By Victor Gotevbe & Ikenna Asomba
Femi Awoniyi, is the Publisher of The African Courier, an international magazine published in Germany, to report on Africa and the Diaspora African experience. The first issue of the bimonthly magazine hit the newsstand on February 15, 1998.
In this Exclusive Interview with DIPLOMATIC WATCH, Awoniyi, who is also a Project Director for the Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria (MEPN), currently undertaking a Media Awareness campaign against Irregular Migration in Nigeria, thus Africa, speaks on the need for African youths to look before they leave for Europe and other continents. According to him, opportunities abound in Nigeria which foreign nationals see, thus their interests coming to Africa to do business. He also spoke on the untapped goldmine in Solar Energy for Nigerians. Excerpts:
You recently delivered a lecture at a press briefing of the Migration Enlightenment Project Nigeria (MEPN), where you harped on Look Before You Leave. What does this really mean?
Our message is very clear. We all know that Migration is a part of the human experience. It has been a constant feature of the human history. People will always move for one reason or the other, from one region to the other. So, we have nothing against migration. What we are campaigning against is the trend where some people think you can just set out of Nigeria without legal authorization to enter another country, through illegal routes. Unfortunately, this has caused so many tragedies for many families in Nigeria.
I am talking of the risks involved in passing through the deserts, and also these perilous journeys across the Mediterranean in rickety boats. This year alone, more than 1, 500 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and many more are believed to have even died in transits.
For example, in Niger, Libya, many are languishing in detention. They are being held by criminal gangs. Some are being held in detention centres run by the Libyan government. Also, some are held by militia groups, non-state groups. They are exposed to harsh living conditions. They suffer severe human rights abuses and I think, our youths should not go through all of this. There are opportunities for legal migration. They can inform themselves properly, they can travel to Europe to study and even travel to Europe to work. There are Work Visa Schemes such as the European Union (EU) Blue Card and even beyond that, it’s wrong to always think that you need to go out of Nigeria to succeed. We believe there are also opportunities for self-actualization in Nigeria.
I always say, it seems what we see in our country or what others see in our country, we don’t see it. We have investors coming into Nigeria everyday. Anytime I fly into Nigeria, the plane is half-filled with foreigners, non-Nigerians. Anytime I converse with those of them who sit near me, they are always businessmen going to Nigeria to do business. I live in Berlin, Germany, but almost every week, every month, there is always something on developing the economy and business partnership with Africa. Of course, Nigeria is always top of the list.
We have the China-Africa Forum, India-Africa Forum, EU-Africa Summit, US-Africa Business Summit, and even the Brazilians have also joined the train. They all see a great potential in Africa, while the African youths are leaving Africa. Something is wrong somewhere. So, it seems we have a problem of perception. Look at agriculture, Nigeria spends between over $6billion to import food annually. We have arable lands in abundance, but youths who go into agriculture, they are afraid of success.
Solar technology, a boom sector
Look at the technical trade, let me just take for example, Solar technology. We all complain of epileptic electricity today, but I can assure you that the technology that would ensure that you and your family get adequate electricity supply everyday is there. Solar energy is there. But the problem is that we don’t have the technicians to design the system for you, what we call the Solar Home System, to put together the system, build it and install it, and to provide you with effective after sales support. This is the problem. If youths go into solar technology, they can’t be unemployed. The market is versed, because having electricity is something that is so important, because it’s a factor of the quality of life. I am sure that people are ready to pay to have good systems installed for them. But the problem we have at the moment is that you get systems installers, but the batteries go bad. The reason is that the systems are not properly seized and secondly, they are not properly run.
