Season of mass migration

•Why ‘Japa’ is the new normal for ‘checking out’

In this report, FUNMILAYO AREMU examines why Nigerians have been leaving the country in droves and the implication of this action for the nation.

Chidi (not real name), clutched an envelope and made his way to the Human Resource Manager’s office. He had been postponing the inevitable but had finally summoned up the courage to submit his letter of resignation.

On getting to the office, he greeted the manager, handed him the letter and explained that he was leaving the company for good as he had got a better offer in the United Kingdom. On hearing this, the manager burst into laughter and motioned Chidi to come around and have a look at the document opened on his laptop.

To Chidi’s surprise, the manager was also composing his resignation letter because he had received a job offer with one of the largest software companies in the UK. Chidi and the manager then exchanged knowing glances before bursting into laughter again.

This is just one of countless stories about Nigerians fleeing the nation. It has recently been discovered that many Nigerians have left the country in quest of better prospects and a better life. Many banks have also reportedly lost important tech professionals. Countries like Canada, United States, United Kingdom, and Australia have become relocation hotspots. According to reports, Nigeria has lost numerous specialists to these nations in the health, banking, technology, agricultural, and education sectors.

It has also been discovered that the youth, in particular, have invented a term for the act of fleeing the country. ‘Japa,’ as they call it, appears to be the new Nigerian dream.  Sunday Tribune spoke with some travel experts to find out how much of ‘Japa’ is going on.

Speaking with Sunday Tribune  on the extent and implcations of “japa” going in the country, a travels expert, Mr Adefolarin Adesemowo, described the rate at which people are leaving the country as worrisome. According to him, “The number of persons leaving the country has increased in comparison to last year. If I sold roughly 10 one-way tickets at this time last year, it would have increased by 300 times. Assuming we got 50 last year, we are now doing 10 times as many. Last week, I was concerned about this. It is disturbing if our organisation alone has sold that many one-way tickets, considering Nigeria’s numerous travel agencies.”

Adesemowo, CEO of Maple Travels, disclosed that a large number of bank workers are leaving. He said:

“In a bank, they discovered that the members of staff that are leaving are from a specific unit. People are fleeing. About eight persons left (in a bank). So the bank advised that if anyone else is leaving soon, let them know so that they can prepare resources, but no one responded. They then went to the portal, formed a portal, and discovered how many individuals were queuing to pay school fees; they discovered 130 staff members queueing to pay school fees, including those sending emails to try to schedule the resources. That’s it. Everyone’s leaving,” he quipped resignedly.

Mr Mustapha Illa, CEO of The Travel Place, Abuja, who also spoke with Sunday Tribune asserted that it is not the youth alone who are leaving the country; families are emigrating. He added that many people are using education, which is easier because the visa permits them, to move their families abroad.

“The truth is that it is not just youngsters who are relocating; families are also relocating, and the simplest route is the educational road. Especially in the United Kingdom and Canada, where you can bring your family. So, you will see a lot of people asking for study visas, and the truth is that people in their 40s are applying for Master’s degrees or PhDs and then bringing their entire family with them,” he explained.

He also said that in the previous two months, he has attended to over 40 families who are relocating through the study path and subsequently becoming residents of the countries they visit.

“Through me, I know hundreds of people who left the nation; a majority of them left to study. There are hundreds of travel agencies in the country, as well as those who are not agents but help travellers. So, in the last two months, I’ve seen over 40 families travelling through the study route. The majority of them leave the nation to study and eventually leave permanently.

“For UK and Canada, they easily get job opportunities after completing their degrees. If they can get a job, they automatically get two years of work visa. That is one of the most enticing factors that is pushing a lot of people to apply. So, after the degree and you are lucky to get a job and have residence of five years, you can qualify to become a citizen in the UK,” he said.

When asked about the demography of people leaving the country, Mr Adesemowo noted that most of the people leaving the country are between the ages of 25 and 45. He also disclosed that most of them leave for educational purposes, thereby corroborating MrIlla’s claim.

“Most of them are going for their Master’s or tier two programme. It is a short-term escape plan because when you take the study visa, after your programme, they give you two years post-study; after that, if you don’t have a company that will sponsor you, you will be forced to return to Nigeria.

“Fortunately for them, most of these countries have introduced various post-study measures. Australia has introduced six years and UK, two years for international students. Canada has one year. So, they are fortunate; when they finish their studies, they go for the extension,” he said.


Nigeria’s state of anomie

Buy why are Nigerians leaving their country in droves? Why are most of them so eager to bid their land of birth bye without a pang of remorse?

