Perhaps unconsciously, a new sense of identity has crept in and is becoming dominant among many Nigerians. A curious sense of ‘anywhere is home’ is becoming commonplace among young Nigerians. A compulsive migration to other lands, a sense of “otherness” is beginning to define the aspiration of our youth in terms of where they call home. Pride in our national identity which used to define those now in their 50s and 60s is gradually being replaced by a longing for other lands, a sense of ‘the grass is greener over there’ as the destination for the fulfillment of private dreams and the attainment of personal happiness and contentment. In droves, our youth are being attracted outwards by the order, peace and opportunity in other lands where good governance and orderly progress has created a home for all who treasure a better life.
Relocation has suddenly assumed the status of a wild current and a common preoccupation. What began as a voluntary choice of place of abode has become a compulsive drive to flee to other lands in search of work, personal fulfillment and peace of mind. A cross section of Nigerians, mostly youth, are scrambling to leave the country, to relocate to some other country where they can find employment, security and contentment.
A strange word has been coined from one of our languages to describe the spirit of the fleeing generation. Let us freely call them the “japa” generation, those who must flee in order literally to live. They are an army of young people who see no hope in our country. They leave school but cannot find work for their able hands, eager minds and willing souls. Even where they find the rare work opportunity, their earnings can neither buy them sustenance nor a better life than their ageing parents. Lives and limbs are too unsafe for their democratic rights of freedom of movement to be safely exercised.
In today’s Nigeria, a certain indifference to the aspirations of the youth defines the doctrine of an insensitive regime. President Buhari was addressing the Commonwealth Business Forum on 18th April, 2018 and was reported as having made some distasteful remarks about Nigerian youth to interviewers. He had remarked that Nigerian, youth most of whom had not bothered to receive an education, felt entitled to free social services simply because Nigeria is an oil producing country. These reservations were quickly summarized as the president branding all Nigerian youth as lazy and unprepared for leadership and responsibility. A combination of opposition political hawks and social media sharks tore the president to shreds even before his plane landed back in Abuja. Realising that those aged under 35 constitute the bulk of Nigeria’s surging demographics, the president who was heading towards a bumpy second term campaign beat a hasty retreat. Ever since, hostility to youth has become one of the unsavoury trademarks of the Buhari presidency even as it prepares to leave office in 2023. A youth spiring angered by this attitude was to erupt in wild open protests across the country in the 2020 ENDSARS protests.
Today, in nearly every state capital, the passport office has become a thriving market place. Throngs of passport seekers, mostly youth aged under 35, besiege the offices either through touting agents or directly in a bid to acquire passports that can at least give them a fighting chance to escape from this place. Data recently released by the Immigration Department indicates that passport issuance increased by 38% in 2021 mostly as a result of more Nigerians seeking to relocate from the country.
The direction of recent relocation migrations is predictable. A recent PEW research survey revealed that about 45% of Nigeria’s adult population is planning to relocate to another country in five years time. Of the 12 countries surveyed from Africa, Middle East, Europe and North America, Nigerians ranked highest among countries whose highest number of citizens want to relocate to some other country. In another study in 2021, it was revealed that 7 in every 10 Nigerians planned to relocate if the opportunity presented itself. The favorite destinations of relocating Nigerians are the US, the UK, Canada , Australia, Spain and South Africa.
Among these destinations, Canada represents a new world of opportunities with profuse openings for Nigerians so much so that ‘moving to Canada’ has become a sub industry in Nigeria. Offices for immigration facilitation services for those moving to Canada have sprang up in many urban areas.
Recent official data from from Canadian immigration sources indicate that12,595 Nigerians relocated to Canada alone in 2019. Applications for permanent residency by to Nigerians in Canada in 2015 was 4000. By 2019, the number had climbed to 15,595, an increase of over 214.9% in a period that roughly corresponds with the tenure of the Buhari presidency.
Besides outright relocations in response worsening economic and security concerns, recent dysfunctions in Nigeria’s educational system have increased the outflow of Nigerian students going to study abroad. Following endless strikes and work stoppages by teachers in public universities, Nigeria’s public universities have remained largely closed for most of the last couple of years. This has put pressure on well to do parents to find the resources to send their children to foreign universities. Most of these educational migrants leave Nigeria with little prospect of ever returning home again after their studies.
Here again, we can identify the United Kingdom as a favourite destination for obvious reasons. In the 2019/2020 session, the number of Nigerian students in UK universities was 13,000. By the 2021/2022 session, the number had grown to 21,300, an increase of over 64% in a little over one year. This can be attributed to the prolonged ASUU strikes and other disruptions in Nigeria’s tertiary education calendar. These educational migrants include the children of most of the senior government officials who have now made it part of their summer vacation schedules to travel abroad to attend their children’s graduation ceremonies in lavish phopt opportunities routinely beamed through the internet to their less fortunate compatriots whose children in public universities are marooned at home for endless strikes by their teachers. The number of educational migrants to the United Kingdom is projected to increase to over 30,000 in another year or so.
This population of students would ordinary not qualify as immigrants but for the incentives being provided by the host country. From 2020, the British government introduced an incentive for Nigerian graduates of British universities. Under the Tier 2 Visa programme, such Nigerian graduates are allowed to stay back and work in the uk for a further two years after which they can decide on whether they want to return home or stay on.
