It is doubtful if there is any country that had more of its nationals competing for other countries than Nigeria at the just concluded Olympic Games tagged Tokyo 2020, which held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. From European countries to North American countries and to Asian countries and Oceania, Nigerians were busy helping other countries to win medals, while finding it hard to win medals for their own country.
The image Nigeria cut was that of a slave woman kept for the sole purpose of producing children that would be sold into slavery to work for other people. She would deliver a baby and nurse it. Once weaned, the baby would get sold and she would be made pregnant again for the “production” of another baby or babies.
Although Nigerians had been representing other countries at the Olympics and World Cup, what happened at this year’s Olympics was more of an embarrassment because of the sheer number of Nigerians competing for other countries. It looked like the case of a people who officially had no country and were dispersed across the world, competing for other countries. Many even helped to edge the Nigerian teams out of their respective competitions like the Japanese female basketball team where Monica Okoye helped to beat Nigeria. Some countries like the Greek male basketball team even had two Nigerian brothers: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
Italy won their first 4×100 metres relay for men in the Tokyo Olympics. A Nigerian (Eseosa Fostine Desalu) helped to achieve that feat. They edged out the UK team by 0.01 second. A Nigerian (Chijindu Ujah) was in the UK relay team.
A photograph being circulated in the social media captured this sorry state of Nigeria’s “dispersion” succinctly. Two victorious ladies were wrapped in the flags of two different countries. The one with the name “Eze” was wrapped in the British flag, while the one with the name “Adeleke” was wrapped in the Irish flag. They were in a conversation. They had just won medals for their adopted countries. But contrary to the impression created, the photo was not taken at this year’s Olympics. It was the 2021 European under-20 Championships at Tallinn, Estonia. Rashidat Adeleke won gold medal for Republic of Ireland, while Joy Eze won bronze for the United Kingdom. That gold medal by Adeleke gave Republic of Ireland the record of winning the women’s 100-metre gold medal back-to-back, having won it for the first time in 2017 at Grosseto, Italy. Guess who made the country win that gold medal for the first time? Gina Akpe-Moses, another Nigerian, created that feat for the country of less than five million people.
Curiously, all the Nigerians competing for other countries are from the South of Nigeria. This also plays out in other spheres of life: medicine, nursing, teaching, soldiering, policing, etc. The bulk of Nigerians fleeing Nigeria to reside and work in other countries are from the South. The high majority of people using the extremely dangerous desert route to attempt to cross over to Europe are from the South. The majority of those who are taken out as sex slaves from Nigeria are from the South. The majority of those who are lured out by drug barons to act as couriers for them (including taking hard drugs to countries which have the death penalty for convicted traffickers) are from the South.
What has become clear is that Nigerians, especially from the South, are desperately eager to flee from Nigeria to other continents. Even the fear of death is not a deterrent. They seem to feel that it is better to die trying to leave Nigeria than die living in Nigeria.
It is known that the slave merchants that took Nigerians away during the slave trade used force. But there is a joke in Nigeria today that if slave ships were to berth at the different ports in Nigeria, most Nigerians would willingly board the ships to flee into slavery in Europe and North America.
Without using force to chase Nigerians out, they are being indirectly forced out in droves. The first force that makes Nigerians to leave is the economy. From the mid-1980s, professionals and non-professionals began to leave Nigeria in search of better opportunities. Today, millions of Nigerian graduates happily work as labourers in different countries where they earn wages which, once converted into the Nigerian naira, become of high value.
In recent years, insecurity has become a strong force driving Nigerians out. Even though the economy has worsened, the most disconcerting is that Nigerians feel unsafe to even live their life of privation in peace. Some years ago, the threat of Boko Haram was limited to some parts of the North-East. People felt safe in other parts of Nigeria. But the addition of murderous herdsmen and bandits into the security crisis in Nigeria turned things around in a frightening way. No part of Nigeria can be called safe today.
Due to aggravated discontent as well as the activities of the murderous herdsmen and bandits, there has been a rise in separatist agitations from the eastern and western parts of Nigeria, which have been met with more violence by the police and military, thereby making people feel more unsafe. Today, it is easy for young men in transit or even at home to be tagged terrorists and shot dead. Raising young men in Nigeria has become a scary enterprise, as one is always afraid of hearing that one’s sons in the university or out of the university have been shot dead or arrested for having a laptop or a good mobile phone – which are seen by security operatives in Nigeria as signs that such youths are involved in cybercrime. This same attitude was what gave rise to the #EndSARS protest in 2020, which was also met with violence by the security operatives.
Finally, there is the frustration caused by mediocrity. The Nigerian system celebrates mediocrity. It is ingrained in the Nigerian Constitution as “quota system” and “federal character”, but it is accentuated through tribalistic cronyism. Many feel short-changed and stifled when their juniors and less qualified colleagues are promoted far above them.
All these fears have culminated in making it clear to many, especially in those from the South, that Nigeria is not safe to live or raise children in. The physical insecurity also aligns with the insecurity of not being able to access good education, good health care, good facilities, justice, etc. The alternative is to flee Nigeria to other countries where one can have a better and safer life.
Unlike nationals of other countries who seem to travel to acquire some educational and professional skills and return to their home countries to put their new skills to use, Nigerians seem to be fleeing for good. Any person who succeeds in travelling out of Nigeria is congratulated and warned not to come back to live in Nigeria again. Such a person can come back on holidays but not to reside here anymore. Such Nigerians apply for the citizenship of their countries of residence. They feel that their future is guaranteed once that is achieved. They start making plans to take as many of their relatives as possible out of Nigeria.
The treatment Nigeria metes out to its citizens representing it in sports is also a discouragement to those who wish to represent the country. The video of a Nigerian Olympics shot put finalist, Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, washing his jersey because he had only one was shameful. The way the Nigerian contingent landed in Tokyo wearing different clothes was also embarrassing. Nigeria also has a history of abandoning its injured athletes to their fate. Nigerian athletes also face the challenge of the unavailability of adequate tools and facilities. Many have to use their personal funds and resources to train for competitions. All these make it more attractive for many Nigerian athletes to abandon Nigeria for other countries.
The sad part is that there is no sign this sad situation will not get worse.