So, I keep encouraging Nigerian youths, go into Solar. Solar is a boom sector and we have not even started yet. Mind you, we are about 180million Nigerians. Lagos alone is more than 20million. So, you can see. As a journalist, I continue to say that perhaps we are too negative about ourselves in reports about our country. May be we need to begin to put a positive slant about the stories. There is something going on here in Nigeria. The biggest farm in Oyo State is owned by the Lebanese. We have Lebanese doing agriculture in Nigeria and some of these Lebanese investments were not born in Nigeria. Many of them were born in Europe. Many came from Paris, France to invest in Nigeria. Of course, they have the networks here that supports them. Why are people coming to Nigeria from everywhere- Indonesia, Phillipines, China, India and from the West? They are coming to invest in Africa. They see a great future in Africa, they see a great potential in Africa, and the African youths are leaving Africa. Infact, we need to start pondering. Are we doing something wrong? Are we focusing only on the negatives? So, I am convinced that we the opinion molders, journalists, public intellectuals, must begin to create a positive vision for Nigeria. We need to begin to create a positive vision for this country.
The unemployment problem
The electricity problem, yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. We shouldn’t think the Government is going to solve the issue of unemployment anytime soon. No government can do that anywhere in the world. I live in Germany, Germany has the lowest unemployment rate in the world, but it doesn’t come from government. It comes from all sectors of the society. There is a dynamism. It is I do my own, you do your own, and Germany has this outcome that it has today. It is not as if someone has got a magic wand which he waves, and everything is in place. It doesn’t happen. That’s why I think, this campaign has opened my eyes to a lot of things.
Illegal routes to Europe and the dangers
Take for example, the guys who leave Nigeria and pass through Libya, they spend at the end of the day, more than N2million and still risk their lives. You got to see the photos and videos from these illegal sojourns. They want to use rickety and inflatable boats, they are cramped like sardines. They use these inflatable boats and they want to cross almost 120 kilometres of open sea, imagine? I think the country is not so desperate. I mean, with that N2million, these youths can start something in Nigeria.
So, my message has been, look before you leave. Look before you go. I am not saying you shouldn’t travel. There are opportunities for legal migration. Look very well where you want to go. Inform yourself very properly. Look at how to get there, look at the legal requirements of how to get there, then, also look at the kind of situation that awaits you there and then, look around you, unlook again, and ask yourself, do I have to leave this country? Finally, look at your environment, and ask yourself, what I am going over there to do, can I do it here? Can I be more successful in it here?
Having lived in Germany for many years, what opportunities are there studying there?
Germany is a fantastic place to study. I studied in Germany. There are over 400 universities in Germany, with fantastic facilities, that you can’t hope for anything better. You don’t pay tuition fees in Germany. You get a Harvard quality education, free of tuition in Germany. The only thing you need to pay is for your living- you pay for your accommodation, feeding, Medicals, insurance, transport and that’s all. And these universities are looking for foreign students because Germany doesn’t have any natural resources. The only resource they have is the Intelligence. They bring all of these raw materials to Germany to make all these fantastic cars, chemicals, electronics. Germany manufactures so many things, but they have no raw materials. All the iron ores, aluminum, bauxite, natural gas, petroleum they use are imported. They just transform them with their own intelligence, into all of these finished products.
Germany values intelligence a lot. Germany goes to China and India every year, they have what they call the German Education Expo, they look for young intelligent people and give them scholarships, because they know these are people who are going to enrich the knowledge base of the country. They have nothing. They only have the intelligence.
If you look at the Mercedes Benz, or you see a German car, all of the raw materials used in making it come from abroad. There are nothing locally there. Germany has value chain through their intelligence, and they ship it out to the rest of the world. So, that kind of a country values education. They love intelligent people and wants them to come into the country, and they don’t charge tuition. In a United Kingdom University, you will pay over £12,000 pounds as tuition, but in Germany, you pay nothing and you get quality education. German universities are the best in the world. So, why don’t you come to Germany and study? And if you study in Germany today, the world is at your feet. You can work anywhere in the world. You are being sought after. So, we encourage students to take that route.
The EU Blue Card, a Work visa scheme in Germany
Of course, you can always come to work if you have expertise in Information Technology (IT) for example. We have what is called the EU Blue Card, a Work visa scheme. The companies in Germany are always looking for new brains and new hands. That’s why we have a lot of Indians working in German IT companies. They recruited them right from schools. You don’t even need to know how to speak German. There are many Nigerian academics also working in Research in Germany. So, if you are a researcher, there is opportunity for you in Germany. There are also opportunities for practical trainings. There are also short courses. These are the things Nigerian youths can explore.