12 months ending in November 2017. Of this number, about 3,000 are said to have succumbed to the dangers of the journey. Enhancing legal migration would save naïve migrants from the vile clutches of the human traffickers who have built fortunes on the misery and exploitation of desperate people.

Ideally, legal immigration offers a win-win solution. Destination countries would no longer have to struggle with an overwhelming tide of mostly-unskilled immigrants; exporting countries would enjoy the benefits of repatriations; the lamentable toll in death and despair would be considerably reduced.

The problem with this strategy, however, is that it focuses on symptoms rather than causes. Enabling legal immigration does not answer the fundamental question of why so many young people would dare the well-known dangers of illegal immigration to Europe as opposed to remaining in Nigeria.

The answer is obvious: the prospect of staying in their home country is unattractive to much of the nation’s youth because it appears to hold very little hope for their growth and development.

They are the demographic that is most-heavily hit by unemployment. The Labour Statistics Report of the National Bureau of Statistics says that 7.9 million citizens aged between 15 and 34 years were unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2017, and that 58.1 per cent of Nigerians within this age bracket are underemployed.

With so much time on their hands, it is no surprise that far too many of the country’s younger citizens are heavily involved in crime, especially armed robbery, kidnapping, fraud and rape. An already-dire situation is aggravated by the country’s infrastructure challenges, poor vocational training system and the dearth of soft loans.

Rather than facilitating the export of the country’s valuable human resources, the Edo and federal governments should be looking at ways to ensure that potential illegal immigrants are kept at home.

The state government has already acknowledged this in its accelerated industrialisation policies. The renewed emphasis on infrastructural development, especially the rehabilitation and construction of roads, and major projects like the Gelegele Seaport, will increase employment and business activity.

The technical centres for skill acquisition should seek to complement these projects, instead of preparing workers for other lands. The Federal Government can help Edo to realise these aims by ensuring that red-tape does not stand in the way of the quick execution of these projects.

Edo State should also follow through on the legislation it has enacted to deal with the illegal migration problem. The Edo State Task Force on Human Trafficking must step up its efforts to reduce the phenomenon to the barest minimum.

Ultimately, only a decisive change in prevailing attitudes can reduce the flow of Nigerian youths to foreign shores. But properly-targeted policies can help to achieve that laudable goal.

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