By Ajibike Onajin
The world’s attention has been focused on the European Union as it struggles to cope with a growing migrant crisis that has overwhelmed key members, redefined internal politics and posed a real threat to EU cohesion. A recent YouGov poll* showed ‘immigration’ and ‘terrorism’ to be consistently the top two issues for voters in virtually all EU states.
Member States have been unanimous in realising that finding enduring solutions to this quagmire cannot be delayed given the continuing exodus from Africa to southern European borders. Whilst many of the migrants have originated from Syria and Afghanistan due to the ongoing wars in that region, hundreds of thousands of people more have also streamed in from Sub-Saharan Africa including Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, Ghana and The Gambia.
Political unrest, economic instability and general deprivation have driven sub Saharan migrants who arrive in Libya through tortuous desert routes before facing an even more dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean in flimsy, overcrowded vessels to Europe. In recent years, Nigeria has topped the list of African migrants to Europe.
Indeed, data released by the International Organization for Migration shows that at the end of December 2016, out of 387,739 arrivals to Europe that almost half,173,000, were from Nigeria. The consequences of all this is that EU nations are now caught between living up to their well espoused principles, which guarantee humane treatment of refugees, especially those fleeing persecution and wars, and avoiding the increased pressure on resources as well as risk of antagonizing voters, who are now increasingly leaning towards nationalist, right wing politics.
Disagreements have also broken out amongst EU members over how to take and share responsibility for the growing numbers of migrants which leaders are trying to resolve. Some of the proposals being put forward include “controlled” migrant processing centers outside of Europe, with North Africa earmarked as a staging post to thwart activities of people-smugglers ferrying migrants from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya across the Mediterranean into Europe.
However, what would work better in my view is solid EU interventions in migrants’ countries of origin to ensure better conditions and reduce peoples propensity to emigrate. Nigeria of course should be the starting point since it is obvious that if the flow of migrants from that country alone is reduced, the net migration to Europe at least from the West African region would also abate significantly and alleviate the EU current headaches. As it is, Nigeria is experiencing its worst economic performance in decades under the ‘baba go-slow’ Buhari administration which has shed 10 million jobs in just 3 years and with many people, even if they have a job, being unable to feed their families as the prices of staples have shot up.
The feeling in the country is that Buhari has to go, but it is clear that he will do everything in his power to keep his hand on the reins of power and as the incumbent, has many advantages which perhaps his predecessor were less willing to adopt. Every day we hear reports that underage voters are issued with Permanent Voter Cards in the north of the country and foreigners from Niger, enticed to sign up so they can vote in February 2019. The EU can help ensure free and fair elections by bringing their Election Observation Mission into Nigeria now to oversee the work of the Independent National Election Commission to ensure it is genuinely living up to the first word in its name.
The EU can also identify and support an alternative leadership, which I believe can only be delivered by the only candidate that can successfully challenge President Buhari in next year’s general elections. That candidate is Atiku Abubakar, a man who brings to the table years of experience as an administrator, businessman and astute politician with a wide network of friends and associates from across the country. Indeed, his economic agenda points the way forward for the future of Nigeria where citizens would be proud to stay and build by taking advantage of new opportunities in the economic space.
Atiku’s agenda includes bold new measures to tackle the power crisis -the biggest drag on Nigeria economy – including development of multiple green field mini-grid transmission systems and bringing private sector entities to participle in the network. He also plans full diversification of energy sources to include, wide, solar, hydro, nuclear and natural gas.
The former vice-president is also looking to address the perennial problems of northern Nigeria, such as access to education,which has bred extreme poverty, youth unemployment, social unrest, insurgency and terrorism as well as rebuilding the economy in the region. He also has a stimulus plan to facilitate growth in critical sectors such as agriculture and small and medium enterprises, while special funds are being envisioned to support innovation, skills development and job creation in the non-oil sector by positioning Nigeria as the key outsourcing centre in Africa.
What this indicates is that leaders with a clear idea of how to get Nigeria out of her current situation, foster socio-economic growth and development are not in short supply but a flawed electoral system, dodgy census figures, misuse of state resources and the sundry peculiarities of the Nigerian system conspire to perpetuate the status quo. The EU must bring its weight to bear in facilitating a free, fair and credible poll, as well as ensuring that it is not compromised in the conduct of the election.
Ajibike Onajin writes from London