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President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed sadness over the sale of mostly Nigerians “like goats for a few dollars” in Libya, promising to evacuate the remaining Nigerians in the North African country.
Also joining the president to condemn the act wednesday were the National Assembly, the United Nations and a civil society group, who called for action against the modern day slave trade.
The president, who was reacting to recent CNN reports on the slave trade in Libya that has led to the sale of mostly Nigerian and other African migrants seeking for so-called greener pastures in Europe, made the remark in Abidjan, the Cote d’Ivoire capital, when he met with the Nigerian community in the West African country Tuesday night.
Describing the act as appalling, Buhari said he would not be surprised if most of the 26 women and teenage girls who perished in the Mediterranean were indeed Nigerians.
Buhari who is in Cote d’Ivoire to participate in the 5th EU-AU summit, pledged that his administration would deploy all powers within its reach to discourage Nigerian youths from putting their lives at risk in their search for greener pasture.
He said addressing insecurity and providing critical infrastructure in Nigeria would reduce the tendency by youths to endanger their lives in the Mediterranean Sea.
“I am telling you all this because I know that those of you who are making it here, I am sure send contributions home for feeding and for school fees and for healthcare.
“There are basic things that the government should do and we are to make sure that the people who are crossing the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean decline in number to prevent them from perishing.
“It was announced that 26 Nigerians died, but before they could prove that they were all Nigerians, they were buried. But the evidence I got from the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora Affairs (Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa) is that only three were identified as Nigerians.
“But I won’t be surprised if a majority of them were really Nigerians. And for people to cross the Sahara desert, to go into shanty boats across the Mediterranean Sea, I think we will try and keep them at home.
“But for anyone who dares the desert and the Mediterranean without documents to prove that he/she is a Nigerian, there is nothing we can do about it, absolutely nothing.
“In the interview some of you saw, some of the Nigerians said they were being sold like goats for a few dollars for years in Libya. After 43 years of Gaddafi where he recruited so many people from the Sahel, including Nigeria and so on, all they learnt was how to shoot and kill.
“They did not learn to become electricians, plumbers or any other trade. So, when the Libyans stood against their leader, those who were not their people, they chased them out. A lot of them came back home. Some of them participated in the conflict and have become part of Boko Haram.
“So, I’m telling you that our major problem as we have identified, is still the security of the country. We have done much better. Everybody is saying it.
“And then, we are talking very regularly with the Niger Delta and its leadership because they know they are holding the throat of the country economically,” he said.
Buhari also condemned suicide bombing by members of the Boko Haram sect, describing it as madness and expressed the need for Nigerians in Côte d’Ivoire to be good ambassadors of their country by obeying the laws of their host country.
He advised them to always report those dragging the image of the country in the mud to the Nigerian embassy so that they could be adequately dealt with.
“For you to be good ambassadors of our dear country, it is to live by the laws of the country and as much as possible, the bad eggs here among you, you should report quietly to the embassy so that we can get them and repatriate them home as the ambassador has said.
“We being the biggest country in Africa, at least 180 million people, the requirement for infrastructure is especially in education because if you educate people, they can look after themselves and then of course healthcare.
“But I’m telling you, there is a lot of work to be done back home. We are doing our best and the leadership at all levels is doing its best. But the problem we are having is with those who are being indoctrinated and are hurting our people, blowing up people in mosques, churches, market places, motor parks, this is absolute madness.
“No religion advocates violence. All religions advocate justice from your hometown, household to whatever you become, justice is the basic thing. All religions demand it, as you can’t go wrong if you live by it.
“Whenever Nigerians are identified especially in Libya and so on, we hope to evacuate them back home and then rehabilitate them because the indoctrination is what is happening with Boko Haram where girls, mostly from the ages of 15, will strap themselves, go to the market and blow themselves up and anybody around them and so on,” he said.
NAPTIP, Other Agencies Summoned
But in a swift reaction to Buhari’s pledge that his administration would evacuate the remaining Nigerians stranded in Libya, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo wednesday convened a meeting of the relevant agencies in Abuja to address the situation.
The vice-president swiftly summoned the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Refugee Commission to the State House, Abuja, for a joint review of the situation.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, the vice-president recalled the comment of the president that all Nigerians who were stranded in the hostile country would be given an opportunity to return to the country.
