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African migration: an unstoppable human tide

Following Nato’s toppling of Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become the main gateway for migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East attempting to get to Europe. Having created a lawless space replete with arms and trigger-happy militias, European leaders face a difficult task trying to turn back the tide. Hawwa Adam looks back at six years of a worsening crisis

A few months after the Nato-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011, reports went round the world of a humanitarian crisis on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a rocky outcrop in the Mediterranean that had become inundated with people fleeing the war in Libya.

Closer to Africa than Europe, Lampedusa had been a target for economic migrants for some time following tighter security at other European entry points, particularly the Morocco to Spain route. In 2009, in response to Italian concerns, Gaddafi agreed to tighten up security along his country’s  1,400km coastline  in return for Italian patrol boats and a radar system to monitor Libya’s desert borders. Many of those caught trying to leave the country were detained and the number of migrants arriving in Lampedusa virtually dried up. The conflict in Libya meant that this deal was now in shreds. Boatload after boatload began to brave the perilous 300k journey across the Med until at one point refugees on the island outnumbered its population of 5,000.

“In just one 72 hour period, 1,200 refugees landed here,” Tomaso della Longa, spokesperson for Lampedusa’s 24-strong Italian Red Cross station, told me when I visited the island in April that year. “At its peak there were up to 7,000. It was an impossible situation.”

Many drowned on the way as their rickety, overloaded boats capsized in rough seas.  On the day I arrived in Lampedusa, the Italian press was full of the horrifying news that more than 250 people, including women and children, had perished in the early hours of the morning after their boat capsized in rough seas about 50km from the island.

An Italian patrol boat and a fishing boat later rescued 50 people but waves four metres high hampered the operation. “My 24-year-old girlfriend died, and I lost my friend who was travelling with us,” said Peter Hougot, 29, from Cameroon from a bed in Lampedusa’s only clinic. Two Eritrean women who had been among those rescued – one was pregnant, the other widowed by the shipwreck – were later flown to the Sicilian capital Palermo for treatment. 

As I explored the island, it was easy to see the evidence of earlier disasters from the shoreline as wreckage bobbed up and down in the deceptively calm waters. Then I spotted a boat being escorted into Lampedusa port by the coastguard. On board were 243 men, women and babes in arms and it seemed like a miracle that their combined weight alone had not sunk the wooden vessel as it moved low through the waters. 

Having been at sea for three days with limited food and water they were a forlorn and sorry sight, and a few had to be carried away on stretchers by the Italian Red Cross. Among them were Nigerians, Ivorians, Sudanese, Eritreans and Bangladeshis who had taken advantage of the plentiful jobs in Libya, which until then had the highest standard of living per capita in Africa. 

Many like Osez Joseph from Warri in southeastern Nigeria had fled from the port city of Misurata that had been devastated by Nato airstrikes and armed Predator drones. Joseph worked there as a painter for two years and he reckoned it was far safer to risk the open seas than stay behind. “If I had stayed I would have probably been killed,” he said standing unsteadily on the quayside, dazed but remarkably calm.

Having managed to make landfall his luck continued as the Italian authorities, pressured to clear the island of the thousands of refugees who had been forced to sleep rough on the beaches and clifftops in the weeks before, rolled out an action plan that saw all the boat people being swiftly evacuated by plane to refugee camps in Sicily.

Six months later, Joseph would ring me to say that after being taught Italian and given ‘stay’ papers as an asylum seeker he had been transferred to a hostel in Rome and was now looking for work. His ultimate plan was to save money and travel to the UK, where he had relatives.  

At the time, the “tsunami humano” was thought to be as bad as it could get, an unfortunate fall out from a brief war that could be sorted out with a well planned evacuation and settlement programme. It proved to be anything but as the folly of Nato’s intervention quickly became clear. With Gaddafi gone, Libya has become one of the most dangerous places on the planet where rival militias fight against a government that is only nominally in control. The low level civil war has caused a humanitarian crisis, with a half million Libyans displaced, and a breakdown in the economy and the judicial system.

Amid an atmosphere of lawlessness, where practically every young man has a gun, foreign nationals in particular have become the targets of armed gangs who double up as people smugglers, charging anywhere from $750 to $3,500 apiece for a place on a boat to Italy. In most cases the vessels are unseaworthy and overloaded. The smugglers provide barely enough fuel to make it to international waters, and then abandon the boats and their passengers to their fate.

Neighbouring countries have imposed more stringent entry requirements to prevent the anarchy in Libya from spilling over, leaving foreigners trapped there with no alternative but to escape by sea.

The situation has been aggravated by the emergence of the country’s very own branch of Islamic State. Its televised beheading of 21 Coptic Christian construction workers from Egypt two years ago was an indication of its ruthlessness as it attempted to establish a caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean. 

A report by Amnesty International in 2015 revealed how foreign nationals in Libya were subject to routine kidnappings, rape, beatings and torture. “It was not the police [who kidnapped me]. Anyone is the police in Libya. They all have arms,” said Ibrahim from Gambia, one of the 70 people interviewed for Libya is full of cruelty.

It described how most migrants are handed over to criminal gangs as soon as they enter Libya at the country’s southern borders or in major transit cities. At times, the smugglers themselves hold the migrants and refugees in remote areas in the desert forcing them to call their families to pay a ransom.

Such is the anarchy in Libya that abuse also takes place in government-run detention centres with impunity. Two women who were eventually released from one reported being beaten, raped and sexually assaulted by male guards.

Racism and anti-Christian sentiment fuel the violence.  “Libya is full of cruelty,” said a Nigerian who used to work at a carwash. “It is not hospitable to foreigners, especially to black men. They see us as slaves. Area boys would come to molest and harass me in my house. They would beat me up.

“Any Libyan boss will ask you if you are Muslim or Christian. If you say you are Christian, then you are in trouble.”

