Pictures, videos and news have authenticated reports of large numbers of human cargoes, mainly young boys, packed like sardines in lorries from the North headed to various destinations in Southern States of Nigeria, in recent times. Ogun State intercepted 30 lads, Cross River State intercepted and returned two truckloads comprising 120 almajaris, Abuja arrested 189 night travellers, Ondo discovered lads from the North dumped in the state, Enugu intercepted nine buses attempting to relocate Northern lads to the state, Lagos intercepted 200 lads from Katsina who were Lagos bound, Enugu security operatives intercepted 15 men hidden on the floor of a trailer loaded with cattle, and other similar stories. The most important concern should be the intentions of both passengers and their sponsors, if they have sponsors.
I made a few calls to friends, security operatives, journalists and government officials in affected states (both North and South) and the feedback on motives for the migration could be broken into two general thoughts. One group is of the opinion that these youths-in-transit are in search of greener pastures. Typically, the African Sahel has experienced drought for some time now and the United Nations estimate that 80 per cent of the Sahel’s farmland is degraded and temperatures are rising 1.5 times fasters than the global average. About 50 million people in the Sahel depend on livestock rearing for survival. And for centuries, their reaction to climate change has been to head south towards the West African coastal states.
In the same vein, our neighbours in Niger and Chad indicate the highest drought risk ratios among other African countries due to large population growth as well as climate change. So they too are heading south for survival and south for them is Nigeria.
Back at home, despite producing Presidents and Heads of States to rule the country for 44 years out of 60 years since independence, the North has failed to develop their local economies, and the huge imbalance from population growth and distribution of scarce resources have left them treacherously poor, which has partly given rise to the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North East. One of my interviewees noted: “Education is an important change agent, and I do not know why over the years, most northern leaders have supported the campaign to ban western education in the north while they send their own children to the best schools abroad, and they return home after graduation to hold the highest government positions. So northern leaders and their immediate family members live in lavish opulence while their communities live in squalor and abject poverty.”
From my research, the second group is of the view that individuals arrested in the misadventure to the South do not appear like people who can afford to pay the fare for such trips, which means they have sponsors. And of course, those sponsors have assignments for them to undertake when they settle down in the South. One of my interviewees, who lives in the Northern part of the country, said he does not believe that those travellers intercepted are Almajaris as purported. Almajaris are popular beggars seen on the streets of Northern Nigerian States.
But this my interviewee insisted that Almajaris are usually aged between five to 13 years old. Able bodied kids above 15 years no longer go begging, but the travellers arrested are much older kids from at least 16 years and above.
Another worrying fact in support of this group’s conclusion is that the pattern of movement is a cause of concern. Some of them come stealthily, hiding between goods and livestock. That they are willing to subject themselves to such inhuman conditions through long distances is another concern. It is shocking how these travellers evade dozens of security check points along the over 800km stretch from Northern Nigeria to Southern destinations during the COVID-19 lockdown period without detection.
There are many theories, questions and rhetoric about the phenomenon, but neither explanation means well for the southern states. Large influx of people into any state at short intervals will destabilise economic plans and increase the risk of insecurity in many ways. Like we have always seen in history, the invaders get what they want peacefully or forcefully and hardly ever stop unless the land owners come together to crush them. Even then, they usually rebuild and return for the battle, especially when they have a large population so desperate to reach the source.
Southern Nigerians, including those of the Middle Belt, South West, South East and South South, should only sleep with one eye open, and its leaders must come together very quickly to restrict illegal occupation of their land and preserve land and resources for future generations. What is playing out is a serious battle for survival and the invaders will never stop unless they have an alternative to survive.
. Udo can be reached via 08033148158.