I also wrote in the article how the UAE – especially Dubai – opened a new vista for travel and enlightenment for sub-Saharan Africans, after we had been totally traumatized by westerners. The pain of multiple fees being lost to embassies and multiple honest applications being rejected, became a bit dulled when travel to the UAE became democratized for whoever wanted to go. Indeed, visas were very liberal in the beginning – I reckon they allowed even Nigerians to collect visa on arrival – but gradually things got worse for Nigerians as they normally do everywhere. In time, Nigerians were given one of the strictest visa regimes to the UAE, and we were excluded entirely from some certain types of long stay visas. The next level is for the UAE to start inviting Nigerians for physical interviews before visas are granted (like the USA, UK and the rest). Of course, Europe and the USA remained suspicious and difficult for us to visit – even for those who could afford it and just needed the invaluable education that comes from travelling. Business travel remained dicey as well, because our reputation for scams and all sorts preceded us. Many businesses have been lost the moment counterparties hear you are Nigerian. Anyone who has attempted some level of international business will be able to confirm that they sometimes meet with stonewalls and there are many people around the world who will immediately put up a shutter once they know you are Nigerian. Many prefer to deal with Ghanaians and an increasing volume of our businesses – especially exports – are now routed through our west African neighbor because the world believes they adhere more to standards.
Let me itemize the issues. International travel remains very important and cathartic for the reasons identified by Thomas Cook in the 1800s – in the heady days of colonialism – for the following reasons:
1. Workers need a getaway at least once yearly or once in two years. This is good for psychological balance (I know that even peasants and artisans in developed countries go on their vacation, so I now know that Nigerians do not travel enough, contrary to my earlier belief. Only the rich travel here. More people down the food chain should travel. This means we have to have better leaders who can help manage our resources better). Every adult needs the catharsis and exposure that travel brings.
2. Traveling is the best education. What you see, you never forget. Traveling is important for Africans because the mental transitioning that we have to do from where we are to where we need to be, is very profound. Many of us were born in villages, in thatched houses, and disorganized streets. Many such people cannot imagine modernity. Most of us are born now in cities, enveloped in filth and stench and disorder. Traveling enables us to see what the ideal situation should be. Some things we believe were impossible will be shown not to be so, with travel.
3. Our children – being citizens of the world – need the inspiration that traveling offers in order to create a better picture on the canvass of time. It is for them to notice the architecture of other countries and try and replicate here. It is for them to notice working systems and orderliness and replicate at home. However, they need guidance from older folks. If we only focus them on how much money we can spend, and how to enjoy luxury, or worst still, we denigrate our country in front of them and praise others, the outcomes will be worse.
4. Traveling allows Nigerians and sub-Saharan Africans to find opportunities to integrate with the global economy – for those who are entrepreneurial and understand that ultimately being a local champion leaves you in a vulnerable position. Whereas Nigerians are not welcome to open companies abroad, on a few occasions they may be able to collaborate with foreigners to establish companies. At other times, they can meet foreigners and become agents and distributors. What is not acceptable is not to know what is happening in other parts of the world and not connecting at all with the development of humanity.
However, as far as Nigeria is concerned, the following are the problems that we give the world, which has turned us into undesirable elements, and if we are not careful, we are at the cusp of becoming a proper global pariah:
a. With the UAE presently, we are having a problem whereby many of our travelers go with fake negative covid-19 results but when tested abroad, they turn out to be positive. This is just a subset of the problem by which many of our people carry fake documents around. We cannot forget all of a sudden, that they world is still in the middle of a health crisis. This is not the time for our administrators to feign fighting for some pride (we have none left) on behalf of the people. This is the time to talk to ourselves and organize to ensure that these usual forgeries and nonsense is not being exported by our people.
b. Nigerians have become an unruly lot (a good percentage of us). Some Nigerians do not mind ruining the image of Nigeria further by misrepresenting us abroad. It used to be that our fathers rented suits or bought one, just to travel abroad. They showed respect to other peoples’ lands which have been watered by the sweat and blood of those people. I don’t know where we got this cheap new confidence from but traveling these days I see young Nigerian boys especially looking so rough, so casual, so indecent, so lackadaisical, so nonchalant in outlook, so unruly, so rascally. We are known to get drunk in-flight and cause trouble (ask Ethiopian and Emirates). It is trite to note that many of our modern-day travelers lack orientation and believe they need none. A nation cannot be sinking further and further into the abyss. On my last trip abroad, I had to text Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa on this matter. It is not enough for us to fight fires after our people may have caused mayhem abroad. How can we begin to subtly establish better protocols for travel out of Nigeria. This is a monster that we must try and rescue. It is not enough for people to say ‘I am traveling with my money’. Nigerians should understand that they are representing their country at every point.
c. Nigerians are known to be bold enough to commit real crimes abroad. All over the world we are known to be prominent in the drug-trafficking business. Many of our young men languish in jails abroad. We are perhaps the most desperate nation where too many youths want to escape abroad. In the UAE, we are the only country where boys can come in and organize armed robbery, not once, not twice but many times. Ditto in Ghana and elsewhere. How we expect to still retain the respect and love of these countries where we commit these crimes is a wonder.
d. We migrate improperly. Over 13,000 Nigerians were deported within the last 4 years from 10 countries as recently reported by DailyTrust newspapers. The fact is that Nigerians get deported from nearly every country on earth because we are in every country on earth – usually illegally. We should put our best feet forward. A situation where Nigerians migrate out of desperation is not good enough. Egypt with 100 million citizens and less numbers in diaspora, collects $29 billion in diaspora remittances yearly. With 200 million people and over 20million abroad, we are fluctuating around $24 billion with covid-19 taking a huge toll as our brothers and sisters abroad having to rearrange their priorities. This means that in spite of the loud din around our migration, we are not sending people who could earn very well abroad. What needs to be done is for our leaders to lead right, keep the money at home and ensure that young Nigerians have confidence in their country rather than curse her everyday while planning to run away because you believe elsewhere is better. This is largely a southern Nigeria problem. Northern youths stay at home or return home after studies. We better deal with that.
e. A branch of the crimes for which we are known, is cybercrime. On this, we have posted some very high-profile cases, including hundreds of our young boys in the USA and in other countries like the UAE. Very remarkable are the cases of Oby Invictus, who was bold enough to collect global accolades, including featuring in Forbes as a billionaire under 30 and on BBC. There is also the case of Hushpuppy and friends. These were boys who daily display their ill-gotten wealth on social media, thereby garnering following from millions of young Nigerians. Our image is severely tarnished that it will take several generations to clean… that is if we start now.
f. Our illegal immigrants – many of whom go into the underworld economy of prostitution, drug dealing, street trading and whatnot – have given the police of foreign countries much work to do. In Sharjah, UAE where many of them live, and in parts of India, there has been many cases of suicides when these Nigerians jump into chutes, or from high rise buildings when running away from police. It just cannot be right. We have to show responsibility as a country and create every reason for these young people to remain at home, find gainful employments or start something sustainable on their own. We must return to dignity of labour. Not everybody must or can be a billionaire.