The fall out from the civil war in Syria has created an even bigger refugee crisis. At one point, an estimated one million people fleeing Syria attempted to enter Europe by crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, making up 87 percent of those who crossed the waters into Europe.

Claiming its governments were unable to cope with the exodus, the EU struck a deal with Turkey last year agreeing that every person arriving irregularly in Turkey en route for the Greek islands would be turned back. This dramatically reduced the numbers of  asylum-seekers, many of whom decided to head the other way to Libya.

Today, Libya has become the major gateway to Europe for one of the largest flows of migrants and refugees in history. They hail from more than 12 countries across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia including Algeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Kenya, the Sudan region, Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria and Saudi Arabia. West and East Africans tend to be so-called economic migrants, while those from Somalia are fleeing continued unrest resulting from two decades of civil war and an Islamist insurgency led by al-Shabaab. The Eritreans, alongside Nigerians and Somalians among the largest group of arrivals, say they are trying to escape military conscription.

Keeping them out

It is estimated that since 2013, migration from Libya to Europe has quadrupled. “Libya is easier because it’s basically in a civil war, smugglers do what they want and police can’t stop them,” Gabriele Del Grande, author of the blog Fortress Europe, said. “And you can’t really coordinate with a non-existing government.”

In April the former head of the British embassy in Benghazi, Joe Walker-Cousins, warned that as many as one million migrants were already on their way to Libya. He said: “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.”

According to its June figures, the International Organisation for Migration says about 1,650 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year, and that of the 71,029 migrants and refugees who have entered Europe by sea, 80 per cent arrived in Italy and half were women and children. 

The drownings have become so regular that they are no longer front page news. In mid-May two boats capsized in a 24-hour period between Libya and Italy, possibly leaving scores of refugees dead, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. 

Barbara Molinario, of the UNHCR’s Italian branch, said the large numbers on board hampered rescue operations. “Usually nobody really knows the exact number of people on a boat like that [until you talk to the survivors],”she told Al Jazeera.

The Italian coastguard had released images of a wreck the day before in which at least five people died when the boat went over some 18 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. The blue fishing vessel, its deck heaving with people, capsized when passengers rushed to one side after spotting a rescue ship. They managed to call for help using a mobile phone. The navy said 562 people had been pulled to safety. In a second operation that day another 108 refugees were rescued from their dilapidated vessel.

“It takes at least three days from Libya to Italy and many more from Egypt. These are very dangerous routes and accidents are just waiting to happen,” Molinaro added. 

“Our position is that people who are forced to flee and cannot return home need to be given a safe means to get to Europe and ask for protection. If they are forced to risk their lives and turn to smugglers, then this is what’s going to happen.”

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, has rebuked the international community for standing by and watching Libya “descend into chaos” since the 2011 NATO military campaign ended, “effectively allowing militias and armed groups to run amok”. 

“World leaders have a responsibility and must be prepared to face the consequences, which include greater levels of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and rampant abuse in Libya. Asylum-seekers and migrants are among the most vulnerable people in Libya and their plight must not be ignored,” he said.

Unfortunately, his words are likely to have fallen on deaf ears. Western leaders have increasingly come to regard migrants as the agents of their own misfortune who would be better off staying where they are. They certainly see no connection between the countries they have interfered in and the refugee crisis.

During the first five months of 2015, European and NGO search and rescue operations were suspended amid claims they simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing. As a result, 1,800 people drowned. The deaths prompted fresh calls for Europe to reinstate full-scale search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Pope Francis, an outspoken advocate for greater European-wide participation in rescue efforts, reiterated his call for action during one of his Sunday masses. “They are men and women like us – our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war,” he said at the time.

The unspoken sentiment that migrants, however heartfelt their plight, are also a potential irritant, even a threat, runs through most official responses to the refugee crisis. In February EU leaders met in Malta in talks about further efforts to stop boat migration in the central Mediterranean, amid calls for a deal similar to the one struck between EU and Turkey last year. Those present were keen to respond to popular pressure at home for tougher immigration controls and agreed that Libya’s “unity” government – backed by the UN but opposed by two rival governments – would receive $215m to reinforce its coastguard and, more controversially, to set up refugee camps in southern Libya where people trying to reach Europe could be held and have their asylum claims processed.

Aid and human rights groups accused the EU of abandoning humanitarian values and misrepresenting conditions in Libya, where the UN-backed government of Fayez Seraj is not fully in control of the country. Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “Libya is not a safe place and blocking people in the country or returning them to Libya makes a mockery of the EU’s so-called fundamental values of human dignity and rule of law.”

Lawyers for Justice in Libya chief Elm Saudi added: “It is wrong for the EU to enter into an agreement with a country that has no concept of asylum and no refugee protection. The EU knows that torture, rape and killing occur in these camps.”

However, in a severe blow to the deal, Libya rejected a separate Italian-Libyan memorandum of understanding that was intended to allow Italy to train the Libyan coastguard to take a more active role by boarding ships and sending back refugees spotted in Libyan coastal waters. A document released by the justice ministry in Tripoli did not give a reason for the move, but the rival parliament declared the agreement to be “null and void”, saying the UN-backed government had “no legal status in the Libyan state”.

Although an appeal is being launched against the court ruling, the judgment has left the main thrust of the EU’s migrants policy in limbo. It is now seeking ways  of speeding up asylum processing in Italy, and to offer financial incentives to countries such as Nigeria to take back rejected asylum claimants. Nigeria would also be given a quota of visas for its workers to come to Europe. The number of Nigerians reaching Italy via Libya is said to have risen from 9,000 in 2014 to 37,550 in 2016. But many African countries are reluctant to prevent the flow of migrants to Europe partly due to the vast remittances migrants send back to their countries.

