By Clive Akinsola
As a people, Nigerians love to travel and for different reasons too. Through this experience some seek to better their lot through education, work, business and leisure. Most times, it may require overstaying their legal authority to stay in their host country which is usually referred to as a visa, before they could actualize their struggle. Also, there are some who travel to hide our national patrimony in countries like United Kingdom for selfish reasons which inadvertently have led to the current fiscal crisis in Nigeria. The majority of the populace travel for business and meagre minority travel for leisure to various countries of the world.
There is no denying that there are a significant number of Nigerians living in the United Kingdom. In fact, it feels like a second home to most Nigerians. This is attributable to their colonial past. Nevertheless, the current insistence by the United Kingdom to return an estimated twenty-nine thousand Nigerian who have purportedly flouted their immigration rules is rather troubling and inhumane. It is clearly appalling and frighteningly wrong to treat illegal immigrant as criminals, which they are not. Majority of them are mostly human beings acting on their natural survival instinct.
It is rather ironic that the British, at some point, exercised this same instinct and came to Africa, and Nigeria in particular, under the guise of exploration. They did not leave in a hurry but plundered and stripped the nation of her valuables. They even committed criminal acts of enslavement and extracted the sweat of our forefathers to build the so called developed world who now require a visa before Africans can partake in the benefits of their hard labor. It is instructive to note that an average Nigerian is not lazy but hardworking and resourceful. In most cases when put on a level playing field they fared equally or even better than most citizens of the world. All they require is an enabling environment which successive governments have failed to provide.
This writer would opine that the action to return Nigerians who had over stayed their visas should not be applicable to those who had stayed in Britain for more than ten years. Otherwise, it would be in violation of the United Nations article on human rights which the United Kingdom is a signatory to, it also negates natural justice. If anyone had stayed in a country without committing a crime for that long, it is only natural to deem that individual as part of the community regardless of their visa status. What is proper is to encourage such to contribute positively to the development of that society by legitimizing their stay. After all, they would have developed some roots in the community and more so they have proved they could survive without the help of the British government. However, this point of view should not be misconstrued as condoning or justifying breaking of a host country's immigration or other laws. It is simply to elicit the danger and the social implication of this action.
In actual fact, the very nature of visa smacks of double standards and it is the bedrock of most of the problems bedeviling Nigerian travelers especially. For example, if a black British citizen of Nigerian extraction seeks to invite his or her family member living in Nigeria for a visit, the fact that they are being asked to bring an arm a leg before making a routine family visit engender a mindset that makes the visitors stay beyond their intended period because of the trouble they had to go through before the visit. In most cases, parents are being denied visas to visit with their children, sibling are not spared in this ordeal. I doubt if the same standard is being applied when Prince Charles invites someone to visit with him. Needless to say that the United Nations article 1 on Human rights states that "We Are All Born Free & Equal. We are all born free. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should all be treated in the same way."
I could remember when I was in the University in the 80's, students will travel to London for holidays and will return to their various studies, it was a fun experience then, all this privilege is no longer available because immigration policies are now used as political tool in the United Kingdom.
Most of these people when they are forcefully returned, their fate is clearly akin to those displaced by war and other natural phenomenon. They might have lost contacts with families back home and starting afresh becomes such a harrowing and traumatic experience that they might never recover from. There are numerous accounts of suicide, depression and general feelings of inadequacy which crouch the minds of these forcefully returned citizens like a hook thereby constituting them into social menace. It is rather unnerving how the British government has consistently confined migration policies solely within the narrow context of security and border control.
What troubles the writer the most is that this action is construed discriminatory and prejudicial and it is part of inherent, systemic racial profiling of Africans in diaspora. When Scotland wanted to leave the union, there was a vigorous campaign by Westminster to keep them in the union. I can only leave it to imagination if the Scotts were of black race origin, there probably would not be such a vigorous campaign to keep them in the union. There are other nationals with similar immigration problems as these Africans but they are not being routinely dehumanized. There are millions of Indians living in the United Kingdom without the rights to live there, they do not get harassed as much as the Africans. Also, there are illegal American citizens living in Britain, in the same way many British citizen living illegally in America. Also there are vast majority of illegal immigrants from European countries that are not part of the European Union that litter the streets of United Kingdom and funny enough, they are not being harassed as these Nigerians.
It is reasonable to affirm that Nigeria and Africa as a continent remains poor today because it is not in the interest of the so called colonial masters, if it were, they would not have stalled the payment of reparation that the Late MKO Abiola vehemently fought for or perhaps they would have converted the payment to some tangible infrastructure development. In fact, had there been a direct investment into infrastructure and the strengthening of various institutions within the Nigeria system, the story would have been different today. Instead they aid and abet unscrupulous elements that seek to degrade and abuse our national pride. If there were conscious, genuine and deliberate efforts by the United Kingdom to actually help Nigeria, let them roll out the big guns, let them work on direct partnership with various agencies to shore up the infrastructure base of the country. The effect will be dramatic; most Nigerian will not be lain about in the cold of the United Kingdom because what they seek elsewhere is readily obtainable at home. This exactly what the oil rich UAE did and it is now the British that seeks employment opportunities and travel to destinations like Dubai.
The view of this writer is that the British government should apply a wisdom filter to this purge whilst making the immigration system fairer to others that have no special education, like doctors, engineer and other professionals who are given better chances of staying based on their point system.
Considering the fact that Nigeria is a member of the Commonwealth and a signatory to the Human Right charter, the Nigeria foreign minister and ministry should be fully engaged at this point in finding a way to exercise their rights under the various charter that govern our relationship with these bodies.
There is no question about Britain's prerogative in regulating movement across their borders; however, they must do so in accordance with their obligations under international law including international human rights law.
Nigerian government should not fold their arms and allow the British government to continue the cherry picking and our nation pressured into accepting the returnee without strict adherence to the United Nation Charters and articles regarding human rights. Especially article 14, which states that "The Right to Seek a Safe Place to Live. If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe" And Britain has the moral duty and responsibility to this purported illegal immigrant under article 29 to protect their rights and freedoms. It is morally wrong to turn these people away in their most vulnerable state. If they were millionaire, I bet they will remain in Britain without any disturbance.
This is the time for the newly appointed minister of foreign affairs to double his efforts in making sure that all Nigeria stolen monies in the United Kingdom are repatriated with the returnee and confiscate assets belonging to these calibers of thieves are converted to verifiable edifices in Nigeria. The British government can no longer continue to feign ignorance of the illegal billions of pounds of Nigeria wealth in the British economy. It is the firm belief and conviction of this writer that if we could engage sincere and willing partners round the world, the country could experience a positive turnaround within a decade.