Friday, 5 October 2007
By Chichi Aniagolu Okoye
For most Nigerians, acquiring a visa (or crossing the desert) to any other country, especially those in the western hemisphere, is equivalent to dying and going to heaven. Most people spend a good percentage of their lives and incomes applying for visa, paying dubious agents and anyone else for that matter that they feel can help them gain access to the United States, Canada or Europe. The interesting thing is that many of the funds used in this migration misadventure, if properly applied to a business, would have yielded these individuals the better life they are looking for abroad. But unfortunately, those whose minds are set on living abroad are often pretty much blind and deaf to everything else.
Because we are not a country that cares for its citizenship, we do not in anyway prepare our people for what life would be like in the countries that they so desperately seek abode. Nigerian television programmes and dramas romanticise the West, giving the would-be migrant the impression that life in these countries is as he or she imagines it: beautiful, kind, just and caring. This has led some Nigerians to believe, for example, that the US is “heaven” where the streets are paved with gold and “angels” are waiting to give out US dollars to everyone who successfully enters the country. Wrong! This is a false impression that is far from the reality. What the programmes do not show is how the Africans, especially the illegal ones, including Nigerians, live in these countries. Yes those countries may be good for their citizens or well-prepared, highly skilled or educated legal immigrants, but what do they hold for an African illegal migrant? Television programmes that glamourise life in US, Canada or Europe do not tell you that as a poor African migrant you will not be able to afford any of those things you see on the television; that you are more likely to live in a squalid, cold and damp house in a dangerous part of town where gunshots and stabbings are a daily affair. They do not tell you about racism, about menial jobs, which is the lot of those who do not have permits to work in these countries, or about the constant fear of being arrested for being an illegal alien. Now, don’t get me wrong as there are many highly skilled, well-educated and exposed Nigerian professionals or other Africans who are doing very well in the US, Canada and Europe, but these are legal migrants, not illegal ones.
The television programmes and the country as a whole celebrate those who have done well and returned (or continue to live abroad). What they do not tell you is that for every one successful Nigerian living abroad there are thousands scrounging; living from hand to mouth and in crowded, squalid accommodation just like in Lagos, but this time, without the extended family to provide the occasional support. They do not tell you that your baby brother or sister whom you left as a toddler would grow to adulthood without your ever setting eyes on them or that if your father or mother is ill or died, you will not be able to come and visit or bury them because you have no papers in the country and so will not be able to return if you leave.
They also do not tell you that the colour of your skin makes you a prime suspect even when there is no crime. The police stop and frisk you for no apparent reason and shop attendants follow you around on the suspicion that you may steal something. Overnight you are reduced from being a human being to being the colour of a skin. Nothing is too degrading, as we have seen with our women and prostitution in Italy. What of course you do not know is that unlike in Nigeria, many countries in the West take crime seriously and so before long you will end up in jail, because bribing the police and judges, in most cases, is not an option. Did you know that Nigerians make up the higher number of foreigners in prison in Britain? You may be surprised to find that many of those Nigerian friends and family of yours who pretend to you that they are doing fantastically well in the US, Canada and many countries in Europe are actually serving prison terms!
The programmes that romanticise the West also do not tell you that making money in the West is tougher than making money in Nigeria because you are at the bottom of the ladder and so have no access to resources. Besides, there, you have to pay for everything; taxes, electricity, water, gas and so on. There is no calling a “NEPA” official to help you do an illegal connection or adjust your meter. At the end of the month, the money you make is hardly enough to support you, not to talk of sending some back to Nigeria. But your family does not understand because no one told them either, so they continue to make demands of you which compounds your wretched situation. However, you may ask; how do those who send money home do it? My answer is, why do you think Nigerians have such a terrible reputation abroad? Many illegal emigrants end up engaging in many unholy acts to earn the extra cash.
You are also not told in the television programmes that exaggerate the benefits of living abroad that to overcome some of the more obvious challenges, especially regularising the papers that will allow you to get a decent job, you may be forced to marry a spent woman ten years your senior, with four children and a drug addiction. You may be consoled that it is only for a short time and soon you can divorce her and marry the woman of your choice, but what they do not tell you is that living a lie for so long and with a woman you do not even like, eats at your soul and hardens you in a way that may make real love impossible. And, what if you marry the type that refuses to be divorced? The worst part of it all is that because marrying a woman to regularise your papers is illegal and an immigration violation, the lady in question could blackmail you constantly and if you are reported, you could end you up in prison or be deported. Now, can you imagine after spending all that while with a woman you do not like, ending up in jail or deported? Think for a moment; is all of this really worth your leaving your country? The television programmes and dramas also do not tell you about the excruciating loneliness that will overwhelm you from time to time. They do not tell you how sad and miserable it gets; how many nights you will cry yourself to sleep because you just want to hold your mother one more time.
Believe me, living abroad is not all that it is hyped to be, especially for the illegal alien. Don’t throw your life away trying to go to countries that don’t want you. Living and surviving in Nigeria is rough no doubt, but living as an illegal alien in the Western world can be hell fire.
This article was first published in The News