Community Politics and Policy

Libya Slave Trade: What Should We Do Beyond Hashtags and Avatars?

An international outrage has sparked by the news of the sale of migrants as slaves in Libya. Persons from different African countries who had made journeys to Libya in the hope of passing through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean to Europe have become objects of slave trade. CNN’s report showed an auction session of humans priced at $400, providing video evidence of an industry that has been on for some time but has gone under the radar.

From football players, to actors and musicians, public voices are calling for urgent action to be initiated to put an end to the crisis. The Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, has now condemned the crisis as “appalling and unacceptable”. Nigeria had one of the most mentions in the Libya crisis even before the current amplification of the matter, with over 5000 returned from Libya in the past year. It is the main stanza of an ugly script on migration crisis which has also featured the death of 26 young Nigerian women found in the Mediterranean; those have now been buried by Italian authorities and that chapter is maybe closed.

As with a world event that is categorized as a crisis for humanity, hashtags and fancy avatars are being created to denounce the Libya migration crisis. Your friends have used them on Facebook and they have popped up on Whatsapp status updates. We call this raising awareness, which is good, but it is probably just the standard reaction to trendy issues where everyone has to show that they are up to date. Prince Harry and “Rachel Zane” 2018 and Descapito are gaining momentum and something new will soon come up. How about the 11 babies deported from the same Libya in July? Yea, the news van has moved to other locations, the same way this present tragedy stands to suffer oblivion when a new trend begins.

Calling for a “stop” to the slave trade or summoning the Libyan ambassador will not bring about a stop in the slave trade if the call does not press the countries supplying the ‘objects of trade’ to plug their outlets and fix up themselves for once. The words in quote are used here with every sense of responsibility. Countries have known for a while that their citizens are taking inhumane risks to get out of their shores and have done nothing to stop the trend; they have not regarded them as subjects of attention but disposable objects. A statement credited to the Nigerian president that “any Nigerian who wants to come back should be brought back” hardly paints the picture of a country feeling embarrassed or affected by the regular mentions of her citizens in foreign lands for the wrong reasons.

The message from Libya is that Nigeria, and the other African nations, whose citizens have tried to force their ways to Europe, have, for a long time now, failed to present much hope to those at the base of the society.  Given the non-improvement in the general living condition in these countries, people are desperate to take any chance to flee. Professionals, doctors, nurses and others, are steadily leaving Nigeria for Canada and Australia for better paying jobs. Persons with the means resign from their jobs and relocate to America. But for members of the lowest class and the under-class, the lack of “papers” and the inability to afford other luxuries associated with legitimate air travel and Customs checks have only the option of cheating death in the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara desert.

If their countries give them no hope for prosperity, they will either get rich or die trying.

A CNN clip shows a young man bemoaning his having to return to Nigeria to start from square one, after selling all his savings to get to Libya. He will certainly find himself in a worse condition than he was before his European adventure, unless by some intervention, he becomes enrolled on N-Power or receives Conditional Cash Transfer. 8 to 10 flights are being processed every month for Nigerians to return from Libya. The President says they should be brought back but the question is what are they coming back to? Were they factored in the N8.6 trillion 2018 Budget, or how will the ‘fictional figures’ have to be modified to accommodate these new hundreds of scorched and traumatized mouths?

The scale of the problem is enormous. The Libyan slave trade revelations should be a signal to the present Government that it must accelerate its efforts towards not just economic growth but actual development. The institutional and social conditions that engender human development and motivate people to want to achieve their dreams in a country are yet to come to be in Nigeria. There is nothing which significantly inspires one to want to live and die in or for Nigeria. Nigeria is not yet that country where dreams are built; the system still stifles and strangles. Two years after the promise of change, the standard of living and quality of life of the ordinary Nigerian is largely unchanged; if anything, it has arguably got worse. The rich and powerful go for medical tourism and return when they like. For the poor and desperate, anything that manages to take them beyond the border, that is it. There is no stronger proof of a country without hope than the desperation of its citizens to want to leave, regardless of whether the means are illegal, inhumane and potentially fatal.

And for every person who made the attempt to run through Libya, there are probably three who would love to give it a try. People will continue to want to leave the country when there is oppression in their offices, on the streets and in homes. Extortionist conditions of employment, forced homelessness and domestic violence against helps are other forms of slavery to which attention must be paid.

Because at the end, the mega slavery of the Libya crisis is a vicious cycle born from primary causes in the source countries. A system of local oppression, exclusion and corruption, which stifles the ambitious and strangles the barely surviving, created that “appalling” international slavery market. “Stop slavery” begins with reversing the various economic and social forms of oppression thriving in the country today.

Let this ambition be the campaign of the hashtags and avatars. Government, give people hope.


By Alexander O. Onukwue | Feature image: Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Narciso Contreras
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