THE IMMIGRATION MASSACRES. I TAKE IT PERSONAL – Tope Fasua

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immigration 4It was in 2003. The event was COJA (All African Games). Coscharis had supplied – as they usually do – hundreds of BMW cars (now known by Nigerians befittingly as COJA). There was so much hype around the event. As a starry-eyed banker (abi na bank worker sef), I felt so much would happen around the events, and so, we mobilized ourselves – I and my collagues – and hoped to throng the newly built National Stadium in Abuja, on a daily basis.

The Stadium itself had been build with so much pomp and pageantry. The Chinese did the job. It was a sight to behold. It was meant to change the way life was lived in Abuja. Nigeria spent money. Serious money. In those days it was a huge scandal – N68billion worth of scandal – but today, even that scandal pales into inglorious insignificance compared to the kind of deals our fellow Nigerians now make. The missing $20billion (or $4billion is you take Madam CME’s word for it), still on my mind.

Chances are, the scandals will get even bigger and dirtier. Even Robert Mugabe had this to say about Nigeria: “Are we now like Nigeria where you have to reach your pocket to get anything done,” he said. “You see we used to go to Nigeria and every time we went there we had to carry extra cash in our pockets to corruptly pay for everything. You get into a plane in Nigeria and you sit there and the crew keeps dilly dulling without taking off as they wait for you to pay them to fly the plane,” And Paul Biya of Cameroon always tells his people to thank their stars they are not as bad as Nigerians. We are beyond shock as a people. But moving on… It was to our rude shock in 2003, that Nigeria was not prepared for anything. Nothing, absolutely nothing, worked in COJA.

The score boards malfunctioned, the big screen seized up, accreditation was problematic. And to make matters even worse; the whole stadium was sparse. So sparse, that some South African athletes complained bitterly, that they felt they were practicing with each other in the Poll Vault event. No crowd to cheer them up. Of the average of about 300 spectators in the stadium each day, more than half were fellow athletes who didn’t have events on that day. COJA 2003, was undoubtedly the worst All African Games in the history of that competition. As for the fans, it was not deliberate.

But exactly what happened with this Immigration Test, played itself out very early in the day. Fans got to the Stadium and were treated with disdain; ‘No be this gate! Go that one!’ For important events, the few fans who got in had to sometimes go in under the barbed wires of the stadium, or through some space in the gutter. It was apparent back then, that Nigeria did not have any respect for its own people. Of course, with so much disdain shown to them, Nigerians decided to keep off the events. For us bankers as you may guess, the whole thing was a waste of precious time. That same Stadium would later become overgrown with weed.

The N68billion investment went to waste. The monument had absolutely no effect on life in the Capital. Like most of our projects in Nigeria, we built the stadium first before asking ‘ehmm what are we meant to do with this one?’ In 2012, President Jonathan’s attention was drawn to the fact that trees were growing – real trees – on the pitch of that Stadium. Julius Berger – that other efficient second government in Nigeria – had to remove the grass and re-lay another one, which has already become brown again.

Nothing speaks to the dysfunction of the Nigeria state than how the federal government builds monuments and abandons them. Go to Lagos, and see what Fashola has been able to actively achieve with Teslim Balogun Stadium, just opposite what used to be the National Stadium, now overtaken by rats, and the occasional ‘stamp the devil’ crusade. When someone posted the picture of Abuja Stadium on Saturday on Facebook, and tagged me in the post, I merely shared it further on my wall. I was a bit skeptical, because looking more critically, I could see some people on the now ‘browned out’ pitch (once again), who looked like sportsmen. I thought ‘hmm, is this not another scam, maybe this people went to watch a match there’. But it also occurred to me that that Stadium had NEVER been that full. Something was just not right.

Later on, we got the confirmation that it was an Immigrations test. I am compelled to wrote because of the way Nigerians are trivializing the issue already. As usual, tribe and religion and other prejudices overcome our minds, and since everyone is a philosopher these days, thanks to Facebook, we would soon have bad thinking chasing out good thinking. When El-Rufai reposted a writeup from someone calling for the government to compensate the families of those who were trampled to death on Saturday, all our people could see was El-Rufai! Because of this primitive tendency to hate, we are often blinded and we take decisions and position that hurt us personally and collectively.

The questions are; should the government and its agents (like those who manage those stadia), treat Nigerians like wild animals? The people who were stampeded to death, do they have any value to their families? Were these young – and not too young Nigerians defrauded because they paid for the test? Those who had broken bones, should the government pay their bills? And what would eventually be the outcome of the so-called test? Is it not now a bloody charade, literally speaking? If we keep quiet, would this not continue to happen to us, and to our children?

Once again, as we usually do, we have left the message and are baying for the blood of the messenger. This time, we even got the messenger wrong. El-Rufai did not write the article. I take this personal perhaps more importantly because I was almost stampeded to death at a Stadium too, sometimes in 1997. It was at the National Stadium at Surulere. No, I didn’t go there to watch football. I was still a bit religious then and was invited to one of the RCCG all night crusades. It was my first and only experience. I was shocked at the way people were so desperate to get into the stadium, and later on, I was shocked at the way the whole stadium was locked down for an hour, while the choir sang songs that encouraged people to give. It was offering time! I was almost trampled to death. I fell for a few seconds and managed to recover. Some others were not so lucky, but luckily there were no deaths. Or perhaps no one cared to check. Since then I don’t go near mobs.

When you fall, others will clamber on you mercilessly. From the pictures we saw, several of those who died, were pregnant. Even if Nigeria thinks they were worthless because they were jobless, what about the children in their wombs? Some could even be carrying twins. This is a teachable moment for Nigeria, but we would most likely miss the bus – again. At what point, if ever, are we going to start doing things right and acting responsibly? When will our imagination stop failing us?

Someone also wrote that the numbers of applicants does not mean the unemployment crisis is so bad, because even those who have jobs showed up for the test. The idea is that Immigration bribery is sweet (recall Mugabe). But statistically speaking that does not wash. The unemployment issue extends to those without education, those in the villages, and there are millions more who didn’t go there because they simply were not invited or just didn’t care for that job. Let us not confuse issues. Let us say ‘never again’. Let the government compensate those families. We have the money.

POSERS:

1. Why didn’t the Immigration Service engage professional examiners such as JAMB or WAEC to handle this job?

2. With this level of desperately unemployed what is the future of Nigerian youth?

3. What is your take generally on this sad development and needless loss of lives?

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