He also recalled how the president reiterated the commitment of his administration to ensure that young Nigerian men and ladies are no longer exposed to the huge dangers involved in the Sahara desert trek and attempt to cross the sea.
Osinbajo who said it was necessary to sensitise young Nigerians on the dangers, after being brainwashed by unscrupulous individuals, said it had become imperative for them to review the situation and take a position on how to halt the trend.
Osinbajo added that it was necessary to brainstorm on the matter with a view to coming up with a well-prepared position on how to tackle the menace.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, the chief executive of the Refugees Commission Sadia Umar Faruk, said no fewer than 7,250 Nigerians had been repatriated to the country while 4,600 others were still being expected.
Faruk who said a committee had been constituted to come up with solutions to the problem of illegal migration to Europe, disclosed that another set of 250 migrants returned to the country on Tuesday.
She said: “A committee has been set up consisting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NAPTIP, the Refugee Commission and NEMA to come up with a terms of reference as to how to go about solving the issue of Libyan migrants and also what happened in Italy.
“I think so far they have repatriated about 7,000 and they keep coming in. As I speak, a plane is arriving with about 250 migrants today. And we are expecting more on a daily basis.
“I think I was speaking with the Director-General of NEMA and he said so far, about 4,600 are expected.”
Also speaking, the DG of NAPTIP, Julie Okah Donli, said the government has devised measures to check immigration.
“What government is doing actually is to carryout a massive sensitisation and awareness programme. Prevention mainly is the major thing to do. So we plan to go to all communities in the 36 states including the FCT because when we prevent this from happening, we will not be talking of repatriating or evacuating. That is what we are planning to do,” she said.
N’Assembly, UN Condemn Slave Trade
Also reacting to the sale of African migrants in Libya, the Senate wednesday condemned the reported slave trade in the North African country, describing the practice as depraved and sheer animalism.
It equally summoned the Libyan ambassador to Nigeria to throw light on the dehumanising treatment meted to African migrants in his country and what measures were being put in place by his government to stop it.
Demanding a full-scale investigation to ascertain the number of Nigerians affected, the Senate also urged the federal government to deploy all diplomatic measures to ensure that everyone involved is held accountable under international law and justice.
The resolution followed a motion sponsored by Senator Baba Kaka Garbai (Borno, APC) who also called for the repatriation and rehabilitation of Nigerian citizens caught up in the despicable treatment and human right abuses.
“These are our people who are trying to flee from poverty and deprivation,” he said.
Garbai said the slave trade was not just tantamount to the humiliation of Nigerians and Africans, but also to human civilisation and the fundamental principles of human rights under the United Nations Charter.
Providing some data on the magnitude of the problem: Garbai in his motion, added: “Note that not long ago about 4,000 Nigerians were intercepted when they were about to enter the Mediterranean Sea and deported from Libya.
“The Libyan immigration authority informed CNN that of an estimated 25,000 Africans, 4,000 were from Nigeria and were being held at various detention centres in the country.
“Note that the report by Libyan officials that its detention centres were full and they had deported only five per cent of the 20,000 in the detention centres because of lack of response from the home governments of the migrants.”
He went on to express concern that the Libyan government lacked the means or commitment to crack down on the perpetrators and the smuggling networks that had been killing, torturing, extorting and detaining migrants at will.
“Nigeria would be failing in her duty if she sits idly and watches any of her citizens being put into slavery,” he warned.
Contributing to the debate, Senator Ali Wakili (Bauchi, APC) noted that the root causes of illegal migration among Nigerians must be addressed.
These he listed to include poverty, poor governance and unemployment.
The House of Representatives yesterday also passed a motion urging its relevant committees to liaise with the appropriate agencies of government, as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to pool resources aimed at arresting migration from African countries and slave trade.
The resolution of the lower chamber followed a motion by Hon. Omosede Gabriella Igbinedion (PDP, Edo) raised under matters of urgent public importance on the urgent call on the federal government to intervene by stemming migration and the slave trade in Libya.
The House noted that several Africans including Nigerians were fleeing war, poverty and unemployment in their countries to embark on perilous journeys through Libya to the Mediterranean and then Europe.
It observed that Nigerian migrants were taking huge risks voluntarily because they think that “Eldorado” awaits them in Europe, noting that they had been told lies by their traffickers.