By most informed estimates, the recent wave of Nigerians relocating out of the country represents the largest movement of Nigerians out of the country since the end of the civil war over fifty years ago. What is significant is the profile of those who are relocating. They are mostly skilled youth including doctors, nurses, IT engineers, university lecturers and technicians. They also include young people who complete their studies abroad and opt to stay back because our country has nothing to offer them either by way of jobs, opportunities or even basic safety. Some of them have been educated in elite universities at home and abroad. This demographics is the more debilitating for our national development prospects. They are the ones whom our elite have expended huge foreign exchange to train as well as the best from our public and private universities.
Add to this migration of skilled persons the now familiar feature of illegal migrations across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean mostly of unskilled youth, artisans, labourers and migrant sex workers.
Tragically for our nation, the areas worst hit by the current wave of migration are the most strategic. We live in a world where the ranking of nations in the development ladder is being determined by competitive advantage in IT, engineering, medicine and the availability of a skilled work force. These are the youth leaving in droves. What it means is that in the y/ears ahead, our nation will not be able to compete with the rest of the world in the vital areas of specialization in a world ruled by new ideas and novel strategies.
The psychological profile and disposition of those leaving is antithetical to patriotism and any hope of national development. Many of them are angry with a homeland that many of them hoped and believed in but has turned their hopes into ashes. There is also palpable disdain for our national leadership which ahs continued to disappoint the hopes of the people. And yet beneath all this is as certain secret wish for a better nation, a more worthy patrimony and a place worthy of being called home.
Our skilled work force migration is being fueled by an external pressure as well. There is a new common hunger among major nations of the world for greater diversity of skilled workers to drive their economies. Every major nation now habours a secret wish for greater demographic diversity. Envy of America’s prosperity fueled partly by its original diversity and the miracle of immigrant contribution to its greatness has driven the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and even Saudi Arabia to stretch out their arms to foreigners who have skills to contribute to their development efforts to come forth. A good number of these countries have increasingly ageing populations as a result of strict population control measures initiated a few years back.
The massive relocation of skilled Nigerians abroad has had a consequence of mixed blessings. It has created a Nigerian diaspora with considerable economic clout. New relocations have only swelled a pre existing diaspora. The economic dividend of this demographic development is significant. Diaspora remittances reported by the CBN currently hover between $25bn and $30bn annually and still rising. At some point, diaspora remittances dwarfed receipts from oil and gas combined.
Increasingly, this economically enabled population is also becoming politically significant. They constantly gauge the political temperature at home, influence public opinion and have acquired a trenchant voice that is hard to ignore. The social media, enhanced by access to major media and information hubs of the world has made the Nigerian diaspora a voice on matters that concern Nigeria. As recent instances have shown, the Nigerian diaspora has been ready to support causes they consider worthy at home and readily condemn those they oppose as well. At some point in the Buhari administration, diaspora Nigerians took to self help, assaulting and flogging visiting Nigerian officials in major centers of the world.
In the current partisan frenzy in Nigeria, the diaspora may not exercise definitive influence on the electoral process and outcome. There is as yet no legislative enablement for diaspora voting. But their public opinion input into the campaign especially through the social media will be significant. Similarly, their financial contribution to candidates of their choice will come in handy as a determining factor in a political system that has become increasingly monetized and transactional.
The major strategic concern of our increasing demographic hemorrhage is the emigration of skilled Nigerian youth. The people on whom our future depends are leaving. Our best energies and brains are being drained. Our IT wiz kids, our medical scientists, economists, biotechnologists, academics etc. are flooding flights headed out to better climes. Many of them have no plans of returning home in any hurry. A certain disturbing pessimism that this place will bot get better any time soon pervades the attitude of many of these feeing youth. They are leaving because the place we all call home has degenerated into a hell hole of calamities devoid of opportunities or hope.
When highly skilled Nigerian manpower trained abroad cannot come home, it is an economic and developmental misfortune. The sheer foreign exchange cost of training our children abroad is indirectly passed on to the very developed nations as invisible subsidy or reverse development aid. Our national economy is denied the benefit of inputs by the best brains of the nation.
For our population size, it is only natural that a significant number of Nigerians would be found all over the world. Other nations have culturally identifiable diasporas in major world centres- Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, Pakistanis, Jewish – have become identifiable features of the global cultural and demographic landscape of major global population centres. It is hard to get into Houston Texas and fail to feel the cultural imprint of Nigeria. The freedom to emigrate, to find an alternative place of work and abode remains a right of people in a free world. But the almost involuntary exodus of persons from a country in response to dire economic and security pressures is something else.
What is going on in Nigeria is beyond normal voluntary migration of persons driven by the quest for exposure and opportunities. What we have on our hands is a mass migration of social and economic refugees, system dissidents and existential asylum seekers. These are people who would ordinarily remain in the country but for the dire circumstance in which we find ourselves. And there is no certainty that most of them will ever return to Nigeria even if our political and economic circumstances were to miraculously improve.
When a nation compels its youth to turn into rebels and disguised asylum seekers abroad, it creates a hostility of would have been patriots and therefore a permanent breeding ground for an opposition of angry citizens.