There is an excellent three-part BBC documentary out there called Welcome to Lagos (it’s on YouTube and Vimeo) covering life in the Nigerian commercial capital. The series focuses on a number of individuals, one of whom was a guy who lived on an enormous municipal rubbish dump and earned cash selling whatever he could find in the mountain of discarded waste. He was young, energetic, and had an abundance of charisma (which is presumably why the producers selected him) and aspired to be a singer/rap star in Lagos’ highly informal music scene. We saw him get cleaned up, dressed up, and get photos for his album cover done, and a fair amount of his singing. Near the end of the series the audience was looking forward to a satisfying conclusion to this rags to (relative) riches story.
Instead, the guy got in a fight off camera which resulted in the other person losing an eye. Whoops. What became clear to anyone who knew Lagos was that far from being a charming young man with big dreams down on his luck, this chap they’d chosen to profile was a vicious thug. Nigerians are particularly good at turning on the charm and this talent extends to criminals as well; he’d obviously fooled the BBC and by the time they realised who they were dealing with it was too late. The series concluded with the man exiled from the rubbish dump, effectively losing his home, in a compromise negotiated with the one-eyed man’s relatives. The alternatives were to lose an eye of his own or be killed. I could imagine the BBC people looking on with horror as this unfolded, finally realising what sort of people live on a Nigerian rubbish dump.
I was reminded of this when I read this BBC article:
More than 3,000 Nigerian migrants who failed to reach Europe, have been flown home by the International Organization for Migration. Many sold everything to make the trip and aren’t sure how to face their families, writes Colin Freeman.
Evans William tells me he sold everything but the kitchen sink to fund his dream of getting to Europe. And I mean everything – his bed, his fridge, his TV, his spare clothes and his mobile phone.
Now this may be true, but I wonder how many Nigerians would advise the BBC to take this man’s story at face value.
After borrowing yet more cash, he finally had enough to pay a smuggling gang to take him from Nigeria across the Sahara to Libya.
So he’s an economic migrant, not a refugee or asylum seeker.
In all, it cost him £750 ($1,000), but he wasn’t worried. Once in Europe, he figured, he could quickly earn enough to pay off his creditors, and eventually return home to start a business of his own.
What was he going to do after illegally entering Europe that would “quickly” earn him $1,000? The BBC didn’t bother to ask, of course. I suspect any Nigerian reading this would consider this chap to be bad news and not the sort they’d want moving in next door, but here’s the BBC lending him a sympathetic ear.
When I met Evans last month, he’d just returned home to Benin City in southern Nigeria, where he was among hundreds of migrants staying in a government-requisitioned hotel.
They’d been flown back by the International Organization for Migration, a UN body that helps illegal migrants who want to return home.
As well as a free plane ticket, they get a few nights’ hotel accommodation, and £200 in pocket money while they find their feet. They’re also offered job training, to give them a better chance of a livelihood.
This is a bit of a slap in the face to those millions of Nigerians who don’t try to enter Europe illegally to make a quick $1,000 committing crimes, and instead work their arses off at home trying to improve their lives legally.
The scheme is partly bankrolled by a £3bn fund set up by the European Union in 2015, the year the migrant crisis dominated the news.
Were the taxpayers informed this money would be used to bankroll fit, healthy, men looking for opportunities to graft, or were they assured it was for desperate families fleeing war and persecution?
Most, like Evans, are virtually destitute. And while they appreciate the offers of job training, it’s fairly basic stuff, like hairdressing or tailoring, or learning how to farm. For those who dreamed of making it in Europe, that’s a bit of a comedown.
I wonder how much sympathy the average Nigerian has for their countrymen who, having failed to realise their dream of working a life of crime in Europe, now have to come back home to receive training in doing something useful?
What also hurts, though, is the feeling that they’ll be seen as failures by their peers and relatives.
What sort of peers does the BBC think these men have?
Many could only make the trip because mum and dad sold off the family silver. Nobody wants to come back penniless, and admit that they blew what’s seen – rightly or wrongly – as the chance of a lifetime.
Ah yes, the deep sense of shame and familial pride which is so strong among Nigeria’s criminal fraternity.
Gloomier still was Abibu, a tough-looking young man who was on the same flight home as Evans. He had a fresh-looking scar on his face, and a scowl that deepened as he talked.
Ah, here we go. A fresh scar on his face, eh? From what? Did the BBC ask how he got it?
His mother, he said, had sold her only plot of land to fund his trip to Europe. He hadn’t even told her he was back.
He sounds lovely. Hands up all those who really thinks his mother willingly sold her “only plot of land” to fund Abibu’s trip?
“If my mum sees me she’ll get sick with worry,” he said.
An odd phrase, it must be said.
“And all the neighbours, saying, ‘This guy’s mum sold her land so he could go to Europe – and then he failed!’ If I hear anyone saying that, I tell you, I’ll kill them.”
Shame, he sounds like he’d have made such a contribution to European life.
Which of the training opportunities did Abibu fancy? Hairdresser? Farmer? He seemed to have other work in mind. “I’ll look at the offers,” he admitted grudgingly. “But I’m worried I’ll end up committing crime to get the money back.”
Really? What sort of crime?
A real shame.
He sounded like he meant it, and I found myself wondering just what Abibu had done to get that scar on his face.
I assume you didn’t ask because the answer would have ruined the sob-story.
What we have here is the BBC interviewing people who are in all likelihood dangerous, violent criminals but presenting them as ordinary Nigerians deserving of our sympathy. This would be the equivalent of Nigerian journalists writing puff-pieces on English football hooligans arrested in Russia this summer, or members of drug gangs which plague sink estates in Britain. Could they not have found any Nigerians a bit more deserving of their attention?