Nigerian youths and the ‘japa’ syndrome

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Migration is a constant; it is a wheel that keeps roving. Yes, it is in the nature of man to be peripatetic. People will always move from one place to another for job opportunities, education, health, security and for whatever corporeal or incorporeal desideratum. This is basic.

The first of wave of ‘’japa’’ (Nigerian slang for emigration) in Nigeria was in the ‘70s/’80s. Faced with an uncertain future owing to military interregnums and a volatile economy, the Nigerian young journeyed to the West — the US and UK — while some left on a limb to Ukraine. Over the years more Nigerians have departed the country in pursuit of their dreams abroad. Some of these Diaspora Nigerians have distinguished themselves in different human enterprises. And they constitute a financial bulwark for the country, reportedly remitting about $25 billion annually.

Emigration may even be beneficial to the home country in the long run if citizens return fortified with skills, experience and hard currency to invest and drive development. But to attract these human assets, the home country must be conducive and the government must be deliberate and visionary about its plans and policies for Nigerians in the Diaspora.

Nigerians have not been the only ones ‘’japaing’’, the Chinese have been leaving their country in stupendous numbers since the ‘80s. In fact, prior to the 1980s when liberal emigration policies were enacted, China had witnessed an exodus of its citizens in the 19th century. These emigrants left the country owing to poverty, corruption, war and general societal malaise. The government had to enforce laws to curb mass emigrations. But in the 1980s, it relaxed these laws in line with its vaunted but convoluted ‘’laisser-faire’’ approach to governance. Since the ‘80s more Chinese have left their country.

In a 2014 article, ‘The Great Chinese Exodus’, The Wall Street Journal reported the why and wherefores of the Chinese emigration. It said: ‘’Today, China’s borders are wide open. Almost anybody who wants a passport can get one. And Chinese nationals are leaving in vast waves: Last year, more than 100 million outbound travellers crossed the frontiers. Most are tourists who come home. But rapidly growing numbers are college students and the wealthy, and many of them stay away for good. A survey by the Shanghai research firm Hurun Report shows that 64% of China’s rich—defined as those with assets of more than $1.6 million—are either emigrating or planning to.’’

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If citizens of a global power and first-class country like China could be exiting in legions, should it be concerning that young citizens of Nigeria are taking precipitous flights out of the country? Well, it should unnerve us. It means we have not created a congenial environment to keep the live-wire of the country, and it implies that we may be doing something wrong.

About 8,737 doctors who obtained their degrees in Nigeria are currently practising in the UK. According to the UK General Medical Council, 862 Nigerian doctors were licensed to practise in the country in 2020; while between June 2021 and September 2021, 353 doctors were registered to practise in the UK.

This should trouble us all – in a country where the ratio of doctor per patient is 1:5,000 against the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 1:600. Nigerians who earned their degrees in Nigeria are being harvested by foreign countries. A few months ago, Saudi Arabia was conducting a screening exercise for Nigerian doctors it wanted to magic away in Lagos and Abuja. And we keep losing invaluable human resources.

While a mass of Nigerians (doctors, tech experts, academics, students) leaving the country constitutes a significant drain to the national talent pool, the other horde of citizens exiting are those frustrated by the afflictions of the system but largely unskilled. We should not in any way deride those seeking economic refuge abroad, but it is uncharitable to reduce Nigeria to a desert of opportunities — where personal growth and accomplishments are completely arid – as some are opining.

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The fecundity of a place most times depends on how willing we are to tend it. I strongly believe we can plant our seed anywhere, water and tend it, and watch it grow. Nigeria is not arid of opportunities.

Those making a spectacle of their emigration from Nigeria on social media as if the country is some infernal and desolate place only fit for miserable creatures, will realise soon enough that their identity as individuals abroad is intrinsically linked to Nigeria. Our first contact with the world outside our native sphere is as Nigerians; and we will always be seen, evaluated or judged as Nigerians.

Ridiculing Nigeria to make a point is self-immolation. We are all eternally connected to Nigeria, and whatever image we project of our country, we make of ourselves.

We can make treasures out of the exodus of Nigerian citizens by following the China example. China’s Diaspora contributed immensely in the rise of China as a global power – through capital investment, technology transfer, and innovation. It has even been argued that the Chinese Diaspora appropriated Western technology and transferred it back home. The Chinese government considers its citizens in Diaspora as an extension of China and as agents to drive its domestic interest. The government intervenes directly in the lives of its citizens abroad, even influencing projects in areas populated by Chinese.

It is not all lost. The Nigerian government can make lemonade out of these lemons – only if it wills it.

By Fredrick Nwabufo, ’Mr OneNigeria’
Twitter/Instagram/Facebook: @FredrickNwabufo

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