The reported plight of Nigerian domestic workers living in distress in Iraq has once again brought to the fore the issue of the dismal conditions of Nigerians living and working abroad.
A statement issued by the Director General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Professor Fatima Waziri-Azi, said “Available information shows many of the victims have been admitted in the hospital several times due to long hours under harsh conditions. They are constantly under threat of being harmed either by their direct employees or Iraqi agents each time they complain of unbearable workload.’’
She said further that ‘‘many of the victims were constantly being sexually harassed and their phones seized and were not allowed out of the premises where they work.’’
In light of this distressing development, Nigerians are not only rightly outraged, but this has led to questions being asked as to why Nigerians found themselves in Iraq, which is known to be an unstable, war-ravaged country situated in a highly volatile region of the world.
The NAPTIP DG attributed this largely to the activities of rogue labour recruiters working to fill in the demands of wealthy Iraqis for domestic workers in their homes.
This is indeed modern-day slavery. In fact, in most cases, the victims are deceived. They end up in countries other than what was sold to them and under conditions they never bargained for.
This act must be thoroughly investigated and all those behind it should be fished out and prosecuted. Beyond that, we need to examine critically the prevailing situation where many Nigerians will rather be anywhere than in their country.
This is a situation that requires serious interrogation among Nigerians from all walks of life. Why would Nigerians prefer to go to places where they are treated as second-class citizens? Why do many Nigerians persist in thinking that they can only make it when they travel abroad and not take advantage of the many opportunities for self-actualization here at home with their self-dignity intact?
We believe the blame, as well as the responsibility for this situation, should be equally borne by our communities, the media and government agencies saddled with the task of addressing the issue.
In many of our communities, it is sad to observe that the long-held foundational values of self-recognition, honest labour and pride have given way to the denigration, get-rich-quick and dubious ostentation exhibited by people whose sources of wealth instead of being questioned are rather celebrated as heroes to be emulated. The values which frowned at the acquisition of wealth without visible evidence of hard work are now thought of as a hindrance to “success’’ which should be pursued by any means necessary, including resorting to criminality.
Our media too should accept the blame for sometimes denigrating the country in their news and programmes and harping on the negative, but false information that Nigeria is the worst country in the world. In this regard, it is disheartening to note that some media platforms take delight in promoting such information with comparisons with countries that are older and much more developed than Nigeria, even when they know that such cannot stand up to objective scrutiny.
The government agencies like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the like who are saddled with reorienting our citizens, especially the youth towards observing the virtues of civic responsibility to the country, more often than not, are found to be wanting in this task. Their activities are such as they do not drill down and create the necessary and desirable impact in the minds of especially young persons to love and refrain from activities capable of doing much damage to the image and reputation of the country.
Collectively by their acts of commission or omission, these institutions of our national life have helped to create and foster a feeling of low self-esteem in citizens. Thus many young persons in the country now believe that a life of undignified servitude abroad is preferable to living and working with dignity back home. And the tragedy of it all is that our young people in their attempt to leave the country do not mind going through harrowing experiences; walking through deserts, crossing seas and oceans in rickety boats to arrive at false Eldorado, only to find themselves at the mercy of vicious labour agents and ruthlessly exploitative employers.
As a country and people, we must take concerted steps to stem this unfortunate development. For sure there is no harm in our young people seeking employment and acquiring skills abroad in the process. However, we believe that the government at both state and federal levels must lead the way in either providing young qualified people with employment or creating the enabling atmosphere for them to utilize their skills for self-actualization and esteem here without their having to travel abroad to do so under debilitating conditions as so often happens.