Almost every Nigerian knows one or two people who have left the country in the last five years in search of greener pastures in a new wave of emigration known as ‘japa’.
What does ‘japa’ actually mean? Japa is a Yoruba word which means ‘to run away’ or ‘to leave somewhere or something immediately.’
The japa syndrome among the Nigerian populace especially the youths, represents the mass exodus of Nigerians abroad. The trend has evolved over time to represent a way of escape for Nigerians to secure a better life for themselves and their families.
The skilled workers most involved in the mass emigration are doctors/nurses, tech workers and most recently teachers. Many Nigerians have used and are still using the pursuit of quality education as an excuse to ‘japa’, as education is seen as the best bet to get visas easily with various countries offering scholarships for Master’s and undergraduate programmes, some of which come with an option for permanent residency.
The Media reported on November 29 that the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, revealed that only about 10,000 resident doctors were left in the country, adding that about 100 resident doctors leave the country monthly to seek greener pastures.
In the same vein, the Registrar and Chief Executive Officer of Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, Prof. Josiah Ajiboye, said over 260 Nigerian teachers have migrated to Canada alone within the year 2022. He also said the United Nations had hinted of its intention to embark on mass recruitment of teachers from Nigeria.
The United Kingdom recently issued a circular stating that from February 2023, Nigerian citizens would be able to apply for a qualified teacher status through the Teaching Regulation Agency in the United Kingdom, that will see teachers get jobs in the UK. I daresay the 260 figure recorded by the TRCN may soon double or even triple.
What are the drivers of the Japa phenomenon in recent years? What factors led and are leading to the mass exodus of Nigerians abroad? Why are people leaving in droves and some even daring to escape via ship rudders, ignoring threat of certain danger or possible death just to emigrate?
In this piece, some Nigerians who emigrated to the UK, US, Canada and even the Asian country of Hong Kong speak on their various personal experiences.
Mo, a 29-year-old Nigerian woman who recently moved to the UK, said she took the decision to leave Nigeria in search of better standard of living and better opportunities. She said living in Nigeria had become burdensome so she wanted a change of environment. Mo further revealed that an opportunity to return to Nigeria even if things finally begin to work out was not an option for her.
She said, “I moved to the UK nine months ago and I have no regrets about it. I wanted a change of environment and better standard of living for myself and my family. I have grown tired of Nigeria.
“Even if I am given an opportunity to return, I would not take it, I won’t even consider it, at least not now.”
A Hong Kong-based Nigerian, Chioma Eugene, said she would rather live in a country that provides better opportunities for her children than where such doesn’t exist.
She said, “I’d rather want my children to have a better chance at different opportunities than being judged by their passports. It’s enough that some people will most likely judge them by their skin colour, so let’s not add to that.”
A Lagos-based man, Mr Eze, whose children are schooling in the US and UK, said he wouldn’t want his children to have to go through all that he went through to make it in life. He said the opportunities attached to schooling abroad are unending compared to the Nigerian universities where strikes had become a norm.
“My son is schooling in the US and my daughter is schooling in the UK. You can’t compare the opportunities they already have even as they’re still in school. It’s not easy training them, the money is huge, but I’d rather this than Nigerian universities where strike is the order of the day. ASUU just finished an eight-month long strike and is still dragging the Federal Government over unpaid salaries.
“Does that sound like a serious country to you?” he questioned.
A working system
Eugene said the worst enemy of an average Nigerian is the system. She said the Nigerian system is designed to “make one fail” adding that although living abroad is not easy, the system is designed to help everyone succeed regardless.
She said, “I have been living in Hong Kong for nine years now and the difference is clear. I visited Nigeria in June 2022 and I’m still very shocked at the state of things.
Abroad may be hard but the system is built in such a way that you can find a way out of any tough spot with the government’s help and of course with the help of your own community. However, the system in Nigeria is almost as though it’s built to make one fail no matter how hard one tries. One can’t live in Nigeria as one would in any normal, sane society.”
Sharing a similar perspective, another Nigerian based in the UK, Oscar George, 44, said poor leadership accentuated by nepotism has eaten deep into the Nigerian system, hindering it from working.
He said, “Nigeria is lacking in patriotic leadership. Nepotism has eaten deep into the system. There’s also poor education of the citizenry and leadership. It’s like nothing works.
“Nobody is preventing me from returning but Nigeria actually seems to be a lost cause. There is a high level of lack of integrity across board.”
Also commenting, a US-based Nigerian, identified as Nsikan, said, “If we can make Nigeria an environment that works, where the barest minimum welfare and standard of living isn’t a problem, the japa trend might actually start to slow down. People need to see a system that is working, a system that is designed to help its citizens succeed.”
Mr. Chima Rokee, a Nigerian living in Canada, said basic infrastructure is one of the things enjoyed after relocation, something that is not easily provided for in Nigeria. He also said a working credit system is one that should be considered.
Rokee said, “Value of time and a functional credit system are the biggest. Then, there are the obvious ones like infrastructure, social security and human rights.”
When asked if he would ever consider returning to Nigeria if things begin to work post-2023 elections, Rokee said, “Depends on what you mean by a chance to return back. The wage disparity is too wide and I’m really comfortable here. The major downside for me is the weather. If I’m given the chance to just be in Nigeria during the winter months, I’ll take it.
“It will take more than a good leader to fix Nigeria. We have to make our large population productive. Nigeria has to become a sweatshop. We can learn from China, India and the like. Countries with a large population of poor people but managed to somehow turn it around.”
Another UK-based Nigerian, Bukola Abel, said, “Although living abroad is not easy, especially in the UK, at least you’re sure of basic things in life you need to survive. Here, everything is taxed, you must calculate your money before spending, you can’t even gift anybody money, but no matter how tough it can get, things work. That’s the difference. There’s a chance for growth. If you’re hardworking, you can survive in the UK and make it.”
Nsikan added, “If we can set up basic infrastructure that works including but not limited to good roads and good road networks, hospitals, schools. These little things that one needs to survive will go a long way.”
Insecurity and police brutality
“Insecurity is one that tops my list on what scares me the most about Naija. I was supposed to come back to the country this December to spend Christmas with my parents there, but I had a friend that just returned to the UK who escaped being kidnapped back in Nigeria. It’s unbelievable how terrible our security has become,” Bukola said.
“When my family members tell me they’re travelling within Nigeria, I get so scared. I was recently in the country, so I know the security challenges firsthand. I was around when the Owo Church attack happened. It’s a major reason why I cannot return, at least not anytime soon. The police also aren’t helping matters.
“Almost every Nigerian knows someone who is a victim of police brutality. See the recent case of the Lagos lawyer, Bolanle Raheem, how are we still here as a country? It’s a scary reality that there is no security for the public. The police need to be reformed,” Eugene noted.
Commenting on insecurity, another UK-based Nigerian woman, Ade, who relocated four months ago, said, “Coming back home is not an option for me because I do not see a future for my unborn children there. I could get killed by just walking on the road accidentally because someone who is supposed to be protecting me, shot me.”
Corruption and unaccountability
“The corruption in Nigeria is not news in the international community. There’s corruption everywhere but our own is peculiar. The entire system needs to be purged of corrupt officials from bottom to top and everyone needs to be made accountable, if we are serious about improvement,” Eugene noted.
Sharing a similar perspective, George said, “If we want to curb the japa trend, Nigeria needs to really fight corruption and amend the constitution to prevent public offices from becoming a source to get wealthy.”