By Busuyi Mekusi
Individuals or groups could be held down in complicated circumscribing socio-cultural and politico-economic situations. These conditions, however distressing they are, may not be easy to untangle, depending on the basic requirements for the reversal of the status quo. Separation or divorce is inevitable in a burdensome marriage; resignation or retirement is obtainable in work place, withdrawal or dissociation applies to non-beneficial dealings, while death brings about cessation of anguish and pains in a medically troubled person. It is, therefore, a paradox that the grave that would be considered a lonely tormenting place for the dead would pass for a haven in a moment of war, as canvassed by J. P. Clerk (Bekederemo) in his popular poem, ‘The Casualties’. Undoubtedly, from the flood-ravaged communities in Pakistan, to the extreme heat in California; from the vexatious insecurity and warped nationhood in Nigeria, to the needless sustained human annihilations in Ukraine, we are all ‘casualties’.
Escaping from a claustrophobic environment is one natural push that a human would respond to as intuitively as possible. This is not to say, nonetheless, that such an escape might be a case of the platitudinous ‘from frying pan to fire’. Escapism could be physical, social, psychological, or literary. For instance, psychologists see escapism as the tendency to escape from the real world to the safety and comfort of fantasy, as life is considered to be innately stressful; to escape is one of the coping strategies so considered. Escapism, for sociologists, is a product of the motives to run away from unpleasant thoughts, self-perceptions, and emotions. To achieve this, one may resort to entertainment, religious worships, etc. For literature, escapism is a fictional possibility created for readers to escape from reality, by integrating them into a ‘new world’, created by the author, and outside to the familiar.
Physical escape requires deliberate movement from one spot to another, as exemplified in the new Nigerian slang, jápa, which is derived from Yoruba language, meaning to: run swiftly, avoid, terminate, retreat or remove oneself from a dangerous situation. The slang is not only popular on the social media, but has entered national discourse as the Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, recently used it when she warned Nigerians against travelling to Northern Cyprus, which she delineated as a danger zone.
Used copiously with Sapa, a pidgin word meaning to be extremely broke or poor, particularly after extravagant spending, jápa is recurrent as a result of the huge emigration of Nigerians, particularly youths, who are fleeing away from bad economy, insecurity, poor infrastructure, unemployment, and general dodgy future. With this new trend of forced migration, qualified professionals, brilliant students, and skilful artisans are drained to countries in Europe and America, in a galloping rate and frightening statistics.
Southern Nigeria records higher movements, as indicated by the scarcity of passport booklets and clumsy issuance, compared to the north where the prices are cheaper and the stress is zero. Anyway, we are one nation, as Bishop Kuka danced to ‘Buga Won’, as part of the signatures to mark his 70-year impactful existence! May he not become a liability! Arguably, southern Nigerians are more inclined to travel outside the shores of Nigeria, apart from the Muslim northern pilgrimages to the Holy Land that massively observe the annual religious rites. On few occasions, there have been arguments that some of these peripatetic southerners are the ones engaged in drug peddling and internet scams, which give the country and the citizens unpleasant pigeonholing and battered image. It would be redundant to reduce terrorism to a pastime of some northern youths though.
The Jápa spirit in Nigerian youths, who are evidently escaping the many frustrations in Nigeria, manifested recently in a 14-year-old boy and orphan who was found in unconscious state at the Apron of the airlines of United Nigeria at the domestic wing of the Lagos Airport. He was quoted to have said that he was tired of Nigeria, and wanted to travel out. The desperation of this boy that came from Badagry area of Lagos to Ikeja is commendable; the smartness that got him to be evasive to airport workers and security personnel, particularly the broken-edge in the perimeter fence, is noteworthy; his ignorance that a domestic flight would get him out of Nigeria is pitiable; while the totality of his escapades exposed our ridiculous institutional behaviour and indecency. Nigerians are casual with most things, even sickness and death!