Again, there are hints that the search and rescue operations should be stopped. In April, Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the EU border agency, Frontex, called for them to be “re-evaluated” and accused NGOs of ineffectively cooperating with security agencies against human traffickers. “We must avoid supporting the business of criminal networks and traffickers in Libya through European vessels picking up migrants ever closer to the Libyan coast,” he told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper.

“This leads traffickers to force even more migrants on to unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel than in previous years.”

Médecins Sans Frontières refuted the charges, saying they were “extremely serious and damaging”.

“What is the alternative but to let even more people die?” said the organisation’s Aurélie Ponthieu

“We are not encouraging the smugglers, but it is not our job to act as a law enforcement agency … [and] not our job to co-operate with law enforcement agencies about the smugglers.”

Also speaking to Die Welt, the new president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani, proposed the EU should set up reception centres for asylum seekers in Libya, taking over the role currently played by smugglers and the state. Tajani warned that unless Europe acted now 20 million African people would come to Europe over the next few years.

In Europe, terrorist attacks and austerity measures that have stretched welfare provision to breaking point have hardened hearts against refugees, and further fuelled racism. Early in June came reports of how a fascist anti-immigration youth group planned to block boats coming from Libya. Génération Identitaire activists managed to raise nearly $100,000 in less than three weeks through an anonymous crowd funding campaign to pay for the vessels to ply the seas in search of what it calls “illegal immigrants”. 

“It’s a mission to rescue Europe by stopping illegal immigration. We want to get our crew, equip a boat and set sail to chase down these enemies of Europe,” it said in a statement in a video posted on the group’s Facebook page in May, which had more than 246,000 views.

Later, the group hired a boat for a trial run, disrupting a search-and-rescue vessel run by SOS Méditerranée as it left the Sicilian port of Catania. They claimed they had slowed the NGO ship until the Italian coastguard intervened. On board was the Canadian far-right journalist Lauren Southern, who has 278,000 Twitter followers, suggesting an international dimension to the campaign.

The threat from the far right both alarms and infuriates charities operating in the Mediterranean. One senior official, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Observer newspaper in London that politicians had helped create a climate where supporters of the far right felt emboldened to act in such a way. 

“When the British government and its European counterparts talk about ‘swarms’ of migrants, or perpetuate the myth that rescue operations are a ‘pull factor’ or a ‘taxi service’, that gives fuel to extreme groups such as this. The simple reality is that without rescue operations many more would drown, but people would still attempt the crossing,” he said.           

BOX STORY

New ‘Jungle’ appears in Calais

Refugees set up camp again just months after old one is demolished 

Five months after the ‘Jungle’ camp was demolished, the number of refugees in and around the northern French port of  Calais is beginning to build up again. According to aid groups, there have been several hundred new arrivals in recent weeks, half of them unaccompanied juveniles.

“Eritreans and Sudanese are everywhere along the seafront with no welcome centre,” Amin Trouvé-Baghdouche of Doctors of the World was quoted as saying by France’s Le Monde newspaper earlier this month. “They are wandering about, abandoned by the state. Half of them are teenagers of about 15-17 years old, without their families.”

Aid workers say many refugees are building new camps in the woods, although most of the young Africans sleep rough before being move on by the police. They spend the rest of the day in a centre run by Secours Catholique, the only place where they can go between 9am and 5pm.

Humanitarian workers put the total number of refugees at between 400 and 500 and their numbers suggest that the much publicised French efforts to clear the refugees and migrants – who crowded into Calais to cross into Britain on lorries –  had only a limited effect. An estimated 7,000 lived in the  camp before it was bulldozed in November.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of the Calais port, said the authorities needed to keep a close eye on the situation to prevent  it from escalating. The new regional leader, Fabien Sudry, has vowed that there should be “no permanent sites, no squats, no reconstitution of the Jungle” and noted that a 500-strong force is policing the area.

Vincent Coninck of the Secours Catholique said: “We are going back to the time after Sangatte only with a bigger dose of police harassment.” Sangatte was an earlier refugee camp which was closed down in 2002.

“Opinion formers are becoming opinion followers and have capitulated to the Front National and no longer dare to set a lead,” he said, referring to the France’s far right anti-immigrant party.

France’s rights ombudsman, Jacques Toubon, recently noted  that support for migrants had fallen to levels not seen in decades. He decried the authorities for “not just not providing enough resources for basic human dignity to be protected, but also forbidding civil society from making good these inadequacies”.

There have been migrant camps in Calais for almost 20 years. The first centre was opened in 1999 by the Red Cross in the village of Sangatte, which lies about a mile from the Eurotunnel entrance to the UK.

It was started with the help of the French government because of the number of people wanting to get to the UK. Most of the arrivals were from Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The camp swelled to about 2,000 people in 2002, but was closed that year as the British government was worried about the number of illegal immigrants coming to Britain from there.

When the centre shut, many of the refugees just moved into the surrounding woods.

An illegal makeshift camp was created, which became the first "Jungle" camp.

The camp was squalid and unsafe and there were stories of the residents having to wash in the water from a nearby chemical plant.

It was bulldozed in 2009, when about 1,000 people were living there. Many of them were arrested but released soon afterwards without anywhere to go.

By 2014, many more people had made their way to Calais. This time they came from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as African countries like Somalia and Eritrea.

The conditions became similar to those at Sangatte and the French government had to open a migrant centre because there were so many people living in parks and on the streets.

But what started as a refugee population of 1,300 increased to an estimated 7,000 to create a new “Jungle”.

Asylum seekers have been run over, hit by trains and drowned in desperate attempts to swim to England but those remaining were still determined to risk all. Most  already had family members in the UK whom they were hoping to join.

French media reported that a large number of unaccompanied child refugees sent to children’s homes around France have subsequently run away to continue attempting to come to the UK illegally.

Humanitarian organisations raised concerns about “diabolical” conditions in the Calais camp since the start of the refugee crisis, with raw sewage mixing with litter and thick mud in the rain.

