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Struggle continues: Nigeria’s Libya returnees experience tough reintegration

Edo State government has set up a support programme for the returnees which is rare in Nigeria

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Struggle continues: Nigeria's Libya returnees experience tough reintegration

Emerging from her ordeal, Gloria considers herself “privileged”. Last year, the 26-year-old left Nigeria with four other women, dreaming of a better life in Europe.

On a tortuous journey, three of the five friends died before reaching Libya, where the two survivors were stranded for almost a year. Now, only Gloria is back home in Nigeria.

She dreamed of being a fashion designer but now sews synthetic tracksuits in a shabby workshop in Benin City, southern Nigeria, for ₦15,000 a month.

“After transport, the money is almost finished”, she says.

Still, she adds quickly, she “thanks God for having a job”.

Her employment is part of a training programme, set up by the local government of southern Edo State — the departure point for most Nigerian migrants.

Gloria is one of nearly 14,000 young Nigerians to have returned from Libya since 2017 under a United Nations voluntary repatriation programme.

She and the other returnees quoted in this story asked not to be identified by their real names.

READ: Iddris Sandu, the 21-year-old expert behind Instagram, Snapchat and Uber

She is “not asking for too much”, just a roof over her head and to be able to eat, Gloria tells reporters.

Struggle continues: Nigeria's Libya returnees experience tough reintegration

But she blames herself for daring to dream that life could be better elsewhere and believing the smugglers’ promises that they would reach Europe within two weeks.

Broke and broken – 

In Libya, prospects of crossing the Mediterranean vanished, after a tightening of European Union immigration policies.

Many spend months, even years stranded in Libya, sold as slaves by their smugglers.

But once back home in Nigeria, life is even more difficult than before: saddled with debt, struggling to find work, broken by their treatment at the hands of the traffickers and by their failed dreams. 

Human Rights Watch highlighted the “continuing anguish” that returnees face. 

Many suffer long-term mental and physical health problems as well as social stigma on returning to Nigeria, a report released last month said.

Government-run centres tasked with looking after them are poorly funded and “unable to meet survivors’ multiple needs for long-term comprehensive assistance”, it added.

Edo State government has set up a support programme which is rare in Nigeria.

The state hosts some 4,800 of the nearly 14,000 returnees — mostly aged 17 to 35 and with no diploma or formal qualifications.

Under the scheme, they can travel for free to Benin City, Edo’s capital, stay two nights in a hotel, receive an hour of psychological support and the equivalent of a €100 allowance.

It barely moves the needle for those starting again but is enough to stoke envy in a country where state aid is scarce and 83 million people live in extreme poverty.

Stigma –

READ: Ethiopian youths “pimp out” jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture

Showing potential students around, Ukinebo Dare, of the Edo Innovates vocational training programme, says many youngsters grumble that returnees get “preferential treatment”.

In modern classrooms in Benin City, a few hundred students learn to “code”, do photography, start a small business and learn marketing in courses open to all.

Struggle continues: Nigeria's Libya returnees experience tough reintegration

“Classes are both for the youth and returnees, (be)cause we don’t want the stigma to affect them,” Dare said. 

“It’s a priority for us to give youth, who are potential migrants, opportunities in jobs they can be interested in.”

According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, 55 per cent of the under-35s were unemployed at the end of last year.

Tike, now 28, had a low paying job before leaving Nigeria in February 2017 but since returning from Libya says his life is “more, more, more harder than before”.

Although he returned “physically” in December 2017 he says his “mindset was fully corrupted”.

“I got paranoid. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t sleep, always looking out if there is any danger,” he said, at the tiny flat he shares with his girlfriend, also back from Libya, and their four-month-old daughter.

Crime –

A few months after returning, and with no psychological support, Tike decided to train to be a butcher.

But, more than a year since he registered for help with reintegration programmes, including one run by the International Organization for Migration, he has not found a job and has no money to start his own business.

Struggle continues: Nigeria's Libya returnees experience tough reintegration

“We, the youth, we have no job. What we have is cultism (occult gangs),” Tike says.  

“People see it as a way of getting money, an excuse for getting into crime.”

Since last year, when Nigeria was still in its longest economic recession in decades, crime has increased in the state of Edo, according to official data.

