Almost every Nigerian knows one or two people who 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’ really mean? Japa is a Yoruba word meaning ‘to run away’ or ‘to get out of some place or something immediately’.
Japa syndrome among the Nigerian population, especially the youth, 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 mass out-migration are doctors/nurses, technology workers and, more recently, teachers. The pursuit of quality education has been and continues to be used by many Nigerians as an excuse for ‘japa’ as education is considered the best bet for easy visas as various countries offer scholarships for masters and bachelor programmes, some of which come with a permanent residency option.
the punch reported on November 29 that the Nigerian Resident Physicians Association revealed that there were only about 10,000 resident physicians left in the country, adding that around 100 resident physicians leave the country monthly in search of greener pastures.
Along the same lines, Registrar and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Teacher Registration Council, Prof. Josiah Ajiboye, said that more than 260 Nigerian teachers have immigrated to Canada in the year 2022 alone. He also said that the United Nations had hinted at their intention to embark on the mass recruitment of teachers from Nigeria.
The UK recently issued a circular stating that from February 2023, Nigerian citizens will be able to apply for Qualified Teacher status through the UK’s Teaching Regulation Agency, which will see teachers obtain jobs in the United Kingdom. I dare say that the number of 260 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 do people leave en masse and some even dare to escape through the rudders of ships, ignoring the threat of certain danger or possible death just to emigrate?
In this article, some Nigerians who immigrated to the UK, US, Canada and even the Asian country of Hong Kong talk about their various personal experiences.
Mo, a 29-year-old Nigerian woman who recently moved to the UK, said she made the decision to leave Nigeria in search of a better standard of living and better opportunities. She said that living in Nigeria had become a burden, so she wanted a change of scenery. Mo further revealed that the chance to return to Nigeria, even if things finally start working out, was not an option for her.
She said: “I moved to the UK nine months ago and I don’t regret it. I wanted a change of scenery and a better standard of living for myself and my family. I have had enough of Nigeria.
“Even if given the chance to come back, I wouldn’t take it, I wouldn’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 none.
She said: “I would rather my children have a better chance at different opportunities than be judged for their passports. It’s enough that some people will probably judge you by the color of your skin, so let’s not add anything to that.”
A Lagos-based man, Mr Eze, whose children are attending school in the US and UK, said he would not want his children to have to go through everything he went through to succeed in life. He said the opportunities associated with studying abroad are endless compared to universities in Nigeria, where strikes have become the norm.
“My son is studying in the US and my daughter is studying in the UK. You can’t compare the opportunities they already have even while they’re still in school. It is not easy to train them, the money is huge, but I prefer this to the Nigerian universities where the strike is the order of the day. ASUU just ended an eight month strike and is still dragging the Federal Government down for unpaid wages.
“Does it seem like a serious country to you?” she questioned.
A work system
Eugene said that the worst enemy of an average Nigerian is the system. She said the Nigerian system is designed to “make one fail” adding that while living abroad is not easy, the system is designed to help everyone succeed independently.
She said: “I have been living in Hong Kong for nine years and the difference is clear. I visited Nigeria in June 2022 and I am still very surprised by the state of things.
“Life abroad can be hard, but the system is built in such a way that you can find a way out of any difficult situation with the help of the government and of course with the help of your own community. However, the system in Nigeria is almost as if it is built to make you fail no matter how hard you try. You can’t live in Nigeria like you would in any normal, sane society.”
Sharing a similar perspective, another UK-based Nigerian, Oscar George, 44, said poor leadership accentuated by nepotism has deeply corroded the Nigerian system, preventing it from working.
He said: “Nigeria lacks patriotic leadership. Nepotism has eaten deep into the system. There is also a deficient education of citizenship and leadership. It’s like nothing works.
“No one is stopping me from going back, but Nigeria actually seems to be a lost cause. There is a high level of lack of integrity across the board.”
Also commenting, a US-based Nigerian, identified as Nsikan, said: “If we can make Nigeria a working environment, where minimal well-being and living standards are not an issue, the japa trend will actually could start to decline. . People need to see a system that works, a system designed to help its citizens succeed.”
Mr. Chima Rokee, a Nigerian living in Canada, said that basic infrastructure is one of the things to enjoy after relocation, something that is not easily provided in Nigeria. He also said that a credit system that works should be considered.
Rokee said: “The value of time and a functional credit system are the most important. Then there are the obvious ones like infrastructure, social security and human rights.”
Asked if he would ever consider returning to Nigeria if things start to pan after the 2023 election, Rokee said: “It depends on what you mean by the possibility of going back. The salary disparity is too great and I am very comfortable here. The biggest drawback for me is the weather. If I am given the opportunity to be in Nigeria during the winter months, I will 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 somehow managed to turn it around.
Another UK-based Nigerian, Bukola Abel, said: “Although living abroad is not easy, especially in the UK, at least you are sure of the basic things you need in life to survive. Here, everything is taxed, you have to calculate your money before you spend it, you can’t even give money to anyone, but no matter how hard it is, things work. That is the difference. There is an opportunity for growth. If you work hard, you can survive in the UK and succeed.”
Nsikan added: “If we can establish a functioning basic infrastructure, 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 tops my list of what scares me the most about Naija. I was supposed to be coming back to the country this December to spend Christmas with my parents there, but I had a friend who had just returned to the UK and escaped kidnapping in Nigeria. It’s unbelievable how terrible our security has become,” Bukola said.
“When my family members tell me that they are traveling within Nigeria, I get really scared. I was recently in the country so I know firsthand the security challenges. I was present when the attack on the Owo church occurred. It’s one of the main reasons I can’t go back, at least not anytime soon. The police aren’t helping things either.
“Almost every Nigerian knows someone who is a victim of police brutality. See the recent case of Lagos lawyer Bolanle Raheem, how are we still here as a country? It is a terrifying reality that there is no safety for the public. The police need to be reformed,” Eugene said.
Commenting on the insecurity, another UK-based Nigerian woman, Ade, who moved four months ago, said: “Going back home is not an option for me because I don’t see a future there for my unborn children. I could die if I just accidentally walked down the road because someone who is supposed to protect me shot me.”
Corruption and irresponsibility
“Corruption in Nigeria is not news in the international community. There is corruption everywhere but ours is peculiar. The entire system must be purged of corrupt officials from the bottom up and everyone must be held accountable if we really want to improve,” Eugene said.
Sharing a similar perspective, George said: “If we want to curb the japa trend, Nigeria really needs to fight corruption and amend the constitution to prevent public officials from becoming a source of enrichment.”