Refugees clashed with riot police armed with batons and tear gas during the first wave of demolitions last year. A new camp made out of  converted shipping containers complete with lights, heating and sanitation was avoided by many of them because of its high fences and fingerprint entry systems. 

A survey carried out by Médecins Sans Frontières in May last year discovered that the largest group of refugees were from  Sudan, at around a third, followed by people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Pakistan.

The survey also found it often took Africans more than a year to travel to France after leaving their home countries and making their way to Libya across the Sahara with the help of  people smugglers.  

‘Things can only get better’

As the state celebrates its golden jubilee, Governor Wike outlines his vision for a future that aims to consolidate the gains of the past and make up for lost opportunities

While unveiling the Golden Jubilee logo, Governor Nyesom Wike captured the essence of the Rivers at 50 celebrations, saying: “Over the past 50 years, we have travelled quite a marvellous journey. We have made significant progress, no doubt, but we have also made mistakes and lost valuable opportunities. However, this Golden Jubilee inspires a new direction to build a prosperous state we can all be proud of. This is the spirit of the new vision.”

As a state possessing the second largest economy in the country after Lagos and with plenty of prospects for further expansion, there was a great deal to not only celebrate but also to look forward to, he added.

One of the high points of the Rivers State Golden Jubilee Celebration has been the launch of the 50-year strategic economic and social development plan for the state that aims to consolidate the gains of the different programmes and projects implemented by successive administrations.

Its framework has been approved by the State Executive Council and a committee has been established to drive the process forward with a series of public meetings at which all stakeholders will have the opportunity to make a contribution. 

During his speech the governor also talked about the Golden Jubilee Projects his administration was planning. He said: “The state government is set to execute a number of landmark projects throughout the year to commemorate the Golden Jubilee, advance the promise of economic independence and improve access to public services as we set forth on new pathways to create an unimaginable future of peace, unity and prosperity for our state.”

The government has already commissioned a number of projects spread across the three senatorial districts of the state.

A mini-investment summit, titled Corporate Rivers, also forms part of the Rivers at 50 celebrations  and will bring together development and economic experts and other stakeholders under the umbrella of the New Rivers Vision Development Blueprint.

Meanwhile, Governor Wike is pressing ahead with the promise he made on his election two years ago of a new beginning for the state. Despite its oil and gas-based economy, the capital Port Harcourt and its environs have never enjoyed a functional public water supply. That is about to change with the conclusion of the preliminary process for the Port Harcourt Water Supply and Sanitation Project, a joint venture between the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the Rivers State government, which will construct a water supply network across the capital and the Obio and Akpor local government areas.  Since last year, project management consultants Rambol Environ of Denmark have been laying down the groundwork and training critical technical personnel.

The governor is also aware that the state’s development agencies need to be reinvigorated. They include the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, Rivers State Micro-finance Agency , Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority, the Housing and Property Development Authority, and Rivers State Agricultural Development Programme. It is agreed that they all have to go beyond politics if they are able to cope with the challenges of the next 50 years, extending their frontiers to make way for new investment opportunities offered by international donor and development agencies.

Governor Wike added: “Even as we are all excited by this milestone, we must also not forget that the Golden Jubilee presents both opportunity and challenge; an opportunity to celebrate our proud heritage and the challenge to harness our vast resources to fully realise our potential to be the best in Nigeria and secure enduring progress and wellbeing for our people.”           

‘We are far greater together than apart’

Vice-President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, reflects that the legacy of the Biafran War should be the quest for the country’s lasting unity

I was 10-years-old when my friend in primary school, Emeka, left school for good one day. He said his parents said they had to go back to East, war was about to start. I never saw Emeka again. My Auntie Bunmi was married to a gentleman from Enugu and I recall the evening when my parents tried to persuade her and her husband not to leave for the East. She did and we never saw her again.

I recall distinctly how in 1967, passing in front of my home on Ikorodu road almost every hour were trucks carrying passengers and furniture in an endless stream heading east. Many Igbos who left various parts of Nigeria, left friends, families and businesses, schools and jobs. Like my friend and aunty some never returned. Many died.

The reasons for this tragic separation of brothers and sisters were deep and profound. So much has been said and written already about the whys and wherefores that analyses will probably never end.

This is why I would rather not spend this few minutes on whether there was or was not sufficient justification for secession and the war that followed. The issue is whether the terrible suffering, massive loss of lives, of hopes and fortunes of so many can ever be justified.

As we reflect on this event today, we must ask ourselves the same question that many who have fought or been victims in civil wars, wars between brothers and sisters ask in moments of reflection: What if we had spent all the resources, time and sacrifice we put into the war, into trying to forge unity? What if we had decided not to seek to avenge a wrong done to us? What if we had chosen to overcome evil with good?

The truth is that the spilling of blood in disputes is hardly ever worth the losses. Of the fallouts of bitter wars is the anger that can so easily be rekindled by those who for good or ill want to resuscitate the fire. Today some are suggesting that we must go back to the ethnic nationalities from which Nigeria was formed.

They say that secession is the answer to the charges of marginalisation. They argue that separation from the Nigerian state will ultimately result in successful smaller states. They argue eloquently, I might add, that Nigeria is a colonial contraption that cannot endure.

This is also the sum and substance of the agitation for Biafra. The campaign is often bitter and vitriolic, and has sometimes degenerated into fatal violence. Permit me to differ and to suggest that we’re greater together than apart.

No country is perfect; around the world we have seen and continue to see expressions of intra-national discontent. Indeed, not many Nigerians seem to know that the oft-quoted line about Nigeria being a “mere geographical expression” originally applied to Italy. It was the German statesman Klemens von Metternich who dismissively summed up Italy as a mere geographical expression exactly a century before Nigeria came into being as a country. From Spain to Belgium to the UK and even the US, you will find many today who will venture to make similar arguments about their countries. But they have remained together.