“Returnees are seen as people who are coming to cause problems in the community,” laments Lilian Garuba, of the Special Force against Illegal Migration.

“They see them as failure, and not for what they are: victims.”

Debt spiral –

Peter, 24, was arrested a few days after his return. 

His mother had borrowed money from a neighbourhood lender to raise the €1,000 needed to pay his smuggler.

“As soon as he heard I was back, he came to see her. She couldn’t pay (the debt), so I was arrested by the police,” he told reporters, still shaking.

Financially crippled, his mother had to borrow more money from another lender to pay off her debts. 

READ: “Okada” Wars: How Nigeria’s Uber-style motorbikes are competing for Lagos routes

Peter’s last trip was already his second attempt. 

“When I first came back from Libya, I thought I was going to try another country. I tried, but in Morocco it was even worse and thank God I was able to return to Nigeria,” he said, three weeks after getting back. 

“Now I have nothing, nothing,” he said, his voice breaking. 

“All I think about is ‘kill yourself’, but what would I gain from it? I can’t do that to my mother.”

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Culture & Tourism

Morocco’s renowned “Critical” cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrids

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable

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Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"

Morocco’s rugged Rif Mountains have long been renowned for their cannabis but traditional varieties are being smoked out by foreign hybrids offering higher yields and greater potency.

The local strain of marijuana, known as Beldiya, is coveted by afficionados but is gradually disappearing from the fields in the kingdom.

Nowadays in Ketama, a region in the heart of the northern Rif, a strain called “Critical” is king.

Hicham, a 27-year-old cannabis farmer, says that he grows Critical because “the new imported seeds give a much higher yield.”

Major cannabis producers decide what to plant and “hybrid plants have become a market all on their own,” said Moroccan anthropologist Khalid Mouna, who has written a thesis on the economics of Ketama’s cannabis production.

READ: Morocco’s last woman-potters hope on social media for survival

Critical, which Mouna said comes from the Netherlands, is the latest hybrid created in laboratories in Europe or North America to be introduced to Morocco.

With names like “Pakistana”, “Amnesia” and “Gorilla”, hybrids are popular for their potency and affordability. 

Critical sells for 2,500 dirhams per kilo, while Beldiya goes for up to 10,000 dirhams per kilo, local sources told reporters. 

Buoying production – 

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Morocco has long been a leading producer and exporter of hashish — refined cannabis resin — even though the production, sale and consumption of drugs is illegal in the country.

READ: Sand Miners threaten Morocco’s coastline

A quarter of hashish seizures worldwide originated from Morocco between 2013 and 2017, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable.

In 2003, 134,000 hectares were under cannabis cultivation, falling to 47,500 hectares by 2011 under a large official reconversion programme, according to a 2015 study by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT).

But modern hybrid strains produce five to 10 kilos (11 to 22 pounds) of hashish per quintal, a traditional unit of weight equivalent to 100 kilos, compared to a single kilo for kif, as local cannabis is known.

“The substitution of hybrids for kif might explain why the production of Moroccan hashish has barely decreased,” the study said.

Livelihood –

In Ketama, kif is part of the culture.

Producing it and smoking it are tolerated by the authorities and its cultivation provides a livelihood for 90,000 to 140,000 people in an otherwise deprived region known for its poor soil.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

People in the area told reporters that it was mostly traffickers or intermediaries who bought the cannabis harvest for smuggling to Europe or other Moroccan towns.

READ: Lesotho is pioneering Africa’s medical cannabis industry

Hicham divides his time between his cannabis field and a cafe, where he and his friends smoke joints and watch satellite TV — a distraction from unemployment, he says.

In this rural region, job prospects are rare, with one in four young people unemployed, according to official figures.

Hicham and his friends all left school early to support their families, and many have left for Europe in search of work.

Those who stay mostly work seasonally for large cannabis growers, earning about 100 dirhams per day for a month or two at a time.

Most lack the money to get set up and work for themselves.

Environmental cost –

The high yields of imported hybrid cannabis plants come at a cost, however.

The strains require heavy fertilization, which can damage the soil. And their insatiable thirst threatens the region’s water supplies, according to the OFDT.

Critical grows in the dry summer, requiring heavy irrigation, while Beldiya is planted in winter, depending only on rainfall.

Some locals complain that major producers enforce the planting of hybrids even in arid areas. 

