The 5th African Union/European Union Summit that just ended in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire had the theme: Investing in Youth for a Sustainable Future’. But recent events turned the attention more to stemming the growing tide of illegal migration and slavery across the continents. Assistant Editor, Chesa Chesa, who was in Abidjan, reviews the participation of Nigeria, whose delegation was led by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The topic for the Abidjan summit was certainly selected some months ago and may appear as one of those usual or ordinary topics meant for such an event but it ended up quite interesting that it coincided with the raging issue of young illegal African immigrants, many of who are Nigerians, being dehumanised and sold as slaves in Libya, or even outrightly murdered and their vital organs harvested for sale in the medical black market.

The rage was ignited afresh by an exclusive investigative report by the American news outlet, CNN, two weeks ago. The background of that report, which highlighted the plight and horrors suffered by these young unfortunate immigrants in slave camps around Libya, formed the fulcrum of many of the deliberations during the Abidjan summit. This was more so, as the theme was about how to invest on these same young Africans in order to build a sustainable future for them and the continent. The summit was attended by scores of European and African leaders, including Emmanuel Macron of France; King Hassan of Morocco; and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, among others.

So, it was the kind of summit Nigeria had to attend; and she did so with a delegation led by no less a person than President Muhammadu Buhari. Prominent in the delegation were Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama; Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalung; Minister of the Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau; National Security Adviser, Babagana Munguno; Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa; as well as two State Governors: Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom and Mohammed Abubakar of Bauchi. President of African Development Bank, Nigeria’s own Mr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, already based in Abidjan, was of course, on hand to lend his weight to the cause at hand.

The enormity of this cause was not lost on the delegation, and this was emphasised shortly after President Buhari arrived and met with him of Nigerians living in Cote d’Ivoire, at the grounds of the Nigerian Embassy there. As they took turns to bare their minds to the President, the Nigerians lamented the rising influx of Nigerians trafficked to Cote d’Ivoire. Among these are both innocent victims desperate for a better life and those who willingly migrate with nefarious intentions.

#The Ivorien Experience

Nigeria’s ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Ibrahim Isah, concurred that this was exactly what e had been battling with since he assumed duties three months ago. He was therefore elated that President Buhari was in Cote d’Ivoire to lend his voice and support his efforts in this regard. He gave an insight into what has been happening thus: “In human/child trafficking, we have a lot of people who are involved in this and they are Nigerians but we are working hard on that. I have had meetings with a lot of people and I have threatened Nigerian transport companies that bring them to this place and I told them that anybody we found bringing them (victims and criminals) we will report to the authorities and have their license canceled and they will not be able to operate this route again. So that has instilled fear and many of them are cooperating and even giving us information about these ladies and are helping to transport them back to Nigeria because on a weekly basis we see them arriving here”.

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He revealed to The Authority that over 50 victims have been repatriated back to Nigeria, and given some stipends since then, while he has succeeded in getting three traffickers jailed there in Cote d’Ivoire.

A senior official of the Interpol, Nigeria’s Mr. Sunday Okeobor, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, corroborated this and revealed that it was a major problem he too had been dealing with since his deployment to Cote d’Ivoire. He pointed out that more young boys have joined the list of regular victims of human trafficking, who are lured into Cote d’Ivoire with fake hopes. Okeobor recalled that “about a month back, some Nigerians from Rivers and Cross River States were lured down here under the pretext that Shell was offering them employment for $250 per week. These gullible Nigerians came here, their money taken, cell phones taken, locked up and held prisoners. Only the few that managed to escape and reached out that we mobilized and went to rescue. It is a problem here”. He revealed that ” the worst aspect is that some of these girls after the vicious experience they have gone through, to go back home becomes a problem so they take to full time prostitution here. They are still in the vicious cycle because before they can gain freedom to prostitute on their own, most times they have to pay back to the traffickers 5 million CFA (roughly N3.5 million). How many people will you sleep with when your charge per customer is about 1,000 CFA?

#How to solve the problem

ACP Okeobor proffered some solutions, top of which are provision of electricity and jobs back home in Nigeria. According to him: “The truth of the matter is if you talk to a typical Nigerian here, most of them are desirous to go back home. What is holding them is the issue of lack of power. If Nigeria can tackle this issue of power, majority of the problems will be solved. The few artisans that are here will be more than willing to return home and start something.

“It is not as if Côte d Ivoire is a bed of roses, they are facing a lot of problems here. You need to see what the police are doing to them here once they know you are Nigerian. In the immediate term, Mr. President promised the youths jobs, if this is done, this issue of mass migration will be reduced to the barest minimum because it is not really ideal for them to be crossing the desert and the Mediterranean in dinghies based on hope that when they get there life will be better.”

Speaking in the same vein was a Nigerian woman, who almost in tears, begged President Buhari to solve the power problem back home and with that save young Nigerian girls and boys from the perils of needless migration. She said: “we are talking about child trafficking, prostitution. I know where they are staying in Côte d’Ivoire and I tell you that the influx is too high. The people that are coming to the Embassy are those who do not want to stay but they are many that even when you send them back to Nigeria, they will come back here. They feel this is where there is quick money.

“So, what I want to beg you Mr. President, the governors, and other dignitaries is that you should make Nigeria suitable place for us to live. I have tried to relocate back to Nigeria but three times I changed my mind because of one thing – power failure.