The truth is that many, if not most nations of the world, are made up of different peoples and cultures and beliefs and religions, who find themselves thrown together by circumstance. Nations are indeed made up of many nations. The most successful nations are those who do not fall into the lure of secession, but who through thick and thin forge unity in diversity.

Nigeria is no different; we are, not three, but more like 300 or so ethnic groups within the same geographical space, presented with a great opportunity to combine all our strengths into a nation that is truly more than the sum of its parts.

Let me say that there is a solid body of research that shows that groups that score high on diversity turn out to be more innovative than less diverse ones. There’s also research showing that companies that place a premium on creating diverse workplaces do better financially than those who do not. This applies to countries just as much as it does to companies. The US is a great example, bringing together an impressively diverse cast of people together to consistently accomplish world-conquering economic, military and scientific feats.

It is possible in Nigeria as well. Instead of trying to flee into the lazy comfort of homogeneity every time we’re faced with the frustrations of living together, the more beneficial way for us individually and collectively is actually to apply the effort and the patience to understand one another and to progressively aspire to create one nation bound in freedom, in peace and in unity.

That, in a sense, should be the Nigerian Dream – the enthusiasm to create a country that provides reasons for its citizens to believe in it, a country that does not discriminate or marginalise in any way. We are not there yet, but I believe we have a strong chance to advance in that direction. But that will not happen if we allow our frustrations and grievances to transmute into hatred. It will not happen if we see the media as platforms for the propagation of hateful and divisive rhetoric. No one stands to benefit from a stance like that; we will all emerge as losers.

Clearly our strength is in our diversity, that we are greater together than apart. Imagine for a moment that an enterprising young man from Aba had to apply for a visa to travel to Kano to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams, or that a young woman from Abeokuta had to fill immigration forms and await a verdict in order to attend her best friend’s wedding in Umuahia. Nigeria would be a much less colourful, much less interesting space, were that the case. Our frustrations with some who speak a different dialect or belong to a different religion must not drive us to forget many of the same tribe and faith of our adversaries who have shown true affection for us.

Let me make it clear that I fully believe that Nigerians should exercise to the fullest extent the right to discuss or debate the terms of our existence. Debate and disagreement are fundamental aspects of democracy. We recognise and acknowledge that necessity. And this event is along those lines – an opportunity not merely to commemorate the past, but also to dissect and debate it. Let’s ask ourselves tough questions about the path that has led us here, and how we might transform yesterday’s actions into tomorrow’s wisdom.

Indeed our argument is not and will never be that we should ‘forget the past’, or ‘let bygones be bygones’, as some have suggested. Chinua Achebe repeatedly reminded us of the Igbo saying that a man who cannot tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body. If we lose the past, we will inevitably lose the opportunity to make the best of the present and the future.

In an interview years ago, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, explaining why he didn’t think a second Biafran War should happen, said: “We should have learnt from that first one, otherwise the deaths would have been to no avail; it would all have been in vain.”

We should also be careful that we do not focus exclusively on the narratives of division, at the expense of the uplifting and inspiring ones. The same social media that has come under much censure for its propensity to propagate division, has also allowed multitudes of young Nigerians to see more of the sights and sounds of their country than ever before.

And for every young Nigerian who sees the internet as an avenue for spewing ethnic hatred, there is another young Nigerian who is falling in love or doing business across ethnic and cultural lines; a young Nigerian who looks back on his or her NYSC [National Youth Service Corps] year in unfamiliar territory as one of the valued highlights of their lifetime. These stories need to be told as well. They are the stories that remind us that the journey to nationhood is not an event but a process, filled as with life itself with experiences some bitter, some sweet. The most remarkable attribute of that process is that a succeeding generation does not need to bear the prejudices and failures of the past.

Every new generation can take a different and more ennobling route than its predecessors. But the greatest responsibility today lies on the leadership of our country.

The promise of our constitution which we have sworn to uphold is that we would ensure a secure, and safe environment for our people to live, and work in peace, that we would provide just and fair institutions of justice. That we would not permit or encourage discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, beliefs or other parochial considerations. That we would build a nation where no one is oppressed and none is left behind.

These are the standards to which we must hold our leadership. We must not permit our leaders the easy but dangerous rhetoric of blaming our social and economic conditions on our coming together. It is their duty to give us a vision a pathway to make our unity in diversity even more perfect.q

This is an edited version of the keynote address given by Yemi Osinbajo at the Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja in May on behalf of the Ford foundation and the Open Society initiative West Africa under the heading, ‘Memory and Nation Building - Biafra: 50 years after’ 

Indorama: a privatisation success story

Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals plant in Port Harcourt is a privatisation success story and boon to the economy

By 2005, the Eleme Petrochemicals plant in Port Harcourt owned by the state oil giant, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), was almost acquiring the toga of a white elephant. The near moribund state of the plant was a disservice to its capability. Built by a consortium of some of the world’s best contractors from Japan, Italy and France, at enormous foreign exchange cost, the complex includes an olefins plant using technology licensed by MW Kellog of America, a polyethylene plant from Nova Chemicals of Canada and a polypropylene plant licensed by Basell of Italy. Sitting on 400 acres of land, it also has a captive power plant, utilities, effluent treatment plant storage tanks, bagging area and warehouses. The Nigerian government had intended to achieve self sufficiency in petrochemicals to provide the raw materials for sundry industries. However, poor facilities maintenance and political interference which led to indefensible management changes literally brought the plant to its knees.

The Olusegun Obasanjo government decided the only way to stop the petrochemicals complex from going the way of the four refineries owned by NNPC was to privatise the plant. After a competitive bidding process, Indorama, an Indonesian chemicals conglomerate, emerged the core investor with a 65 per cent stake (the Nigerian government still owns 15 per cent, the Rivers State government, 10 per cent, the host community of Eleme, 7.5 per cent and the workers, 2.5 per cent.) Indorama took over the company by May 2006.