Ada (not real name), a PhD student in the United States, speaking on why she left the country said it had always been her intention to leave one day. According to her: “Leaving Nigeria has always been a thing I looked forward to. I tried all my best to make sure it was possible. The country is very difficult to live in; a lot of people are hungry. Those who are not hungry fear for their lives; people can’t travel in peace, kidnapping here and there, no electricity and all other things.

“I didn’t want to continue living in constant fear for my life and that of my family. That is why I decided to apply for a scholarship programme and for the past two years that I have left Nigeria, I have never regretted my decision.

“The decision to leave was not only for myself but for the future of my children. I did not want to raise them in a country where they would not feel safe. I believe I made this decision to secure their future,” she said.

For MrOlaideRasaq, a student in Europe, leaving the country was for the sole purpose of getting a better education. He said: “I needed to further my education. I did not leave because I was angry about the things happening in the country. I wasn’t looking for greener pastures when I left. However, my decision to leave the country was because I needed to get better education concerning my research interest and career aspirations. So, I left the country to further my education because as of the time I was to leave the country, there was no thorough research in my area of specialisation and it would not be wise for me to stay back where I cannot achieve my aspirations.

“I graduated from the university as an Animal Scientist, majoring in Animal Nutrition. After my service year, I worked with an international livestock research institute as a volunteer graduate research assistant. I worked with animals, but after a while, I got a job with a poultry breeding company and I worked as a farm supervisor for about six months. I was working in the agricultural sector.”

He added further that in his opinion, a majority of the youths leaving the country are doing so for academic purposes and only about 10 to 20 per cent of them are leaving because they got better job offers in the technology industry, especially in Europe, UK and US, which, according to him, have become destinations for students owing to the availability of funding to carry out research and for higher education.

“In my opinion, many of the youths leaving the country are doing so for academic purposes. About 10 to 20 per cent of them are those that are going into tech. The US has a lot of funding for students who are coming in to do agricultural research, science, tech, and every aspect of science,” he stated.

Mr Adesemowo, on his part, expressed worry over the desperation of some Nigerians trying to leave at all costs. He, however, identified joblessness, the bad economy and untold hardship in the country as some of the reasons people keep relocating.

For Dr Olugbemisola Samuel, a demography and social statistics expert, currently working as a researcher at Maryland Global Initiative Corporation, Abuja, (an affiliate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA), marriage is a very strong factor that is causing some people to emigrate while confirmimg that insecurity, poor economy, higher education and greener pastures have indeed forced many other people to leave the country.

“Internal insecurity issues accompanied by worsening socio-economic situations such as the persistent rate of unemployment in the country can push Nigerians to embark on forceful relocation, either legally or illegally,” she explicated, adding that “the worrisome part of this story is that the sudden wave is pushing a vital section of the age structure of the nation elsewhere. This impact might not be felt now, but if the irregular pattern or surge in movement is not curtailed, the ripple effect in the future might not be pleasant,” she warned.

Another population expert, Dr Fasina Fagbeminiyi, a senior lecturer at the Department of Demography and Social Statistics, Covenant University, Otta, Ogun State, told Sunday Tribune that the migration of Nigerians is caused by some push and pull factors. He explained that the high rate of unemployment, rural poverty, unstable livelihood, conflict and insecurity are some of the push factors that make people leave the country, while the destination where these people migrate to has pull factors, one of which is the availability of jobs which is lacking in Nigeria. Others, he said, are looking for better income and prospects for wealth creation.


Can Nigeria afford the cost of ‘Japa’?

Dr Olutoki Stephen, Registrar, Institute of Economists of Nigeria, Ibadan, speaking on the possible effects of the migration of Nigerians, particularly the youths on the growth of the nation, believes the implication is in four phases: loss of skilled hands, increase in crime rate, decrease in tax and revenue, and low circulation of currencies.

An economy that is exporting skillful hands, according to him, stands to lose a lot because only low skilled people would be left behind to do all manner of jobs in the industries, as well as the service, manufacturing and utility sectors.

“In healthcare delivery, when skilled hands and professionals are leaving Nigeria, it means that a lot of people are now prone to death because professionals who are supposed to take charge of the health sector are no longer there.

“Another effect will be the increase in crime rate; experts that use sophisticated and modern devices to track down local criminals have left. To track down criminal activities are no longer there.

“In the areas of taxation and revenue, it is when workers are paid that there will be enough tax and revenue. We are talking about an ideal economy where taxes are paid to drive the economy. There will be a decrease in tax and revenue. Take a look at the banks, for instance, we have heard that a lot of tech experts have left the banking sector. When professionals are leaving, it means the economy is crumbling.