“I remember when the President of Côte d’Ivoire was telling the indigenes not to go out to Libya and the youths replied him that it is better that they die in the sea than die before their mothers. The sea and mother are the same word in French. Which means they are hungry and so it is better to go to Libya and die fighting instead of being hungry and dying in front of their mothers. I’m saying the same thing -most of our youths are going out because of lack of employment. So, Mr. President, ensure stable power supply in Nigeria. In Côte d’Ivoire, a small country you cannot hear of power failure”.

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When given the opportunity to speak, Mr. Nwoye Augus, one of the biggest spare parts dealers in West Africa, who resides in Abidjan, pointedly informed President Buhari is losing out big time investments that would discourage migration, all because of inadequate electricity supply in the country. In his words: “The greatest problem we are facing is power. We are purchasing our spare parts from a company in China which set up with about $400,000 but at the end of the year the purchase we made there is over $3 million. We have every intention to bring those companies to Nigeria but because of one single reason – power – we cannot afford to do that”. Angus further stressed that “many of us here have the capacity to come and invest in Nigeria and reduce unemployment but because of power we cannot do this. It hurts us so much because our counterparts in Ghana, Togo are all producing from their countries. For example, I have a company begging me to come and set up battery factory in Nigeria but when we worked out the cost of production, it will be cheaper to produce it here and send it to Nigeria than producing it in Nigeria because of power. So, please do everything humanly possible to make sure than within your tenure, at least power problem will be a thing of the past”.

Such was the intensity of their lamentations that President Buhari not only commended them for holding fast and believing he could find solutions, he assured them that he would indeed do his best in the circumstances. “We being the biggest country in Africa at least 180 million people, the requirement for infrastructure is especially education because if you educate people they can look after themselves; and then of course, healthcare. But I’m telling you there is a lot of work to be done back at home. We are doing our best and the leaderships at all levels are doing their best. I’m assuring you that the good news you hear from home is the same that you hear from all,over the world that we are doing too badly in trying to secure the country, in trying to improve the economy, to get jobs for people and in trying to deal with corruption. I’ll keep on doing my best because I volunteered to come, I have come, I have met what was on the ground and I hope I will make an impression”, Buhari told his guests, among other things. It was on this occasion that he gave the assurance on the evacuation of Nigerians stranded in Libya.
At the summit proper the following day, President Buhari and his delegation stepped in to defend Nigeria and Africa as European leaders tried to pin all the blames for human trafficking on the continent. While specifically pointing out the need to invest in education and in other social areas, he emphasized that it is upon economic stability that the future of Nigeria and Africa will hang. According to the President: “Without jobs, even educated youth become vulnerable to forms of extremism, ranging from joining the ranks of terrorists to risking their lives migrating to Europe through the ‘sea of sand that is the Sahara and the unforgiving waters of the Mediterranean’. We must declare this the era of African industrialization for this must be the primary goal of all AU members”. He advised that future AU-EU summits must be dedicated to this goal until it is achieved, adding that direct foreign investment that produces jobs and creates tangible wealth must be encouraged.

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With regard to peace and security, President Buhari stressed the need for greater cooperation to halt human trafficking and the need to curb the deaths of desperate migrants as is happening in Libya. He noted that the once stable nation had become a house of chaos where northbound migrants were often sold into slavery and the means of violent terrorism were transported southward to upend political stability and peace in the Sahel. He therefore called on the EU to work more diligently with the AU to bring normalcy to Libya and for the EU to be more forthcoming with humanitarian aid to those directly affected by terrorism. President Buhari even succeeded in starting talks with Germany on new agreements that may open doors of migration and also check illegal migration. This will entail thousands of scholarships and vocational training for illegal Nigerian migrants before they are brought back home.

Speaking on what the summit had achieved, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, declared that the bottomline of the presentations suggest basically that Africans are looking at more practical partnerships from Europe towards investing in youth development so that they can even reduce migration of young people across the Mediterranean. He pointed out that “one unique aspect of the summit is that both African and European youth were given opportunities to make presentations and they emphatically demanded that leaders should depart from being theoretical on the question of youth development and practically embrace entrepreneurship, education, job and wealth creation for young people.
Also, countries of Europe that have basically been at the receiving end of mass migration of young persons kept emphasizing that Africa must do something to prevent the young people from migrating to Europe.” On what Nigeria brought to the table n Abidjan, Dalung, whose Ministry is central to the theme of the summit, said that “our position is that the partnership must be robust, sincere and there must be commitment. Nigeria believes that if the two continents address these challenges with commitment, the partnership will be robust and stronger. Nigeria stated what it’s been able to do to engage the youths, in investing in youths through the N-Power programme, agriculture and mining, and other things”.
> As the two-day summit rounded off, President Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who also attended the summit, declared that “credit must be given to leaders including our President who fought back attempts by some of the Europeans to push the issue of forced repatriation. This was a successful summit as Nigeria joined with other Africa nations in plainly and clearly stating Africa’s interests and in seeking ways to cooperate with the EU in mutual benefit.
> Shehu concluded that “the relevance of President Buhari’s foreign policy speaks for itself because it speaks to the best aspirations of the Nigerian people and of all of Africa. Buhari demonstrated the pivotal role Nigeria plays in continental affairs and in the relationship that Africa must forge with other regions of the world”. With President Buhari back home in Abuja, it is believed he is very much aware that these aspirations are exactly what Nigerians, from Abuja to Abidjan and beyond, are looking forward to see become reality.