Cases of stowaway in Nigeria preceded the PMB’s government, as few disenchanted but disadvantaged Nigerians have attempted to exit the harsh realities at different times, with such ventures ending calamitously oftentimes. I remember an undergraduate student in our days who came back to tell tales of woes of his unsuccessful stowing inside a ship to Europe. He was lucky to return safe but lost an academic session to the odyssey. Stowaways are said to be opened to many fatal risks, which include: being mangled, tinnitus, deafness, hypothermia, hypoxia, frostbite, acidosis, and the possibility of falling when the doors of the compartment reopen. A 2016 report by Abdulmalik Fahd detailed stowaways, preceding the PMB administration, and the politico-economic volatilities that have pushed people to dangerous escapes through dangerous emigrations and suicide.
There was the case of ‘John Doe’ who was found dead inside the wheel well of Arik’s Airbus A33-200 aircraft at the Oliver Thambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2010, the mangled body of Emeka Okeke was said to have been found on a Delta Airline in the United States when they discovered flesh and blood stains on one of the tyres of the aircraft. In 2012, a stowaway body was said to have been found in the undercarriage wheel compartment of an Arik Airbus A340-500 that returned to Lagos from London, with no clear idea of when and how the victim got there.
In September, 2012, a stowaway’s body was discovered on the street of London, believed to have dropped from the undercarriage of an aeroplane coming to Heathrow Airport. The August 2013 attempt by a 13-year-old Daniel Oikhena to end his being marooned in Nigeria by hiding under the undercarriage of an aircraft in Benin ended in a nightmare as the plane he felt was flying to Europe headed for Lagos. The cases of stowaway are not absolute in illegal emigration, as some Nigerians and other Africans at the same time contemplated strolling to Europe through the desert and crossing of the dead blue sea of Mediterranean. The many shipwrecks recorded along this route remind one of the human wastes that happened in the Biblical Red Sea.
Unlike these underprivileged and deluded stowaways, Europe and America have harvested so many resourceful Nigerians that fled from their duty posts back home to get insulated from the many disadvantageous indices and life-taking devices in the country. Apart from the shortages of skilful and experienced people that are drained to and gained by other nations, the high volume of Nigerians travelling for education and health tourisms has put the naira under very serious strains because of the demands for hard currencies from the Nigerian crude-oil monolithic economy. The CBN in a report acknowledged that Nigerians spent at least $220.86 million on foreign education between December 2021 and February 2022. This amount would definitely go up in 2023, given the protracted strike by ASUU and the lacklustre approach of the federal government to the resolution of the crisis.
The Nigerian political class has continued to remind us of the colonial enslavement that birth the nation and the neoliberal entanglement that is best exemplified in her membership of the commonwealth, as London has almost been reduced to a community in Nigeria. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his fellow PDP governors-compatriots (Ortom of Benue, Makinde of Oyo, Ikpeazu of Abia, and former governor of Cross Rivers, Duke) in the wake of the traducing that followed the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the party, met with the candidates of the APC, Bola Tinubu and Labour Party, Peter Obi, before engaging Atiku. Wike repeated the London trip! The rapprochement priggish Wike makes across party divides has not only configured him as an indispensable political enigma, but his tantrums of demolition and flogging thrown at Ayu suggest that there is no love-lost thus far. Some are, however, waiting for Wike’s demystification soon.
Between the stowaways and ‘strolling’ Wike, we are reminded of the various inequalities and disproportional access to opportunities in Nigeria, particularly the excessive luxurious lifestyle of political leaders, living at the expense of unnoticeable masses. The ceaseless egressions of valuable Nigerians to other nations are leaving our hospitals, educational institutions, financial industries, etc. almost empty and under-performing. While we continue to savour the economic reliefs brought to individual families and the country by the remittances made by Nigerians in the Diaspora, it is hoped that the mitigation of the many circumstances that provoked these forced migrations would happen soon, for Nigeria to begin to gain what it drained to other nations.