“The traffickers impose it and the people don’t have any other choice,” says Mohamed Benyahya, a local community figure.

To water their plantations, major producers install solar pumps on the roofs of their mansions.

Not far from Hicham’s local cafe, a vast terraced cannabis plantation sprawls up a nearby mountain. 

Rows of carefully maintained plants are watered by drip irrigation via a network of pipes connected to a reservoir.

To legalise, or not –

Hybrids like Critical are notable also for high levels of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical. 

The adoption of hybrids explains the “rapid and significant increase in the average THC content” of seized Moroccan hashish, according to the OFDT.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

For smokers, the effect compared to Beldiya is pronounced. “One makes you think, the other makes you paranoid,” says Mohamed, a friend of Hicham.

READ: Kenya denies it has given a US company licence to produce cannabis

“European consumers no longer want hybrid cannabis on account of its high THC levels,” Mouna said. 

“Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted, particularly by advocates of legalisation.”

Cannabis decriminalisation remains controversial in the conservative country. 

Proposals to legalise cannabis have so far met fierce political opposition.

For Mouna, legalisation could help regulate cannabis consumption while also preserving the more traditional and environmentally friendly Beldiya.

And, while Hicham may have switched to growing Critical, he still only smokes Beldiya.

“The modern varieties,” he says, “are mediocre.”

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Culture & Tourism

Wizkid News: Four latest news on Wizkid you probably missed

Wizkid has not only been on the news for music but also for the many controversies hanging around his name

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portrait of singer and songwriter Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, popularly called Wizkid
People sit beside portrait of singer and songwriter Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, popularly called Wizkid painted on a pillar under the bridge at Ojuelegba in Lagos. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The famous Afro Pop sensation, Ayo Balogun popularly known as Wizkid has had his fair share of celebrity controversies. Ranging from his cold relationships with his baby mamas to his alleged affair with Tiwa Savage, the list is endless. It will be safe for anybody to conclude that he has not only been on the news for music but also for the many controversies hanging around his name.

Wizkid and Tiwa Savage

Relationship rumours sparked off between the star boy and the ‘kelekele love’ crooner, Tiwa Savage as the two started attending events and appearing on music videos together all of a sudden. With many bashing Tiwa Savage for dating a much younger guy. But the interesting thing is, since the rumours started making waves, neither Wizkid nor Tiwa Savage has come out to refute the many claims of amorous relationship between them. In the usual Wizkid manner, he has greeted these rumours with absolute  silence. 

Pay Attention: A musical tribute to Nigerian mothers

It got to a point where Tiwa Savage’s ex husband, Tee Bills had to come in on the matter and made it clear to anybody who cared to listen that, Wizkid could not have anything to do with the mother of his child, as according to him, Wizkid respects him just so much to ruin such a wonderful relationship they have. But what is interesting is, Tiwa Savage has opened up on their relationship during a recent interview with Beats FM, saying that they are ‘friends with benefits’ because they accompany each other to events.

Joro – Wizkid’s latest jam

Wizkid’s latest single ‘Joro’ has attracted a lot of reactions. Both positive and negative. While some said it’s a spiritual song that goes straight to one’s soul, others have trashed the song as being lyrically empty. It has been further criticized on the basis of the timing of its release as many said it’s insensitive to release such a song at the time Nigeria was celebrating her independence, which should be a time of sober reflection for Nigerians.

The artist Wizkid during the MAMA 2016,
The artist Wizkid during the MAMA 2016, in Johannesburg, South Africa on October 22nd, 2016

However, since the release, the song has enjoyed hundreds of views and downloads on various music sites and platforms. it garnered 1.7 million views on YouTube just after 4 days of its release.

Wizkid and Jada Pollock

Recall that a few months ago Wizkid’s third baby mama and manager Jada Pollock announced on instagram that she has called it quits with the singer on the basis of domestic violence. She announced that she would no longer be working with the father of her baby as things would no longer flow well between them, courtesy of Wizkid’s abusive nature. 

Pay Attention: Nigeria’s apex bank partners Lagos on ₦22 billion national theatre renovation

However,in a funny twist of events, Jada Pollock completely denied ever making such accusation against Wizkid. She claimed the accusation which was made via her Instagram account @_jada.p did not come from her as she alleged her account was hacked by an intruder. Her subsequent denial of authoring the post  amused as well as infuriated a lot of Instagram users who were of the opinion that she was such an unintelligent liar!