The House further noted that the slave trade in Libya, resulting from the security and financial collapse of the country, had made human trafficking, smuggling and modern-day slavery a booming trade around the world and in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, according to media reports.
The House further raised concern that the 33rd Ordinary Session of Head of States and Government in January 2008 in Ouagadougou, tagged ECOWAS Common Approach on Migration States, showed that ECOWAS member countries reaffirmed the principles put forward during the Rabat and Tripoli conferences to which international migration positive management impact on both the host and home country were reached.
In this regard, it said ECOWAS member countries believed that a joint management of migratory flows should enable West African migrants to have access to labour markets based on opportunities available in these countries.
Igbinedion in her lead debate, said: “It is with great concern to hear and read on the pages of newspapers how Africans especially Nigerians are dying, being tortured and sold for a fee by traffickers and smugglers en route the Sahara through Libya and the Mediterranean to Europe.
“That despite the public education on the dangers of human trafficking, Nigerians still embarks on this perilous journey.
“This can only remind us of the woes, desperation arising from war, poverty of the mind and the unemployment rates in these countries, namely, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Niger, The Gambia, etc.
“As real as it is, it is like the perilous times. Something serious has to be done within ECOWAS regional territories and beyond to stem the trend because it appears public education alone is not enough.
“The Nigerian government and relevant agencies should take the lead in this crusade to mobilise other African countries to stop Libya in this dehumanising trade.
“There are regulatory treaties, conventions and agreements at world levels – the UN level and regional – that could be invoked against the dehumanising trade being perpetuated in Libya.
“Therefore, Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, there is urgent need to support this motion to mobilise the relevant agencies of government and ECOWAS to pool actions against the slave trade.”
Contributing to the motion, House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) said solving the menace of modern-day slavery required thorough soul searching.
Noting that it was rather sad that slavery was still being debated in the National Assembly, he stressed that it was a domestic problem fostered by demand and supply.
Terming it a willing buyer, willing seller situation, he added that those being ensnared by the infamous trade were looking for the basic things of life.
According to him, “If these are provided, I doubt if anybody will travel abroad.”
Hon. Rita Orji (PDP, Lagos), in her contribution, said Nigeria should borrow a leaf from other countries by bringing back her people from Libya, adding that the situation required parliamentary intervention to cure.
Also, Hon. Nnenna Elendu (PDP, Abia) said the federal government should work with other countries towards instituting a stable government in Libya as a way of dealing with the problem.
She also urged better enlightenment for Nigerian youths that life abroad is not better than it is here in the country.
In addition to the National Assembly, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres yesterday condemned the slave trade in Libya and called on all competent authorities to investigate and end it immediately.
“I abhor these appalling acts and call upon all competent authorities to investigate these activities without delay and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“I have asked the relevant United Nations actors to actively pursue this matter,” Guterres said in a statement.
SERAP Tasks Buhari
Meanwhile, a leading civil society group in the country, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has urged the president to “seize the opportunity presented by the on-going EU-AU summit in Abidjan to push for a joint EU-AU international commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of slave auctions in Libya, especially given the appalling plight of several Nigerians who are among those trapped in Libya”.
In a statement issued yesterday by SERAP’s executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation said: “Nigerian and other African victims of abuses in Libya are crying out for leadership. They urgently need African leaders to act.
“Given Nigeria’s leadership role in the region, Buhari can and should provide greater leadership to push European and African leaders to go beyond merely condemning the atrocities and act swiftly to end the shocking abuses, remove Nigerians and other African women, men and children still trapped in Libya from harm’s way, and guarantee their safety and well-being.”
It noted that the international community has so far failed to heed the call for action to end the on-going abuses in Libya, and Nigerians and other African women, men and children were paying for this failure with their lives.
“Africa now needs strong and principled leadership to address the situation, and we believe Nigeria can and should lead the way. It’s not only the right thing to do, it is also critical if Nigeria wants to remain relevant in regional and international affairs. The next two days will reveal whether Nigeria is up to the test.
“European and African leaders need to take urgent and strong action in response to the dire human rights and humanitarian situation in Libya.
Buhari should press the AU-EU summit to request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to urgently dispatch humanitarian teams to Libya to help those trapped there to leave the country in a safe and humane manner,” SERAP said.
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