Fast forward eleven years later and the company, now renamed Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited (IEPL) is an uncommon success story of Nigeria’s privatization exercise. It is also one of the industrial icons in Rivers State, the hub of Nigeria’s oil economy.

Immediately it took over the company, Indorama carried out a Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) and restarted the plant five months later. Within the first five years, it invested $575 million to get the plant to operate at 100 per cent capacity producing ethylene, polyethylene and polypropylene.  The company also added a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plant to produce the raw materials needed by the plastic bottling companies.

Indorama went beyond what it met on ground to launch an ambitious expansion programme. Its success story had spread like wild fire in the African harmattan so it had no difficulty in getting stakeholders, from the Nigerian government to international lending agencies, to buy into its vision to make Nigeria the petrochemicals and fertilizer hub of Africa by the year 2020. To achieve this, Indorama would invest $4.2 billion in the complex by that date.

The core of the expansion programme was the building of the largest single urea plant in the world with a capacity for 1. 5 million metric tonnes of fertilizer a year. The project also includes a jetty at nearby Onne port and an 83 kilometre gas pipeline to supply the feedstock. Work started in 2013 and was completed within 36 months.   The project cost of $1.5 billion was financed through equity and loans in a 1:2 ratio. It is a testimonial to the success of the company that those who lined up to finance the plant included the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Africa Export Import Bank (AFREXIM), the Bank of India and two Nigerian banks (Standard Chartered and Stanbic IBTC). Carsten Mueller, senior manager at IFC said the lender was wooed by Indorama’s pedigree in massive largescale manufacturing and its commitment to Nigeria’s development.

The completion of the plant has made Nigeria self sufficient in fertilizer production. Apart from supplying the granular urea directly to farmers nationwide, the company also supplies urea to 11 blending plants that produce NPK fertilizer. More than 90 trucks (made carrying 600 bags each) transport the urea daily to different parts of the country.

Manish Mundra, the managing director of Indorama Nigeria says the plant has enabled the company meet the needs of farmers all across the country. During a recent visit to the company, the minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh and minister of state, Heineken Lokpobri, said Indorama was helping the government reach its goal of greater food security in the country.

As much as 70 per cent of the plant’s output is exported to countries in Europe, Asia, US and other African countries.  As Amit Lohia, Group Managing Director of Indorama predicted in 2013, the fertilizer plant has made ‘Africa stand out in the agricultural landscape’.

 Indorama has recorded many milestones in its vision of building Africa's largest petrochemicals and fertiliser hub. Currently, it operates at 100 per cent capacity, thereby fully meeting the needs of the country's plastics and fertiliser industries. Various Nigerian government agencies like the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC) have lauded Indorama's transformation of the plant.    Before Indorama's arrival, Nigeria's plastics industry had been hit by both the lack of raw materials domestically and the cost of having to import them. Companies had to keep inventory of up to six months to sustain continuous production. The company’s operations have seen to the revival of the sector and a growth of more than 300 per cent in the past 10 years.

‘Since 2006, IEPL has been supplying highly needed petrochemicals – polyethylene, polypropylene and PET (also called polymer resins), of different grades and variants to over 450 Nigerian companies’, says Mundra. ‘These companies use Indorama resins to manufacture items such as water tanks; automobile dashboards, bumpers and fenders; helmets, waste disposal bins, carpets, artificial hairs, containers for healthcare products, bottles for water and beverages, plastic chairs and tables, sacks, shopping bags, industrial pipes,  bread wrappers and other packaging products used in the beverage, bottling, pharmaceuticals, paints, textiles and allied industries.’

RMRDC agrees. The agency says Indorama is the live wire of 450 companies in plastics, pharmaceutials, foam, bottling, breverages, paints and breweries. As a patriotic duty, the company meets local demands for its petrochemical products before consideration of export orders despite the financial rewards of the latter.

 Indorama's presence has had a multiplier effect on the economy, not least the number of jobs it has created. Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals and its sister companies employ more than  3,000 Nigerians, while around 4,700 more work in the value chain in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Kaduna,  Kano and the capital Abuja. It  has also had a positive impact on its six host communities in Rivers State, comprising Akpajo Njuru/Akpakpan, Okerewa, Aleto, Agbonchia and Elelenwo.   When it comes to its corporate social responsibility commitments, the company has an impressive track record.  According to Kendrick Oluka, Indorama's  community relations and development chief,  since 2012 it has awarded more than N14bn to the six communities, as well executing a number of projects, including  the construction of 12 classrooms,  a library, laboratory and sick-bay at the Community Secondary School in Aleto. It has also  awarded scholarships to poor students from the six communities and beyond.  Meanwhile, it has renovated Eleme General Hospital,  donated medical equipment worth more than N80m, installed 33KVA power sub-station at Akpajo as part of its rural electrification programme,  and built   a police station at Elelenwo.  When Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers State, assumed office in 2015, one of his priority attentions was how to fix the dilapidated Eleme-Onne Federal Highway which was a commercial route to the country's Onne Sea Port, Indorama Petrochemicals and NNPC’s refinery. Indorama provided N530m in counterpart funds to fix the road.  Also, in November 2016, as part of its contribution to the training of armed forces personnel, the company made a  donation of solid high quality table seats to the Nigeria Navy Basic Training School, Onne.

  While on a tour of Indorama facilities in November 2016, Ben Murray Bruce, the chair of the Senate Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation, said: ‘We have gone round to see most of the privatised enterprises and Indorama is the success story, especially in providing base raw materials for Nigerian industries and fertilisers for Nigerian farmers, as well as paying huge tax revenue of over N1bn to the government in the last 10 years.’ The company has also paid dividend shares to both the federal and Rivers State governments, who own 15 and 10 percent shares, respectively.

