Forced migration and its concomitant enslavement of the African was a blight on the world’s collective conscience between the 1500s and 1800s. It is paradoxical that the ships of the slave masters were filled with unwilling and forced migrants, brutally repressed and tortured to keep them on board, yet some would rather drown than move away from their motherland and a place they consider as home.
A friend once told me that if US or UK berths a ship on the shores of Nigeria today and asks young people if they want to leave Nigeria and migrate to their countries on the said ship, the number of people who will voluntarily go on board the ship will sink it. The struggles, fights, and shovelling that will be seen will make “Wrestlemania” look like a child’s play.
As sad as this assumption is, statistics back its fundamental realities. A recent PEW research survey reveals that about 45 per cent of Nigeria’s adult population plans to relocate to another country within five years.
Of the 12 countries surveyed from five different continents, Nigerians ranked highest among people who desperately want to relocate to some other countries. In another study in 2021, it was revealed that seven in every 10 Nigerians planned to relocate if the opportunity presents itself.
According to the UK immigration report released last Thursday, Nigeria is second only to Indians in the number of visas granted for the ‘Skilled Worker – Health & Care’ category with 14 percent (13,609) of the total. Recent official data from Canadian immigration sources indicate that 12,595 Nigerians relocated to Canada in 2019 alone.
Applications for permanent residency by Nigerians in Canada in 2015 were 4,000. By 2019, the number had climbed to 15,595, an increase of over 214.9 per cent. The recent wave of Nigerians relocating out of the country represents the largest movement of people out of the country since the end of the civil war, over 50 years ago.
What is significant is the profile of those who are relocating. They are primarily skilled youth, including doctors, nurses, IT engineers, university lecturers and technicians. They also include young people who completed their studies abroad and opted to stay back because our country has nothing to offer them regarding jobs, opportunities, or even basic safety. Some of them have been educated in elite universities at home and abroad. This demographic is more debilitating for our national development prospects.
The primary strategic concern of our increasing demographic haemorrhage 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 whiz kids, medical scientists, 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 not get better any time soon pervades the attitude of many of these fleeing youth. They are leaving because the place we call home has degenerated into a hell hole of calamities,devoid of opportunities or hope.
Five major factors seem to be fuelling this voluntary migration from Nigeria, which has never occurred post-World War 11. These factors include the desire for better career opportunities, heightened insecurity in the country, the desire to provide a better future for one’s children, the need for further education, and poor governance in the country.
If Nigeria’s socio-political and economic climate remains averse and strangulating, young people, even middle-career parents, will abandon Nigeria and relocate at the slightest opportunity. This trend is not likely to end soon. Tragically, the areas worst hit by the current wave of migrations are the most strategic for our nation.
The Nigerian government appears unperturbed by the outbound migration of its professionals and young people. The number of passports issued by the Nigeria Immigration Service rose by 38 per cent between 2020 and 2021. This increased from 767,164 to 1,059,607 passports issued in 2020 and 2021, respectively. This is an indication that more people are planning to move out of the country.
Government, in terms of policies and actions, is not putting anything on the ground to stem this tide. It seems that government has an alternative view of this mass migration. Government seems to be toeing the view that as a large country with a population of over 200 million people, it is a good thing to export its skilled labour.
About 50,000 people leaving a country of 200 million people annually should not be a red flag. Those left behind are more than the few who will make it out. However, it is this migrating group that ought to bother the government more. Some argue that the next generation’s exodus will help increase diaspora remittances, which lately has been the booster to the national dollar reserve.
Diaspora remittances reported by the CBN currently hover between $25bn and $30bn annually and still rising. The country can earn close to $100bn annually if it harnesses the remitting potential of its various diasporas. The labour minister, Chris Ngige, affirmed this view when he told journalists last year that the country was exporting its best minds because it had a surplus of talents and, in any case, “when they go abroad, they earn money and send it back home here.”
India, a country facing a similar situation, has created a robust policy and institutional framework to reverse this trend which portends danger for the country’s future socio-economic development. Among the steps taken include but are not limited to creating employment, attracting international companies to site industries in India, and creating awareness of the inevitable growth of India as a global economic powerhouse soon.
The hope of a better Nigeria is a recipe for keeping young professionals from migrating, and this underscores the importance of the 2023 general election. The new breed of leaders that will emerge must inspire hope in the future of Nigeria.
The long term solution to the Japa syndrome is multi-prong. It requires a fundamental renewal of the educational system at the tertiary level. It needs a shift of emphasis from certificate education to entrepreneurship education. We need at least eight years of uninterrupted inflow of foreign direct investment to create an average of three million to five million jobs per annum.
Above all, it requires an onslaught on insecurity to enable internal migration of the factors of production, especially labour and capital from one section of the country to others. Deliberate steps must be taken to improve quality of social services in the short and medium term.
Taken together, these measures will help reverse long term mass migration from the country by creating a conducive environment for citizens to pursue and realise their potentials. They will also enable a year-on-year gradual reversal through rights of return and homeward movements.