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African Cardinal: Mass Migration Is a Sign of ‘Failure of Leadership’

Nigerian cardinal John Onaiyekan attends a mass at the St Peter's basilica before the conclave on March 12, 2013 at the Vatican. Cardinals moved into the Vatican today as the suspense mounted ahead of a secret papal election with no clear frontrunner to steer the Catholic world through troubled waters …
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D.

A Nigerian cardinal said this weekend that mass emigration out of his country is a sure sign that political leadership has failed.

“Authorities should make Nigeria home. Same should be applicable to other African countries,” said Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja. “Nigerians and other Africans should travel out of their country freely with dignity and respect, and not otherwise.”

“These days, you hear some young Nigerians insisting that the pastures are greener elsewhere even when it is obviously not,” Onaiyekan said. “If you live in a nation where your young people are telling you it is better living elsewhere, then it is a sign of failure of leadership of such a nation.”

“If I were to the president of such nation, I will not hesitate to resign if I continue to hear such a statement from my younger generation,” he said.

Onaiyekan made these statements during a press briefing in Abuja in preparation for a two-day Catholic conference titled “Action against irregular migration of Nigerians” being held in the Nigerian capital this week.

The cardinal also said he was ashamed to see trafficked Nigerian woman walking the streets as prostitutes in Rome and other Italian cities, part of the fallout from mass migration.

“To tell you bluntly I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed,” he told the BBC. “I’m moving through the streets of Rome, Milan, Naples and I see my daughters on the street on sale.”

“I’m ashamed and I stop and even greet some of them — you can’t even engage them in conversation because they were brought out of the village illiterates. All they learn and all they know on the streets of Italy is what they need for this business — I’m ashamed.”

According to reports, some 80 percent of Nigerian women who have arrived on Italian shores wind up in prostitution, usually by force, and currently one of every two prostitutes in Italy is Nigerian. Many young Nigerian women are enticed into traveling to Italy with promises of honest work only to find that they are expected to sell themselves on the streets.

In his words to journalists, Onaiyekan said that Nigeria in the present day is a far cry from where it was.

“I recall vividly as a young child in school some decades ago, I loved Nigeria and professed it openly because I was well taken care of by the government and I had a promising future. But the reverse is the case now.”

Onaiyekan’s words on immigration echoed those of another African cardinal, the head of the Vatican’s liturgical department, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who said last month that the Church should not be encouraging migration.

It is wrong to “use the word of God to promote migration,” said the Guinean cardinal, and using the Bible to promote migration constitutes “false exegesis.” It is better “to help people flourish in their culture than to encourage them to come to Europe,” he said.

The cardinal denounced the Church’s push for migration into Europe in powerful language, insisting that most immigrants wind up in Europe “without work or dignity” and assume the condition of slaves.

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