By Ere-Ebi Agedah Imisi
In August 2023, Heritage Times HT reported a gripping tale that resembled a carefully orchestrated film unfolding in the media. The narrative detailed the incredible journey of four Nigerian stowaways, who against all odds, endured a perilous two-week odyssey concealed above the rudder of a cargo ship, navigating 3,500 miles of treacherous ocean from Nigeria to Brazil.
According to reports, the migrants held the belief that the vessel was heading towards Europe. However, their expectations took an unexpected turn upon arrival at the port of Vitoria in southeastern Brazil.
Recounting their experience, one of the courageous migrants explained that as the days passed, food and drink ran out, leaving them to quench their thirst by ingesting sea water splashing just meters beneath them. The confined space and incessant noise of the engine made sleep a rare and risky luxury during the perilous voyage.
Yet, they remained resilient and kept their spirits high, even spotting majestic creatures like whales and sharks in the vast expanse of the ocean. To prevent themselves from slipping into the water below, the migrants ingeniously rigged a net around the rudder and securely tied themselves to it with a rope.
Fearful of the ship’s crew, who might throw them overboard if discovered, they vowed to remain silent throughout the journey.
The challenging voyage tested their resolve, as 38-year-old Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye recalled: “It was a terrible experience for me”.
In a fortunate turn of events, they were rescued by the police upon reaching the port of Vitoria in southeastern Brazil. Now safe in a Sao Paulo church shelter, Yeye and Friday have applied for asylum in Brazil, while the other two men chose to return to Nigeria.
This stands as one of the rare documented stories depicting the irregular journey of African migrants in pursuit of an improved life.
Humans Are Built To Migrate
It was Ban ki-Moon that said Migration is an expression of human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. However, in recent years, irregular migration has emerged as a complex and pressing issue, posing significant challenges to countries around Africa.
As in other parts of the world, most migrants from Western Africa are seeking employment and better economic opportunities. Afrobarometer found that economic considerations (including “finding work”, “economic hardship”, “poverty” and “better business prospects”) were cited as the most important reason for considering emigration by between 70 and 90 per cent of respondents in all 14 Western African countries surveyed.
IOM data indicates that the number of migrants crossing from Western Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands increased sharply in 2020, with 16,760 newly arrived between January and November 2020, more than 1,000 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2019.
In 2024, the pressing question remains: Are African leaders ready and willing to tackle the menace of irregular migration amid a precarious and unstable economy, widespread unemployment, insecurity, inadequate medical infrastructure, and various other challenges that have contributed to the viability of irregular migration?
The outbreak of conflict between military factions in Sudan in 2023, for example, has generated an additional 6 million cross-border displacements. This adds to the population movements generated by conflicts in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Somalia, among others.
Addressing The Scale Of Irregular Migration
Irregular migration in Africa has reached alarming proportions, with millions of people undertaking perilous journeys in search of better opportunities or fleeing conflict and persecution. According to recent data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of irregular migrants originating from Africa has steadily increased over the past decade. In 2022 alone, an estimated 5,000 Africans embarked on irregular migration routes, often facilitated by human traffickers and criminal networks.
The treacherousness of each of these transit routes is seen by the number of those that perished, almost 40,000 recorded deaths and disappearances on all African routes since 2014, which is undoubtedly an incomplete figure. The annual number of recorded migrant fatalities is also increasing in recent years with estimates of 4,300 in 2023.
The Real Picture
As the world’s youngest continent, Africa continues to experience more population growth than any other region of the planet. Estimates are that Africa’s population is expected to double from 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion in 2050, and 10-12 million African youth join the workforce each year. While fertility rates appear to be dropping faster than previously predicted, Africa is expected to have a high number of employable young people for the remainder of the century.
Speaking exclusively with Heritage Times HT, Dr. Ajibola Abayomi, President of the Journalists International Forum For Migration (JIFORM), emphasized the significant human toll associated with irregular migration. He highlighted that countless lives are lost in hazardous journeys across deserts and seas, underscoring the gravity of the issue.
According to The World Bank, in Africa, growth remains uneven across the continent. While the East Africa recorded a growth rate of 1.8% in 2023, West Africa is expected to grow at 3.3% this year. Overall, SSA’s economic performance is still being held back by the lower-than-average performance of the largest countries on the continent. Energy and transportation bottlenecks continue to impede economic activities in South Africa, while Nigeria’s modest growth can be attributed to challenges in its oil sector. Moreover, conflicts and military coups in countries such as Sudan, Niger, and Gabon have been seen to hamper growth in the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa and some Sahel nations.
Harnessing the potential of natural resources provides an opportunity to improve the fiscal and debt sustainability of African countries. Natural resources (oil, gas, and minerals) offer a huge economic opportunity for Africa.
Africa can also pave the way to inclusive growth by investing in its human potential. Over the next three decades, the region will experience the fastest increase in the working age population of all regions, with a projected net increase of 740 million people by 2050. Up to 12million youth will enter the labor market across the region every year in the coming decades, yet only about 3 million new formal wage jobs are currently created each year.
Beyond the humanitarian aspect, irregular migration also has significant economic implications for both origin and destination countries. In the context of Nigeria and Ghana, there is a notable outflow of skilled human resources, commonly referred to as a workforce drain. According to the World Bank, the economic impact of irregular migration in Africa results in an annual loss of billions of dollars, emphasizing the urgency for comprehensive solutions.
Role Of African Leaders
Furthermore, Dr. Abayomi emphasized on the need for African leaders to prioritize economic and political stability in the region. He pointed out that the fundamental reason behind irregular migration is the absence of viable sources of income and livelihood for people.
‘‘What Africa is suffering is as a result of mismanagement in our economy, there is nothing like inflation, so to say, in Africa other than mismanagement. Our African leaders must prioritize, groom the economy, priorities political stability. go to countries like Somalia. It’s already building up also in South Africa.
‘‘Also you go to countries like Nigeria, where people truncated democratic governments and win, that’s terrible. Go to country like Burkina Faso, go to country like Mali. We must ensure that the economy functions and there is political stability for us to effectively fight.
‘‘To curb irregular migration, there must be opportunity for the people. People must feel secure. They must have access to all the basic needs of life If you are able to do all these little things, the rate at which our people are so desperate to get themselves through irregular means out of Africa will reduce’’
Call To Action
Ophaniel Gooding, Senior Reporter of Awoko Newspaper Sierra leone said ‘‘Basically in my opinion, I believe that African leaders can address youth migration by investing in education, social amenities, creating job opportunities, and promoting entrepreneurship.”
“Additionally, they can also foster a conducive business environment by addressing governance issues ensuring political stability can contribute to retaining young talent. As a media consultant, strategic communication can also vital play a role in highlighting success stories and opportunities, shaping positive narratives that inspire youth to stay and contribute to their communities’’ he said.
To combat irregular migration in Africa, African leaders can collaboratively develop strategies. By tackling the root causes, fostering regional cooperation, and drawing lessons from successful interventions, these leaders can play a crucial role in alleviating the impact of irregular migration on their nations and the entire continent. The time to take action is now.
Promoting Regular Migration
Dr. Abayomi concludes by emphasizing on the need to discourage irregular migration, noting that it leads to perilous ends and is not the optimal path.
Instead, he suggests that the government should empower journalism to promote regular migration, which includes options for people to travel abroad for education, work, or business.
Also, he highlights the importance of focusing on these positive aspects, especially considering the current situation where those who should be at the forefront of promoting regular migration often lack empowerment. Dr. Abayomi underscores the significance of strengthening media outlets in Africa, as increased participation in successful ventures could lead to more positive outcomes.