A Millennial’s Reflection on Modern-Day Slavery in Nigeria

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Every year, on March 25th, the world remembers the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and honours the millions who suffered under its brutality. While I was born long after the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade had (officially) ended, slavery remains a story whispered by elders and etched in places like the “Point of No Return” in Badagry. We visit these places on school trips or vacations, and stand there quietly, absorbing the weight of history. But then, we step back into our everyday lives, and a nagging question lingers: is slavery truly a relic of the past?

Clearly, the ghosts of slavery continue to haunt modern Nigeria. Don’t get me wrong, there are no longer physical chains and shackles. But there’s a different kind of bondage, a mental one, that feels eerily similar and continues to cripple our potential.

How Modern-Day Slavery Persists in Nigeria

how modern-day slavery persists in Nigeria

This mental slavery manifests in our daily lives in several forms

The Hustle Trap

Nigeria’s history, riddled with exploitation from colonialism to corrupt leadership, has fostered a deep distrust in the system. You see a young graduate with no job and no prospects of securing one easily because he knows nobody. The National Bureau of Statistics recently reported a significant rise in the unemployment rate, reaching 5.0% in Q3 2023. Many believe the actual figures are even higher.

This lack of opportunity breeds a desperate hustle, a need to “get back what they took from us” in any way we can.  Sometimes, this hustle curdles into “yahoo yahoo” (online scams) or armed robbery, acts that hurt our communities the most. They become a distorted form of reparation, a response to a system that feels rigged against us from the start. Yet, it shouldn’t be so. The fire and innovation of young Nigerians shouldn’t be wasted on simply “getting back” at a perceived past.  That energy is far more valuable when used to build a stronger Nigeria.

The Illusion of Foreign Intervention

A learned helplessness can lead some Nigerians to subconsciously rely on foreign intervention.  This stems from a belief that their leaders are incapable or unwilling to address problems.  However, this dependence can backfire. 

For instance, some might call for foreign intervention during political unrest. This might feel like a quick fix, but it perpetuates a narrative of dependence and fuels the perception of continued foreign meddling. This reliance on foreign powers can backfire, feeding into resentment. Just look at recent anti-French sentiment in African nations according to a FOI  paper.

The “Japa” Dream 

The “japa” mentality, the desperate dream of escaping to the “white man’s land” for success, is another shackle on our minds. This belief, while understandable and in some cases necessary given economic hardships, reinforces a narrative of dependence. This “japa” brain drain is a national crisis, robbing Nigeria of the skilled professionals it desperately needs to thrive

Related: Want to explore the deeper human desires that fuel the ‘japa’ dream? Read my other piece, ‘Elusive Things People Want in Life.’

Breaking Free: Education, Opportunity, and the Nigerian Dream

breaking free from slavery

The fight against modern-day slavery isn’t just about physical freedom; it’s about breaking free from these mental chains. Here’s how:

  • Empowering Education: True education goes beyond rote learning. We need a system which fosters critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and financial literacy. This equips young people to avoid exploitation and navigate the complexities of the modern world.
  • Building Opportunity Within: A thriving economy with a focus on job creation and meritocracy will provide a foundation for a brighter future within Nigeria. We need to invest in
    • Indigenous Production: Supporting and expanding local industries allows Nigerians to be producers, not just consumers.  Buying “Made in Nigeria” shouldn’t be a slogan; it should be a movement.
    • Manufacturing Powerhouse:  Investing in infrastructure and skills development will turn Nigeria into a manufacturing powerhouse, creating jobs and reducing dependence on imports.
  • Forging the Nigerian Dream: We must cultivate a national vision – a “Nigerian Dream” – that inspires and unites us. This dream should celebrate hard work, innovation, and the collective pursuit of a prosperous nation.  The Transatlantic Slave Trade sought to break our spirit; the Nigerian Dream will be the answer, a vision that empowers us to build a future where success isn’t about escape, but collective achievement.

Challenging Limiting Beliefs Causing Modern-Day Slavery 

It’s time to stop the self-sabotage.  We must dismantle the idea that Nigerians cannot thrive here. Every time we embrace that narrative, we sell ourselves short and perpetuate mental slavery. The echoes of the past may be loud, but we must refuse to be defined by them. It’s time for us to fight for a free and prosperous Nigeria.

Friends, the future belongs to us, the generation born long after the ships stopped coming. Let’s claim our power, redefine what it means to be Nigerian, and build a future where “hustle” is driven by ambition to build something great, not desperation to survive; a future free from the shackles of the past, both physical and mental.


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