There are very few young Nigerians who will not jump at an opportunity to relocate to another country. Although the USA, Canada, The United Kingdom, and Australia might be preferred destinations, young people just want to get out of Nigeria and don’t really care where. In the minds of most, there could hardly be a worse place to live than Nigeria. Desperation to leave Nigeria is evident in the number of young people who risk their lives daily, travelling across the Sahel in an attempt to get to Europe. Some succeed while most fail and either turn back, die on the way, or get sold into slavery.
Recently, some adverts surfaced on social media offering “50,000 DECENT JOBS FOR CROSS RIVERIANS”. This programme is championed by SOS Global Investments and SOS Labour in partnership with the Cross River State Migration Control Agency. The adverts allegedly offer opportunities for young Cross Riverians to get jobs as supermarket and restaurant workers as well as housemaids and drivers.
On the surface, the opportunity to work abroad and earn US dollars sounds exciting and indeed it might offer the opportunity of a lifetime if the programme fulfils its objectives as advertised. However, there are some things about the programme that give cause for concern.
Firstly, the government is the facilitator of a programme that seeks to “export” young people to serve as low skilled labor in other countries. The irony here is that in the last few years, many businesses in Cross River State like restaurants, shops and factories have closed altogether or relocated to other states due to unfavorable business conditions imposed by the same government. So it appears to me that the government inadvertently forced Cross Riverians out of jobs by making life difficult for employers only to then turn around to facilitate the “export” of these same Cross Riverians to do similar or lower skilled jobs in other countries. It sounds like drawing blood from the dying to nourish the healthy.
My second concern is that the other two partners – SOS Investments and SOS Labour appear to be profit-making organisations. Indeed, the government itself might be driven by the desire to profit from this programme.
History suggests that when financial profit is a motive for facilitating the “export” of people across national borders, the outcomes are rarely in the interest of the people exported. The transatlantic slave trade might readily come to mind but there are more recent examples.
The Gulf region, which appears to be the location of these so called “50,000 decent jobs”, has a reputation for treating migrant workers badly. Qatar has been in the spotlight over the last few years being the host nation for the 2022 football World Cup. A report by npr.org suggests that more than 6,500 migrant workers have lost their lives in preparation for the World Cup. An investigative report by independent.co.uk highlights serious abuses perpetrated against migrant workers. Workers have been subjected to horrendous abuses by employers including beatings, hair pulling, kicks and punches. Women have been sexually abused. I am bothered that if the facilitators of this programme must balance their books, the welfare of our young people is likely to be lower down their list of priorities.
A third concern is that the programme charges an average non-refundable fee of N3,250 per applicant. With the level of desperation amongst young people, this could be a big money spinner for its partners. If people are made to believe that there are 50,000 jobs on offer, I can imagine that more than 100,000 Cross Riverians are likely to apply; 100,000 applications will deliver N325,000,000 to the facilitators of this programme. A huge sum considering that the applicants may get nothing in return. There are also processing fees of $100 and $600. These presumably will only be paid by those who are successful. These fees are high for a state with a GDP per capita of USD1,500, yet young people will look for creative ways of raising the money. After all, it will be well worth it if they stand to make thousands of dollars once they are working.
I must admit, if I was in the shoes of the average young Cross Riverian who has little or no prospect of a livelihood in the state, I would jump at this opportunity. I therefore imagine that there will be an avalanche of applications. My duty as an elder brother to our youngsters is to advice caution and to encourage them to ask the following questions amongst others:
1. How many hours per day will I be required to work?
2. How many days per week will I be required to work?
3. Do I have to pay a portion of my salary to an agent? If so, how much and for how long?
4. Will I receive my salary directly or will it be paid through an agency?
5. Will my employer or agency be in possession of my passport?
6. What support will I get if I suffer sexual or physical abuse?
7. What happens if I die in the cause of performing my work?
8. What living conditions will be provided to me?
9. What happens if I decide to quit working and return home?
Whichever way we look at this programme, its very premise indicates that we have failed our young people. If they had hope and the prospect of a meaningful livelihood, most would gladly stay home to build their state while being close to their families. As it stands, to either stay in Cross River State and starve or become a house-boy or house-girl in Qatar is the unenviable dilemma they face.
Iso Bassey is the founder of Academix NG. He is a Cross Riverian and writes in from the United Kingdom via firstname.lastname@example.org
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