The Thing Called ‘Tukaru’

By Adamu Tilde

‘Tukaru’ is a derivative of the corrupted word ‘Takrur’ which means black. ‘Tukaru’ is a collective name of illegal, undocumented black migrants in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries. The KSA is to the Muslim illegal [black] migrants what Europe, Asia, North America etc., are to the Christian illegal black migrants and dubious asylum seekers. No difference.

Thousands of undocumented, illegal black migrants cum fortune-seekers population abound in the KSA, especially in Mecca. The ones I came across are mostly among the Hausas, the Fulanis and the Kanuris from northern Nigeria and Niger. However, there are other nationals of African origin. Typical of any illegal, uneducated migrants anywhere in the world, they live in shanties and squalor, with no access to basic healthcare, education and security from the host country. They are destitute, agitated, and appeared to be more alert and attentive to the sight of ‘Askar’ (Security) than a cat preying rat. The ‘Tukaru’ are living the most dehumanizing human conditions ever imagined.

The ‘Tukaru’ population in the KSA cut across gender and age group: children; adult male and females; old men and women; single, married, unmarried, divorced and widowed. Many engage in all sort of illicit and amoral activities, from drug pushing to prostitution. A number of them were born there, some duped and trafficked, and others worked their asses hard to save hundreds of thousands of Naira to escape the Nigeria’s ‘economic deprivation’ only to end up falling into the trap of self-imposed-slavery.

Becoming a ‘Tukaru’ in the KSA is quite an easy task, very unlike going to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. It is simple: apply for either Umrah or Hajj visa, get into Saudi Arabia and escape into the existing ‘Tukaru’ population at the expiration of your visa. Shikenan! What is most astonishing, however, is the cost of the visa and the subsequent process of recovering the money.

The least one can spend for Umrah is between 400,000 to 500,000. For Hajj it can go for as high as 1.5 million. From the interviews I had with a number of the ‘Tukaru’, especially women, there are agents that, usually, pry on unsuspecting and vulnerable young ladies, single mothers and widowed women. This is how the deal goes: an agent will provide the needed money for visa application and flight ticket; upon arrival, he or she will, at most, secure a cleaning or babysitting job for you at any of the Saudis house. You will be indebted to him or her for until you are able to raise 2.5 – 3.0 Million Naira from your monthly salary. Yes, becoming a modern-day slave in Saudi Arabia is that expensive. For men, usually they pay for Umrah from their savings and God-knows-how and then banish into slavery at the expiration of their visa. Very simple.

What is most striking, worth mentioning and reflecting on is that there are other migrants population of different nationals, especially from Yemen, Syria, North Africa, Turkey and India. However, unlike their black migrants cousins, they mostly engage in low-level but nonetheless decent activities: cleaning, security, cab drivers, etc. A couple of them own stores here and there, but they are mostly among the Chinese, the Indians and the Turks.

I understand that Mecca and Medina are not the perfect case to measure economic inclusion and integration, given their peculiarities as religious cities. However, if experience from other countries is anything to go by, black migrants population everywhere are always on the periphery. What I cannot understand is the logic of looking down at becoming a dignified ‘yar tuwo-tuwo (street food vendor) in Zaria only to become one, in the most inhuman conditions, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Food vendor anywhere is food vendor everywhere. Or is it that the prefix ‘foreign’ food vendor is the one that is most attractive to our people? So much for semantics!

There is this worn-out cliche that finds place in many people’s hearts: “I am in Saudi [or any other country for that matter] to escape the economic deprivation of the third world countries.” Perfect! But again and again, what I saw with my ‘korokoro’ eyes in many European cities and in Mecca is anything but economic emancipation; rather I have seen humans who have willingly reduced themselves to a degrading subhuman level; chased and hunted like games in the forest, yet they happily remain in their self-imposed enslavement. Nothing can be more indicting on the racial inferiority of the black race, famously made public by James Watson! I cannot think of a simpler explanation.

Search for economic opportunity is, no doubt, a justifiable and valid, even if exaggerated reason to migrate. Exaggerated because opportunities abound everywhere, and most especially in problems-infested places. And, God!, third world countries are a bastion of problems.

The downside of this argument is that it ignores and downplays the role and contribution of the individual in solving his or her problems. Opportunities don’t create themselves, instead they are created by creative, problem-solving people. Unfortunately, creativity is not a God-given gift, rather a cultivated habit built through careful study, observation and deep reflection. You cannot be uncritically receptive to all sort of weird ideas about you, about how unlucky and disadvantaged you are by being black, African and be creative. Mba! The black man must see himself first as a human with a natural gift to think, exist and thrive, no matter the circumstance; he must disregard the colonial interpretation of his reality as an incapable lot, waiting to be helped, supported and saved by some kind-hearted white men.

Again, the argument for a search for economic opportunity is not a sincere one; for a number of folks let go of a budding and promising career in Nigeria and become food vendors or barbers in Europe, Canada, and the United States. It is disingenuous and lazy to mention the search for a workable system as a reason to leave Nigeria or any other third world country; for system doesn’t build itself, systems are built by hardworking, focused and brilliant men. At best you just want to escape the task of building a country only to enjoy the fruits of hard work of other people. Simple.

The questions that beg for serious explanations are:

  • Why is the black population always on the periphery everywhere?
  • What are the motivating factors that drive the black migrant population into self-imposed slavery?
  • Why is it that an average black migrant is willing to accept the crumbs of other countries, no matter how dehumanizing, and at the expense of building one that he or she can enjoy with dignity?
  • What are those incentives that drive a freeborn, intelligent, adult and educated young man to let go of two-bedroom apartment, with kingsize beds in Lagos, only to end up in one cramped room, with a bed that will not allow momentary rolling in London?
  • Compared to other migrant population of, say, Turks, Chinese or Indians, why is black migrant population everywhere hardly engage in entrepreneurship or respectable businesses, rather they are mostly labourers, cleaners, security, and local food sellers? [With due respect to these jobs.]
  • Two million Naira is quite a sum to start a legitimate business and earn a decent income to thrive anywhere in Nigeria and, in fact, Africa. What then is stopping an average black migrant from exploring that angle instead of chickening out to Europe or the Middle East only to end up selling Museum tickets or, at best, becoming a cab driver? Laziness? Lack of thinking capability? Ignorance?
  • It is always greener on the other side, goes the saying. Is it that black population has consumed a lot of fiction that always portray it as hopeless, hapless and helpless on one hand— and on the other hand, any other place as a bastion of opportunities and unfettered access to richness? If yes, what is so difficult in diffusing this fat lie by taking a critical look at your community and see how many of the foreign fortune-seekers that are more successful than their home counterparts? In fact, chances are the first ten millionaires in your village made their millions in your village, without moving an inch. Is critical thinking that expensive? I don’t think so.

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