Book Review — From Frying Pan to Fire by Olusegun Adeniyi

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This afternoon I finished Olusegun Adeniyi’s “From Frying Pan to Fire — How African Migrants Risk Everything in Their Futile Search for a Better Life in Europe.” Olusegun is a Nigerian journalist, current chair of the editorial board of ThisDay newspapers and a former presidential spokesman for the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I deals generally with the travails of illegal immigration in Africa, while Part II is the narration of his brother’s harrowing experience as an illegal immigrant to several European and South American countries.

The author concentrated on the illegal migration through the land and sea.

He described several cities where human trafficking is their lifeblood. A good example of this is Agadez, the largest city in central Niger that is notorious as the smuggling capital of Africa.

Cases of kidnapping are rife in the desert, especially where smugglers and human traffickers demand more money in the middle of the journey.

There are horrific tales of open trucks conveying migrants at incredible speed and in the process any passenger that falls off is left to die.

Human slavery is also prevalent. Upon visit to Libya to repatriate some Nigerians stuck in the country, a presidential aide, Abike Dabiri-Erewa despite being a journalist for many years remarked about the slave camps were the worst experience she has ever encountered and could not fathom how people are made to live in conditions worse than those of animals.

Because most illegal immigrants are at the mercy of smugglers, they are prone to being abused, women especially. There are cases of female selling their bodies for loaves of bread. The level of indignity to which some of these ladies are subjected is heart-rending. With Libya as the most popular departure point for migrants heading to Europe, the soldiers are kings. They are reported to rape the ladies at will and impregnate them in the process.

While the females may be helped for what their bodies provide, men often don’t have much to bargain with. Several men left penniless after episodes of robberies have nothing to give to the bribe-demanding security operatives and are often left in the desert to meet certain death. There is a story of a group of men from Nigeria deported from Nigeria because they incurred the wrath of their Spanish neighbors when they jubilated over the victory of the Super Eagles over the Spanish national team on June 13, 1998. The neighbors reported them as illegal immigrants to the Spanish police.

Whether males or females, the experiences are grievous. In 2018, a stock of about 3000 returnees were returned from Libya and each migrant was reported to have witnessed an average of 151 deaths mostly caused by hunger, dehydration, sickness, childbirth, beating, gunshot wounds, and drowning. A heartbreaking story of a mother of twins was recounted. One of the boys became sick and died. In her moment of grief, the woman slipped and fell into the sea leaving the remaining boy at the mercy of the other migrants. With none of them prepared to shoulder the responsibility for the boy, he was thrown into the Mediterranean Sea.

Edo and the prostitution ring was also explored. While it’s routinely said that there is no house in Benin without a female in Italy, the author noted that prostitution in Italy was not always synonymous with Edo. The first migrants from Edo had being attracted to opportunities in Italy in its booming agricultural sector, especially tomato picking. With time, the early settlers found out that it was far more financially rewarding to trade their bodies for money than toil on the fields. They thus became ‘Madams’ and started luring young girls into the trade. It is painful to read of 13-year olds deceived into this trade, some urged on by their parents.

#DoYouKnow that 85% of Nigerian women selling sex in Europe travelled from Benin? The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Union continue to bemoan the fact that the Nigerian authorities are not doing enough to arrest this situation.

Yet illegal migration is an African problem, not a strictly Nigerian one even though Nigerians now make up the largest number of illegal immigrants out of the country. This is hardly surprising when it’s realized that one out of every five African is a Nigerian and the economic situation in the country leaves much to be desired.

A narration of illegal immigrants in several African countries were given. From Burkina Faso which has 77% unemployment rate to Ivory Coast where between September 2001 to April 2002 alone, 500,000 fled the country because of the violence, to Gambia where 0.5% of its population migrates every year. A Dutch diplomat has said that African leaders are not dealing with the challenge as they should because remittances by those in Diaspora are the leading foreign exchange in many African countries.

African countries simply lack the political will to fight illegal migration. The causes of illegal migration are evident to all. Poverty, high rates of unemployment, poor governance, porous borders, social injustice, loss of family values, warped educational system are some of the reasons people leave their countries for the promise of greener pastures, risking everything in the process.

#DoYouKnow Hungary has erected a $1.16billion bed wire fence to ward off illegal immigrants.

The second part of the book which deals with the illegal immigration of Agboola, the author’s brother is quite touching. Agboola during a period of 6 years in the 1990s travelled practically all the African routes human traffickers use. He landed in Brazil, Malta, Spain and Italy.

At the end of his sojourn, he came back to Nigeria empty-handed having ‘wasted’ six years of his life chasing the green grass on the other side. His story reveals the inherent danger for irregular migrants who are mostly uneducated and without any skills.

#InterestingFact During Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, for one month starting from the last week of August, all (black) illegal immigrants were cleared off the streets because it is believed that they ‘contaminate’ this period leading to the Colonel’s birthday.

Overall, I ended up enduring the book more than I expected. Having started off without any expectation of a great read because of the comment by a friend who has read it, I was not left shaken by the attempt to make a topic which would have been better off as an editorial piece in ThisDay newspaper into a book. It also isn’t nice that some parts show poor editing. On page 90, the reader is left wondering whether the people who got on the vessels were 19 or 17? On page 91, the reader is left wondering how someone “who was always boasting about his achievements” can be said to “hardly talk”. The Nigerian in me expected better from a former presidential spokesman.

The author had mentioned that he was moved to write this book because of the experience of this brother and you can’t help but wonder if he decided to add the first part because his brother’s Part II could not fit into the length of a book.

And so no surprises that he decided to introduce fillers so we can get a 170-page book. I couldn’t be more disappointed with the level of research which went into the book. You really can’t blame me for having this view when I picked this book up after reading the incredibly well-research The Laundrymen, a book by Jeffrey Robinson.

Will I recommend? Well, let’s say it’s not worse than Ray Dalio’s The Principles. Anyone who has followed my reviews will know that I have said a lot already.

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