“Now, a lot of people are not being paid; people are leaving. When people are not working, they are not paid meaning that money is not trickling to people at the lowest end. The landlords, the fruit seller, the cobbler, etc, nobody will patronise these people; so the local economy will run down. People who are salary earners are leaving. The local economy will go into the doldrums.

“In the long run, we are going to suffer for it. Individuals, families, the state; that is the nation itself. It might look like a joke now, but the impact of these things will be felt in the long run. Rome was not built in a day. To produce a qualified medical doctor is not a day’s work. So, when they leave us for another economy, we will now start afresh. This is our challenge in Nigeria today,” he stated.

Speaking further on the effects of mass migration, Dr Fagbeminiyi noted that both the region and the destination countries will experience social and economic changes, adding that: “It will affect their political, social and economic issues. It will be of great impact on the economic growth and development of both countries.

“Cultural implications and values will be added to the destination country. But it will be a greater loss for the country they exited. There will be employment issues, and this will be an advantage at one point and otherwise at another point.

“There is the issue of brain drain, taking the best hands and the best brains out of the country. Many people are leaving to seek better jobs. Our doctors are leaving; it is posing a great problem to us in this country but a plus for the country they are going to. This will affect our workforce greatly, in terms of better hands. It will cause great damage to our economic growth as a nation.”


Drain of FOREX

According to Dr Samuel, the mass migration of Nigerians has partly contributed to the increase in the Naira-dollar exchange rate, because, according to her, currencies that could have been utilised locally are being taken abroad.

On the effect of this on the population, Dr Samuel posited that “the youth populations are the strength and one of the invaluable assets of Nigeria and if more of them including the working-class population continue to leave the country, a certain sector might suffer from it and the impact differs depending on the number leaving per time. Another wave of migration is that persons who were originally done with university/higher education (including postgraduate education) but faced with unfavourable economic conditions have been forced to apply for undergraduate studies abroad,” she stated.


Arresting the ‘Japa’ Syndrome

On what could be done to mitigate the effect of mass migration, Dr Stephen believes that the solution lies with government. He advised that government should make sure necessary infrastructure are provided.

“To address this hullabaloo, the solution is not in anybody’s hands but the government. The government must make sure basic things are provided, in economics, we say the production of capital itself needs capital. If you want to produce a machine, you need intellectual know-how to produce a machine. We need the technical know-how; that is the first capital.

“Capital is not just money; you need people that will put one or two things down to invent things. So, we need the know-how. Schools have been under lock and key, so how are we going to sustain the know-how and produce more? The ones that have been produced by the country’s resources over the years have left the country. The government must realise now, that the greatest need now, is to produce human capital resources. The buck stops on the table of the government,” he submitted.

For Dr Fagbeminiyi, an enabling environment should be created; an environment where there is political stability, job creation, and security so that people will stay back in their country.

He added that “There is a lot to mention. Look at our roads, rural areas, and electricity, all of these bring about unsustainable livelihood. The government should try and develop our rural areas, we should improve our agriculture, and we should not be so dependent on oil.

“The way I see it now, Migration is overtaking facility which happens to be the main driver of population growth in any economy of the world. Many people are leaving. The educated ones are leaving!”

When asked if the mass migration issues would end soon, Mr Adesemowo opined that it will only reduce when things get better in the country.

“Unless things get better, this means we have to get a new leader and that will be after the elections, if we get it right. We just need better leadership; a government that knows what they are doing, a government that is interested in the welfare of the masses. It will only end if things get better in the country. The question is: will it get better anytime soon?” he stated.

According to Dr Samuel, the way forward will be for the government to “create employment at all levels; blue collar, white collar, skilled and unskilled jobs.” She also added that the education sector must be revived with more funding and investment.

On the health sector, she advised that the government should “make it more attractive such that doctors are willing to stay and give back to their nation. She further recommended that “the government must demonstrate that they can protect the lives and properties of Nigerians. This will not only help to build trust in the government but will also be a good way to attract investors as a nation.”

Sunday Tribune went on to find out if students that have left the country are willing to come back to the country. Mr Rasaq said he would love to come back to Nigeria on the condition that the government makes education a priority.

“Coming back to Nigeria is something I would love to do; however, my coming back to Nigeria is premised on this thing. If the government does not take education seriously and does not commit a good quarter of its annual budget to research and funding, I will not want to come back,” he said.

He, however, stated that if he came back, it will be to take advantage of the opportunities that Nigerians have turned a blind eye to.

“If I have to, probably I am coming back to milk Nigeria. Because Nigeria is a wealthy place, I will probably start up a firm, start a research business and make money from resources and opportunities that we are not tapping from. So, this is the same mindset a good number of Nigerians outside the country have. They don’t want to come back,” he said.


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