Wike holds up Indorama as a model enterprise in Rivers State. During a visit to the plant, he called on other investors to emulate Indorama by investing in the state. “Rivers State is safe for investors’, he added. In recognition of Indorama’s contribution to the Rivers State economy, Mundra was conferred with the Distinguished Service Star of Rivers State (DSSRS) to mark its golden jubilee celebrations.

BPE says Indorama achievements at Eleme include attracting the highest foreign direct investment in the downstream non oil and gas sector, conversion of dead assets through world class technical support and the commitment to build the largest petrochemical hub in Africa. Vincent Akpotaire, the immediate past director general of the agency says the take over of Eleme Petrochemicals by Indorama is one of the success stories of the government’s privatisation programme. Almost everyone agrees.

Ghana overview – After a trailblazing start, it must now tackle current challenges head on

Ghana Overview – After a trailblazing start followed by post-independence turmoil, Ghana has consolidated itself as a peaceful democracy with a growing economy. It must now tackle current challenges head on   

Ghana made history in 1957 as the first black African nation to attain independence. Christened the Gold Coast by its British colonisers, it was symbolically re-named after an ancient West African kingdom that was so rich that its dogs wore golden collars. Ghana became a beacon of hope for Africa as its founding father, the pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah, launched an ambitious industrialisation and infrastructure-building programme, whose foundations remain visible today.

Caught in the crossfire of the Cold War, Nkrumah was deposed by the military in 1966 and there followed a turbulent period of political instability. In 1981 airforce officer Jerry Rawlings staged his second, and Ghana’s fifth, coup. Although he called his return a people’s revolution, Rawlings eventually settled for a series of conservative policies, relying on western financial institutions and donors to rescue the country’s stagnant economy in return for painful structural adjustment reforms.

Following the introduction of multiparty politics in 1992, Rawlings was elected president on the ticket of his National Democratic Congress (NDC), and again four years later, although the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) claimed that both polls had been rigged. The NPP finally prevailed in 2000, with John Kufuor at the helm. In his eight years as president Kufuor helped further consolidate Ghana’s position as a stable democracy with a growing economy that was focused on greater private sector involvement.  

The NDC regained power under John Atta Mills in 2008, a year after a major offshore oil find was made. Located 60km off the western coast, the Jubilee field discovery added to the euphoria of Ghana’s 50th anniversary celebrations, with predictions that Ghana would become an “African tiger”. Atta Mills died in office in 2012, paving the way for vice-president John Mahama to serve as interim head of state. Mahama went on to win closely fought elections later that year.

But as thousands of people poured into Accra’s Black Star Square to celebrate the country’s 58th anniversary earlier this month, their jubilation was overshadowed by the knowledge that all is not well with their nation. Frequent power outages, erratic delivery of other utilities, a devalued cedi and fiscal deficit have created a crisis for the Mahama government, which has led it to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund. A $1bn bailout agreement to restore fiscal stability was confirmed at the end of last month.

It was a very different picture in 2010 when production from the Jubilee field began. Ghana quickly became one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a growth rate of 14 per cent, and went from Highly Indebted Poor Country status to Lower Middle Income Nation.

Parts of the capital, Accra, began to resemble a building site as foreign business rushed in to establish a foothold in Africa’s new star economy, and Kotoka International Airport could barely cope with the huge increase in arrivals. Meanwhile, upmarket shopping malls – the latest, Accra’s West Hills, is the largest in West Africa – signalled the arrival of a booming consumer culture.

Since then growth rates have more than halved and the heady optimism of yesteryear has mellowed considerably. In 2014, against a backdrop of lower than expected oil receipts, the slide in the price of the country’s main foreign revenue earners, gold and cocoa, and a stubborn budget deficit saw the currency plunging nearly 40 per cent against the US dollar.

The cedi remains in the doldrums and inflation stood at 16.4 per cent as of January. In the meantime, increased business activity has outstripped the supply of energy, leading to power rationing. This has led to long outages for consumers, including industrial users such as mines and manufacturing firms.

As people experience a fall in living standards and resort to candlelight, the mood on the street is one of anger and frustration. In February, the NPP staged a massive two-hour protest in the centre of Accra, with the message “Enough is enough”, a repeat of a mass demonstration it staged in July 2014.

In response, the Mahama government has launched a series of emergency measures to increase the energy supply, which has been pinpointed as one of the main reasons for the deceleration in economic activity during 2014. In his State of the Nation address before parliament at the end of last month, the president outlined at great length the steps his administrations intends to take to increase power generation in the long term, pledging to resolve the deficit by the end of the year.

He then moved on to his Agenda for Transformation, a programme to restructure the economy with an emphasis on exports rather than imports via the real sector, and to enhance the country’s social development through improved health and education and a raft of poverty alleviation and social protection measures.

He also talked about plans to build more infrastructure in critical sectors such as water, roads, transport, ICT and telecommunications. Later he referred to his administration’s plans to boost the tourism sector, a leading foreign exchange earner after gold, cocoa and foreign remittances.

But at the end of the day, it was Ghanaians working together that would secure a brighter future: “We have gone through many challenges as a nation, but our defining spirit as Ghanaians is that we have picked ourselves up each time we have fallen and continued to walk on.”

He added: “We have victory in our DNA. Our quest to build a prosperous, inclusive, free and just society is very much on course in spite of the temporary setbacks of erratic electricity supply and slippages on the macro-economic front … Nation building is a long and arduous task, which can only be undertaken through collective effort … This is the path treaded by those who before us, through sheer valour and sacrifice, sweat and blood, toiled to secure our nation 58 years ago.”

To the casual observer, there is little fundamental difference between Ghana’s two main political parties, although they would dispute this. While the NPP accuses the ruling NDC of economic mismanagement, the government says that some of its problems are unfinished business from previous administrations, like energy generation.

