On Saturday, 24th August, 2013, Daniel Oikhena, whose age, according to various reports, ranges from 12 to 15 years, hid himself in the tyre compartment of the Arik flight W3 544 from Benin Airport. He thought he was on his way to the US as the plane ploughed the skies at 20,000 metres above sea level. It was when the plane successfully touched down in Lagos, 35 minutes after, thank God he wasn’t crushed to death, that he realised he was in soup, not in America. After more than a week in the cooler, the State Security operatives released him this Tuesday to the Edo State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development for "further necessary action," to borrow the phrase of bureacracy.
The nagging question is: why would a lad of that tender age risk his life and embark on a stowaway mission? The answer is simple: Nigerians are desperate and there is daredevilry in almost all of us. As the brave-looking and confidence-exuding teen is of us, by us and like us, it is gainful we see his case as a metaphor of what we have become: daredevils that would go to any extent, from the very extreme to utterly ridiculous, to achieve their inordinate ambitions.
As condemnable as the boy’s action was, there is little doubt that more Nigerians are not going to risk their lives further given the state of the nation. When I learnt that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Director-General, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, told a newspaper the other day, “If at the end of the day we discover that somebody has not done what it (sic) should do, then the appropriate sections of the law will take its (sic) course,” I hissed that the action to be taken, if taken at all, would be as wobbly as the sentence.
On land, air and at sea, thousands of desperate Nigerians are risking their lives daily as a way of escaping the hell that the country has been turned into. It is desperation that would make Daniel to stow away. It is desperation that would make our leaders pretend that 16 is more than 19 at the Nigerian Governors Forum election. It is desperation that would make electoral officials declare false results denied by beneficiaries as witnessed in Offa. It is desperation that would make parents aid and abet examination malpractices on behalf of their children. It is desperation that accounts for the I-must-get-rich mentality that has made beasts out of the politicians and perpetrators of corruption, kidnapping, assassination, violence, armed robbery and other crimes that pervade the land.
The rate at which Nigerians want to travel abroad is sense-numbing. Like Daniel, the desperado, many young people are devoting useful energies to seeking imaginary Golden Fleece overseas. When they get there and realise that the streets of foreign countries are not paved with gold and dollars, they resort to crime and tarnish the image of the country and the good names of their fellow countrymen.
A few years ago, I arrived at the American embassy in Lagos as an early bird, supposedly, for a visa interview but I was surprised that at 5:30a.m., there were hundreds of people there already. There was no provision for sitting outside the gate and some people offered seats at an exorbitant fee per hour. I learnt first-hand that anytime people without genuine missions were denied visa, they would still look for money and apply again. If those desperate people that trooped to foreign embassies regularly could stowaway as Daniel did, they would do, trust me.
When eventually I arrived the US for a nine-month programme and ran into a former NYSC mate of mine in Chicago one windy morning, I was nonplussed by his account of his “successful” journey. For six years then, he did not do anything meaningful apart from planning and praying to travel out of the country. Whenever he was denied visa, he would still wait and re-apply again and again until he got it six years after. Seeking American visa was a career for him, I surmised. I would later understand he had another name since his original name was not successful, other names were tried and one eventually did the magic. What baffled me most was how rendered his University degree and other academic qualifications useless with his name change.
With access to the West becoming more problematic with stumbling blocks increasingly erected against us, Nigerians are today desperately trooping to the East. When expectations do not match reality, there is recourse to crime and many Nigerians are languishing in Thai and Malaysian prisons now. I recently heard stories of our young men wasting away in the Asian Tigers as gigolos or doing what our young ladies are notorious for in Italy. There are countries to which Ghanaians do not require visa that we pay visa fees to go to because of our desperation to travel out of the country.
While it is essential for the youth to realise that “East or West, home is best”, it is also important for parents to orientate their children well and teach them that life is not all about money. The morbid obsession with materialism and the get-rich-quick syndrome can be fixed at home through better parenting. An open sore that assails our national conscience is that the current fixation on material wealth has made parents abdicate from their primary responsibility of raising socially responsible children. Many children are unworthy of their parents while few parents can confidently tell their children what they were told: remember the son/daughter of whom you are. Like bones to mangy dogs, most hard working parents only throw money at their children and allow movies and house maids to train them. The poor parents leave their children at the mercy of the street.
I strongly urge our media to also stop glamorising inanities such as promoting barely clad women, whose sick messages border on why they can or cannot act or pose nude. Such subliminal seduction, along with what is seen on the screen, creates desperation in young ladies who are often misled into thinking they need to use what they have to get what they need. The males, on their own part, are made to see women only as sexual objects leading to high rates of rapes and other illicit sexual behaviour in our society.
Of course, our leaders share the large part of the responsibility of making young Nigerians less desperate through shunning their vainglorious and flamboyant lifestyle. If China, where corruption charges carry a death sentence, could rescue 500 million people out of poverty through government policy within a short period of five years, the Nigerian Government can also make foreign migration less attractive by providing employment opportunities, building infrastructure, shunning corruption, playing progressive politics and upholding the rule of law. Without that, God forbid, more desperate Daniels are still coming from the hordes of our disillusioned young people who feel insecure about their present and future.