Friday Sermon: Africa's Hall of Shame

By Babatunde Jose

“Surely! Every one of you is a guardian and is responsible for his charges: The Imam (ruler) of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects; a man is the guardian of his family (household) and is responsible for his subjects; a woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and of his children and is responsible for them; and the slave of a man is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you is a guardian and responsible for his charges.” The Holy Prophet.

See what we have done to our people as a result of the mismanagement of our countries, its economies and human resources. We have turned our people into human scavengers and gypsies. Unwanted at home and unable to eek out a living in their fatherlands, our children have turned into statistics to be quoted on a daily basis when the incidences of boat mishaps in the Mediterranean are being discussed. No day passes without one gory story or the other of refugee boats sinking or listing off the coast of Italy, which is the nearest continental shelf to Libya the most notorious take off point of the human tragedy called refugee incursion into Europe. 

All our leaders are guilty as charged without exception. We should exercise caution when we single out Nigeria for mention. Most of the refugees are Nigerians because; on the West African front of the human trafficking trade Nigerians are more because of our numerical strength. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 16 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, as well as the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The population of West Africa is estimated at about 381,981,000 as of 2017, of which 200 million are Nigerians. One in every two West African is a Nigerian.

The inhumanity of the refugee problem is enough to galvanise our leaders into action into working towards making the home countries conducive to living. The terrible condition is encapsulated in the following harrowing narrative.

The smugglers employed two types of vessels: decommissioned, no-longer-seaworthy fishing trawlers and inflatable rubber boats. A decent-sized trawler could cram anywhere from 300 to 600, sometimes even 1,000 migrants looking to be smuggled to Italy. The rubber boats could only take 100 without sinking, but even so, they always tried to squeeze more on board.

Migrants came from all over Africa and the Middle East. They handed over their life savings in hopes of making it to Europe and starting over in a better place.

None of the vessels they were loaded into had lights, flare guns, or safety equipment. Bottles of water and cans of tuna, if offered at all, were sold by the smugglers for a hundred dollars apiece. Rarely was enough fuel provided to make the trip—just enough to sail beyond Libyan territorial waters.

Of course the smugglers didn’t do any of the actual transporting themselves. Instead, they selected one or two passengers—often at gunpoint—handed them a satellite phone and a compass, and then sent them out into the open ocean.

In case of emergency, which was “smuggler speaks” for when your boat runs out of fuel or falls apart and begins to take on water, the satellite phone had been pre-programmed with the emergency phone number for the Italian Coast Guard.

Even though the Europeans were operating a massive interdiction operation in the Mediterranean, they didn’t have enough assets to be everywhere. Under good weather, the smugglers were launching ten to fifteen boats a day, up and down the Libyan coast. Under bad weather, they still launched, though fewer boats.

Passengers along the route died from drowning, hypothermia, disease, starvation, shark attack, rape, beatings, and even murder.

There are harrowing accounts of people being reduced to eating toothpaste and drinking urine to stay alive, of women thrown overboard because observant Muslim men suspected them of menstruating and therefore being “unclean,” of people being packed so tightly in sweltering holds below decks that they all suffocated. The inhumanity of the smugglers, and even some of the passengers themselves, was on par with barbarities that are only seen in war.

The human traffickers are notorious for splitting up families, selling women and children into the sex trade, or forcing them into private harem.

Anyone who resisted—be they husbands, mothers, fathers, it made no difference—was dealt with on the spot. They were savagely beaten, sometimes even to death, as a warning to the others.

Gang rape, lashings, being folded in his “flying carpet”—a board with metal hinges in the middle meant to shatter the victim’s spine—and other methods of torture, were very common.

These are what African leaders have led their people into; and it is one big historic tragedy. And for our leaders, it is a standing visa into Africa’s Hall of Shame.

That Nigeria has for years been a state in retreat is not in doubt given the way government is becoming removed from our lives. It started with public utilities in which people began to buy generator to provide their own electricity and then we moved to digging boreholes to provide our water. Then we subverted the public schools and health institutions. Of course, everybody also started providing his own security by erecting iron gates and employing security guards with communities relying on Vigilantes. . . . . . If there is anything that points to state failure, I cannot see any better evidence than that.”  Segun Adeniyi

Barka Juma’at and a Happy Weekend

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