‘Starboyfest’

The much anticipated StarBoy Fest is barely 2 weeks away. The event which is expected to record large turn out of fans and music lovers all over England, will take place on the 18th and 19th of October 2019  in Manchester and London consecutively. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster

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Environment

Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar’s plastic tide

In real terms, their cleanup was Sisyphean: they removed a molehill in a mountain of plastic that is relentlessly growing

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Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar's plastic tide
A canoeist delivers plastic waste and other items collected by scuba divers from a bay during a 'clean-up day' campaign of the ocean off the coast of the capital Dakar on September 15, 2019. - President Macky Sall, sworn in for his second term in April 2019, has proposed turning Senegal into a "zero waste" nation. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

When the sight of plastic bags, bottles and other debris littering the seabed becomes too much, there’s just one thing to do: don your diving suit, strap on an air tank and fish out the stuff yourself.

That is the solution adopted by Oceanium, an association of amateur divers in Senegal.

In a few hours last month, divers removed hundreds of kilos of plastic rubbish in the waters around the island of Goree off the capital Dakar — the jewel in Senegal’s tourism crown.

In real terms, their cleanup was Sisyphean: they removed a molehill in a mountain of plastic that is relentlessly growing.

But it provided temporary relief for local biodiversity — and gave a push for environmentalism in a country where green issues trail far behind the drive to ease poverty.

“We’re here to clean up,” exclaimed Ndeye Selbe Diouf, a young woman who took up diving two years ago and said she had lost count of fish she has seen trapped in bottles near the shore.

Oceanium’s diving director, Rodwan El Ali, 36, said the problem of plastic rubbish in Senegal was acute.

Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar's plastic tide
A man empties a sack delivered by a canoeist who picked up the sacks of plastic and other waste collected by scuba divers from a bay during a ‘clean-up day’ campaign of the ocean off the coast of the capital Dakar on September 15, 2019. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

“People go to the beach and drink and party, and if there are no rubbish bins, they leave it on the beach and it’s swept into the sea with the tide,” he said.

Ali, a member of the ethnic Lebanese community that has been in Senegal for generations, took over Oceanium with his sister after its founding by their father, Haidar, a former environment minister.

“When we see fishing nets tangled around shipwrecks or plastic littering the sea bottom, we organise a cleanup,” he said.

Their first operation took place in 2017 and is moving towards a monthly cleanup dive — even weekly, if funding becomes available.

‘Dustbin’ –

“People throw everything into the sea because they think it’s big,” said Mamadou Ali Gadiaga, who has been a member of Oceanium since it was founded 35 years ago.

“It’s a hard job but you have to make people aware of the problem. The sea is not a dustbin.”

Twenty-two divers took part in a cleanup in mid-September, using two boats for operations and a third as a floating bin for the rubbish.

Senegalese divers plunge to end Dakar's plastic tide
A handout image made available by Oceanium de Dakar shows scuba divers collecting plastic and other waste from a bay during a ‘clean-up day’ campaign of the ocean off the coast of Goree island on September 15, 2019. (Photo by HO / Oceanium de Dakar / AFP)

By the close of the operation, they had hauled up 1.4 tonnes of debris — mainly plastic but also rusty drink cans, torn clothing and other discarded items.

This gesture for the environment has to be weighed against the realities.

Even though Senegal is in the upper tier of developing economies, it has no recycling facilities.

The rubbish that was so arduously brought up from the bottom of the sea was sent to a huge garbage tip at Mbeubeuss, where household waste from Dakar’s three million people is discharged.

According to the UN, globally, around eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea, providing a deadly hazard for birds and marine mammals and breaking down into microscopic waste that also enters the food chain.

Around nine billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the substance was produced on a large scale after World War II, but just nine per cent of this has been recycled.

In Senegal itself, environmental awareness remains low compared with the rising swell of campaigning in the rest of the world. Only a few dozen young people turned out on September 20 for the planet-wide environment rallies.

President Macky Sall has said he wants the country to be “zero waste” but discarded plastic containers and bags are an eyesore in many towns and villages, and a 2015 law to restrict the use of plastic bags is a dead letter.

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