Theatre director and playwright, Alfie Nze, has a new film project in the works that deals with the issues of illegal immigration across perilous routes, mostly from Africa, to Europe across the desert and the Mediterranean Sea. His project ties neatly with what the Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who is doing her best to enlighten parents and young people alike on the dangers of illegal immigration.
However, the more enlightenment there is, the more young people embark on these risky journeys. This is where Nze is stepping in with his film project, Grandmother, having had first hand encounter with some of the illegal immigrants in Italy, where he resides. For Nze, the crisis has not been given the desired attention as the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen. Having lived in Italy for 20 years working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) as an interpreter, Nze said he knows enough about the crisis to give it filmic attention to enlighten Nigerians.
According to him, “Constantly on a weekly basis, there are at least three boats loaded with Nigerians that are rescued from the Mediterranean seas with dead bodies.”
Nze, who was in Lagos last October for a photo festival and presented a performance called Igbo Communion, and said his first project in Nigeria was in 2013 titled, Devil Comes To Koko, which was on the toxic waste disaster that was deposited in that town by some unscrupulous businessmen in 1988. The incident caused a major diplomatic row between Nigeria and some countries in Europe.
The social commentator said he was shocked to find a sticker on a tricycle which read, ‘study and work in Canada,’ with a phone number attached. He also cited the example of a friend, whose brother called him from Nigeria and said he heard on the radio that Nigerians were needed in Italy, asking interested persons to go through the Mediterranean Sea by boat, stay in a camp for about six months before getting their papers to start work. He said if this information was true, then it meant that it was Nigerians that organised these death-trips for gullible citizens.
Nze’s passion, borne out of the desire to save his generation from ignorance and needless deaths, said, “This project I am working on is not an idea I picked from newspapers. I am dealing with firsthand information on the Nigerian immigration crisis in Italy. Not just that, but the educational crisis as well. It will interest you to know that boys and girls that have passed through secondary school cannot spell their names.
“A good percentage of our young boys are on the streets of Italy begging for money. Of course, the girls go into prostitution. This is real. If the Nigerian government decides to block the land borders, they can do it but I think the import of what is happening has not dawned totally on them yet.”
Nze also visited the issue of a Tunisian, Mohammed Ali, who was sentenced to 18 years in jail recently over the deaths of migrants after a boat carrying 700 migrants sank. Out of the lot, at least 40 percent were Nigerians.
As he put it, “In 2016 alone, Nigeria had the highest percentage of migrants through that route, more than Syria that is at war and other nationals. So, if you were living outside Nigeria, you would think Nigeria is at war. My question is, why are we not aware of these facts and why is the highest percentage from Edo and Delta States?”
Nze also stated the unwillingness of Nigerian illegal migrants to do legal jobs. He said when he wanted to make a documentary and wanted Nigerians to tell their story, he went round Milan without getting anyone to audition for roles as none of them turned up on the day of the audition.
“I ended up using boys from other African countries,” he said. “I want to tell the real story of these people’s lives in Italy that no one wants to tell. Most of what the mother or grandmother in the village knows is all lies, but by the time she sees it in a film, she would understand better.”
The theatre director emphasised that Nigerians live the worst lives in Italy, as most of them engage in illegal businesses and bring back big cars and build mansions, as this makes people believe that life over there is easy.
According to him, Granmother is the story of a young Igbo boy of about 18 years old, born and raised in Lagos. He is trying to make a break in the music arena when his life is transformed by the sudden death of his cousin, who went on the perilous trip to Europe. He defies all odds by also embarking on the same trip. Fortunately, he makes it and through him, the story of his life in Italy unfolds.
According to Nze, “Italy has made very strict laws to prosecute cartels that bring ladies over for prostitution. And now, they are moving against boys, who are into male prostitution. Recently, a gang was busted in Sicily, another in Madrid. This gang had made an accord with the mafia to take a portion of the prostitution business.
“What I am working on may not even be safe for me. The mafia is not what you just watch on television; it is real. Everyday someone is killed as a result of Mafia operations, but someone has to do it. We cannot over-emphasise this issue since it has persisted. As long as the issues are not in the mainstream media, it will continue. People will continue to cajole others with fast and easy wealth.
“In some states, almost every family has someone in Italy or on the way there. In fact, you are looked down upon if you don’t have someone there. As a result, some parents sell lands and other possessions to send their children on these death-trips. This is a social issue that should concern everybody. I could decide to just sit there in Italy, where I am also a citizen and watch. But at the end of the day, whatever passport you hold, you remain a Nigerian.”