Date Published: 10/28/09
NIGERIA : IS HOME TRULY SWEET? By Emmanuel Onwubiko
“I had just resumed school after the two weeks warning strike on a beautiful Monday, when before I could drop my bag my room mate told me about the impending strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).My happiness died suddenly with the sad News but I consoled myself with the expectation that the strike would last maybe for just a week or two.
With that high hope I came back home without my bag after I waited for five days hoping to at least see my supervisor since I am in the final year already doing my project”.
“Coming back home with a mix feelings of hope fear and anxiety of not graduating when am supposed to; days ran to weeks, weeks to months of expectation and anxiety for what seems silence; silence from selfish government in particular and the so-called minister of Education Sam Egwu who would rather throw a big party to celebrate twenty five years of marriage than discuss a way forward for the educational sector”. I watched the elaborate party shown on the publicly funded Nigeria Television Authority with mix feelings of hate and disappointment with political leaders that care less about students’ plight. I concluded with definitiveness that Nigeria does not have leaders but crass political opportunists.”
That was a summary of an essay by Pauline, my little sister-in-law and a final year student at the University of Abuja who I asked to put down her thoughts on the industrial action by the University teachers that kept them at home for three months. She managed to graphically highlight the unprecedented level of insensitivity to the plight of the students in Nigeria by the politicians who manage the nation’s educational sector. Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’adua left the shores of Nigeria to attend the opening ceremony of the King Abdallah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia even as the strike by teachers was ongoing. If this is not the height of insensitivity, what then is?
But my little sister – in – law made a remarkable statement when she said that more than a dozen of her class mates have traveled out of the country because of the closure to begin their studies abroad. The clincher was when she lamented that she is not too sure whether Nigeria is truly a sweet home.
My mind went straight to the song “Home! Sweet Home!’’ or “Home, sweet Home”, a song that has remained well known for over 150 years. Adapted from American actor and dramatist John Howard Payne’s 1823 opera Clari, Maid of Milan, the song’s melody was composed by Englishman Sir Henry Bishop with lyrics by American John Howard Payne. The opening lines are; “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;” have become famous.
Wikipedia said the song in 1909 was featured as being played in the silent film named ‘The House of Cards’ by Thomas A. Edison. In the particular scene, a frontier bar was hurriedly closed due to a fracas. A card reading “Play Home Sweet Home” was displayed, upon which an on-screen fiddler promptly supplied a pantomime of the song. This may imply a popular association of this song with the closing hour of drinking establishments.
For most children who grew up in the 1980’s outside their parents’ places of birth the yuletide periods usually bring sweet memories of home – bound journeys to the country sides whereby in convivial and memorable atmosphere, kids of diverse homes become engaged in reunion. Families will usually gather in village squares to exchange jokes, tell stories or tales- by- moonlight and generally run around in merriments and celebratory moods.
In those days, most Nigerian kids truly viewed Nigeria as “home, sweet home”. Even in schools, children were indoctrinated with the propaganda song of “Oh my home, Oh my home….”
The bastardization of the nation’s economy during the several years of corrupt military and inept civilian administrations, has unleashed adverse economic pains so much so that the pangs of poverty and the excruciating consequences of the collapse of social infrastructures, have forced so many Nigerians to emigrate in their droves to other countries especially in Europe, America and Asia in search of greener pastures.
In mid-October 2009, the Geneva based United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), disclosed that 13,200 asylum claims came from Iraqis, making it the top country of origin for the fourth successive year, and 12,000 came from Afghans.
From Africa, Somalia came third with 11,000 Somalians seeking asylum. Specifically regarding Nigeria, which came seventh on the list, about 7,700 Nigerians had already sought asylum by the end of June this year or the end of the second quarter of the year, according to the UNHCR report.
Besides, based on comparison with the same time last year, 2008, Nigeria is also among countries where the percentage of asylum seekers has significantly increased.
In fact, so far this year, the highest percentage increase among the major source countries of asylum seekers is Nigeria with a 47 percent increase in the number of asylum claims when compared with last year’s.
For instance, by the end of the first quarter of 2008, 2,471 Nigerians had been registered as seeking asylum in industrialized nations, while for the same period this year, that number is now 3,793.
In the second quarter of last year, 2,761 Nigerians had been registered by the UN agency as making asylum claims, compared to 3,890 at the end of the same period this year.
During the eight year misrule of Olusegun Obasanjo which accounted for the most brutal economic impoverishment of millions of Nigerians brought about by the large scale corruption perpetrated by political office holders, over 250,000 Nigerians were deported from European and Asian countries.
The then comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration service Uzoamaka Nwizu [late] was quoted as saying that;
“In year 2002 alone, our records confirms the deportation from Europe and other parts of Asia of more than 250,000 young girls and boys involved in prostitution and child labor”
Psychologists say that women and children are the major victims of human trafficking. Women are trafficked for prostitution and large numbers of children are sold into bonded labor.
For millions of Nigerians, Nigeria is no longer “home, sweet home!”
To rebrand Nigeria and make it truly sweet home for us all, the citizens must become intolerant of corruption and speak out in condemnation of corruption among office holders.
* Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.