No one chooses to be a refugee. No one chooses to live as a second class citizen without basic amenities or depending totally on the goodwill of strangers in some of the most inhumane conditions. Yet Nigerians knowingly or ignorantly are making this choice. As I thought about this article, the topic kept coming to mind and I wondered how I will capture it to pass across my message. So, I started by understanding what made one a refugee. By definition, a refugee, generally speaking, is a displaced person who has been forced to cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely. The intention is always to leave where you are for somewhere safer and better.
Sometime ago, I packed everything that I owned in life both cash and material into a Volkswagen car and decided to drive from London across the continent of Europe, over the Mediterranean, through North Africa and across the Sahara to Nigeria.
During my travels, I was opportune to meet different kinds of people and hear numerous stories from these many people. One thing that was common was how the need for security and the desire to live a better life has forced people to leave their country, homes and become in some cases, refugees in another country. I even got to live in a refugee camp for a short while so I got fairly familiar with life as a refugee. I have since visited many more refugee camps around the world including Palestine, the biggest refugee camp in the world; and Morocco and Algeria where most Nigerians trying to cross the Sahara are kept. I can tell you that to be a refugee is not an ideal situation which is why I am truly bothered about my country. With all that being said, I am forced to ask if we may not be choosing to be a refugee by choosing to do nothing to improve our situation. To be clear, I fear that Nigeria is creating an avenue ripe for the creation of refugees by refusing to do what needs to be done to develop itself and heal old wounds.
As a nation in the 21st century, Nigeria claims to have a population of about two hundred million people and this has been published, advertised and used everywhere. One can only wonder at the authenticity of that figure knowing how badly the last census in the early 1990s went and the fact that there hasn’t been another since then. It is also a nation where a third of the country doesn’t have an address and cannot be traced. Touch wood, but if there is ever any crisis, Nigeria would become the biggest refugee camp in the world, only that it will be full of Nigerians as no other country will be able or willing to take us in. The country according to a report released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) is plagued by three main issues and they are: unemployment, crime and insecurity. Boko Haram, Armed Bandits, Kidnappers and more are constantly terrorizing citizens and many have turned into their own security agents to protect themselves.
Regarding insecurity, as a nation, we must do something about our porous borders with our neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Republic of Benin because we must have records of those coming into our country and those leaving. We must also have records of births and deaths. This is the only way we can be in a position to explain to ourselves and to the global community how we went from sixty million at independence to about two hundred million in the 2000’s. As a nation, we must be in a position to protect every citizen but, if we don’t have the detail of every Nigerian, where they are, and what they do and not do, we must then be prepared to become refugees someday. Note that this wouldn’t only affect the poor but everyone. No one is exempt.
Another issue we need to seriously consider is the impact of climate change on Nigeria, something we cannot avoid and have already started suffering from with the increased rate of flooding, erosion, soil degradation, desertification, deforestation and more. In more recent times, Lagos, the commercial city of the nation has come to be known for its highbrow areas that boast of western living and luxury like Banana Island, Parkview Estate; both based in Ikoyi, a good part of Victoria Island, Lekki peninsula and more. Properties in these choice locations have the privilege of even overlooking the ocean (if you can ignore the color and smell) and enjoying first-hand the sea breeze on a cool afternoon. Unfortunately, these so called highbrow areas share one unique feature which is that they have all settled below the sea level due to the massive development and construction that has taken place in the last 50 years.
The implication of this is that Lagos and its choicest areas are more vulnerable than ever to ocean surges and massive flooding. I should also warn that the city centre or what is commonly referred to as the ‘mainland’ will not be spared from the impending calamity. The catastrophic consequence of all these developments is that whenever there is a storm with a wind speed of more than 60km/hr, the waves from the sea develops to a height of more than three building floors high and a good part of most of the Island (areas mentioned above) and beyond (the mainland) will be overrun by sea water. We have also seen from various examples like Cyclone Idia, the most recent disaster in Mozambique and its neighboring countries and the tsunami how these waves can travel hundreds of miles.
The likes of floods that are capable of dislodging a whole community, war and uprising that are capable of reducing a part of the nation in rubbles, bush fires that can ravish towns and villages and ocean surge that can take over cities and towns are issues Nigerians need to proactively seek solutions to before it is too late. I know it will happen because of the amount of neglect and abuse that we have subjected our land to by taking too much and putting back so little. We have taken over the forest without replenishing, we are driving the sea and oceans without channeling it, we have destroyed he eco-system and driven away bio-diversity. The end result of all these are some catastrophes of sort waiting to happen and that will make a good percentage of the population, refugees. I have been ready for this for a long time, my question therefore to every Nigerian is ‘how ready are you?’.