Whatever the truth, with elections looming next year, the government is sure to be focused on making good its various promises while at the same time holding its nerve under fire.

Why are Nigerians still travelling abroad for healthcare?

On the sick list – Thousands of Nigerians every year travel abroad for medical treatment because of lack of healthcare at home. By Martins Azuwike

THE REPORT last month by the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ajjampur Ghanashyam, that stated 20,000 Nigerians visit his country every year in search of medical treatment clearly shows that lucrative opportunities in the healthcare sector are being lost to other countries through medical tourism. 

Back in 2009, it was revealed that the Indian High Commission in Nigeria issued 4,000 visas to Nigerians seeking medical treatment in Indian hospitals that year. As in the case of the country’s oil and gas industry, failure to establish and implement policies aimed at strengthening the health care sector has held it back. 

“About 40,000 Nigerians go to India annually and 50 per cent of them go for medical reasons,” said Ghana­shyam.

“The remaining 50 per cent go for tourism, business, training and as students. The rejection rate is very low – not more than 25 per cent.”

In 2012 when 38,000 visas were issued to Nigerians, 18,000 travelled for medical treatment, spending $260m, or $15,000 each. Open-heart surgery, renal transplants, brain surgery, cancer and eye treatment were the main treatments sought.

India is the world’s third largest producer of pharmaceutical products by volume and the value of the country’s export to Nigeria was $307m as of March 31, 2012. To underline the ongoing trend of medical tourism, a Renub Research report puts Nigeria as among the top 63 countries in the world for it.

Aside from India, other top medical tour­ist destinations include the UK, the US and countries in the Persian Gulf. In 2009, even President Yar’Adua turned his back on Nigeria and flew to Saudi Arabia for treatment and only returned home a few months later to die.  

There is a good reason for all this. Nigeria’s lacks a comprehensive public health service, with a dismal record of 0.4 physicians and 1.605 nursing and midwifery staff per 1,000 people. 

For pharmacists the figure is 0.095, and laboratory health workers 0.168.The results are damning. Chris Akani, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and provost of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Port Harcourt, revealed that Nigeria accounted for 25 per cent of maternal, new born and child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2014.

“Also, 4.7 million of the 4.9 million new born and child births per year occur in the region, with Nigeria accounting for significant percentage of this number,” he said.”

“The risk of a woman dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth in Nigeria is about one in 15, as opposed to one in 5,000 in developed nations.”

Additionally, an estimated 52,900 women and estimated 250,000 newborn die from pregnancy-related complications annually.” Poor public health services and lack of ac­c­ess to medical care were the major contributors to these disturbing statistics. 

“Government should also enforce due process on birth and death registration in all political wards, while strengthening emergency obstetrics services in communities,” said Akani. He added that the government should be more committed to the implementation of number four and five of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which seek to reduce maternal mortality ratio and under-five mortality rates.

Despite the huge opportunities offered by healthcare industry, only nine out of the 130 pharmaceutical companies in Africa’s largest eco­nomy are listed on the Nigerian Stock Ex­change, according to Farouk Gu­mel, a partner with PriceWaterHou­seCoop­ers Nigeria. The drugs most commonly produced in the country include anti-malaria medication, vaccines, antiretrovirals, antibiotics, and oncology and diabetic drugs. 

“Nigeria has critically low levels of human and infrastructure resources for health care,” said Gumel pointing out that Nigeria possessed just five hospital beds for every 100,000 persons against the world median of 35 beds, South Africa’s 24, Algeria and Egypt’s 18. 

“Pharmaceutical imports reached a value of $481m in 2013 and are expected to reach $789m by 2018, widening the country’s ph­arm­aceu­tical trade deficit from 475million in 2013 to $778m in 2018,” he said. 

Spending statistics from the federal Ministry of Health reveals that households spend 69 per cent on healthcare, the federal government 12 per cent, the states 8 per cent, local government areas 4 per cent, development partners 4 per cent, and companies 3 per cent. 

Nigeria has 47 federal medical centres and university teaching hospitals to cater for the healthcare needs of its huge population, estimated to be 170 million. There are also 700 general hospitals, more than 1,700 maternity units and 4,500 health centres. Privately provided healthcare, which comprises both profit-seeking and faith-based and voluntary hospitals and clinics, accounts for at least 40 per cent of all facilities in the country.

Although the private sector is growing, there are accusations that they offer poor quality services and are not value for money. They are most widely patronised in urban areas, though accurate data on them is usually difficult to collect. Ironically, while the health care system continues to be wanting, thousands of newly trained doctors, pharmacists and nurses often find it difficult to find work in Nigeria. As a result, many are forced to work abroad. 

In addition, a number of promising programmes designed to alleviate the problem have difficulty in getting off the ground. For example, the establishment of the American Hospital Limited (AHL) in Nigeria has been held up by red tape and political meddling for the past ten years, say those behind it.

According to its promoter Dr Ifeanyi Obiakor, AHL aims to “ensure that Nig­erians in particular, and sub-Saharan Af­ricans in general, achieve and maintain high quality public health and longevity that is comparable to the best in the world”. 

He added that AHL would also serve to promote medical tourism in Nigeria from the rest of Africa and even Europe and America. 

Its target clientele are those very Nigerians who travel to India and other parts of the world for medical care. AHL also includes a medical training programme. 

However, the Ebola epidemic in parts of West Africa has highlighted the need for a public health service. Despite its limitations on the health front, Nigeria was able to mobilise its resources to successfully contain the disease, whereas in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where protracted civil wars  hollowed out already thin-on-the-ground services, it ran rampant. It is in no one’s interest if only the well off receive treatment in an epidemic, say analysts.

A number of states in Nigeria have made improved health delivery one of their top priorities, pouring money into new hospitals and clinics. In Akwa Ibom, for example, the 20th Anniversary Hospital is being constructed to provide quality healthcare for both indigenes and Nigerians at large.

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