In defence of japa by Chinemelu Nwokike

By Chinemelu Nwokike

“You see, the truth is that if you have an opportunity to better yourself in any part of the world, there is nothing wrong with it. If you think migrating legally is good for you, all well and good. By all means, go! But you cannot now say that because people are leaving, then it is a sign that something is fundamentally wrong.” ~ Femi Adesina

Buhari’s spokesman who stated the above recently also added that “There are Nigerians who would never leave the country no matter how things are”. This is the truth, but then the last statement must be put in the proper context for a holistic appraisal of Femi’s point.

Of course, the Japa syndrome isn’t new but the Buhari administration has made it even more attractive with total misrule. There is no need to elaborate on this. The polity is dotted with pellucid evidence such that the so-called giant of Africa is now the poverty capital of the world.

As if that is not debilitating enough, the ruling party has presented a clearly incapacitated old man with questionable and unverifiable records as its candidate for the next presidential election. Is it then surprising that brain drain is once again a burning issue? It is normal for humans to migrate in a bid to get a grip on their future when they see little hope in their present location. If not for anything at least to access the basic amenities which have become a mirage in our country.

A Nigerian banker migrates to become a security man in the UK and so what?

A young lady swapped her teaching job in Nigeria for cleaning in Libya and some unfortunate trolls abused her.

I watched a video where the latter gave a lucid explanation of her decision and couldn’t fault her in any way. One hundred thousand naira equivalent in wages with add-ons like free wifi, breakfast etc against the paltry twenty-five thousand she earned back home will be better appreciated when you consider that millions of jobless youths will give an arm to be in her position.

Now read the story of Ada, a brilliant young lady I met in the UK back in 2011.

She had just graduated with a distinction in MSc Public Health from Bedfordshire. The UK had just scrapped the 2-year post-study work permit which was the major attraction for many migrant students. So she had few options and was about to leave. My efforts at persuading her to stay back by enrolling in another course while searching for a funded doctorate programme met a brick wall. She was as enthusiastic as she was optimistic about returning to contribute to the progress of our motherland. Perhaps her enthusiasm stemmed from the fact that Nigeria had successive graduates as presidents for the first time in her history.

Then I also shared such optimism and before then I could even describe myself as someone who was against migration, especially leaving Nigeria for developed nations. My rhetorical question in support of this position was “if the Americans didn’t stay back to develop their country will you be running to there?”. That was probably because I only travelled abroad for short business trips and 2-week vacations. However, living in Cardiff for a year exposed me to the full cycle of western societies. The ingenuity I saw was in productivity. The economy in much of the developed world is anchored on production and consumption..simple!

Today my ideology around migration is shaped by globalisation, so I believe in trying to have the best of both worlds with one foot at home and one abroad. And this was what I tried to persuade Ada to do. To plant a foot firmly in the UK first before returning to Nigeria. Well, she left for Lagos and for some time couldn’t get a job in her field of study even with a UK master’s degree. She eventually took up a job in customer service with one of the Telcos to keep things going. By the time she landed a job in the health sector she was married with kids and we know how it is with career progress for married women in Nigeria. (This is a topic for another day).

Fast forward to 2022 and whatever progress Ada made had been severely eroded by the economic woes of the Buhari administration. Things just continued getting ‘wesser’ to use the local parlance. In August 2022 she rang me up to assist her with a contact for skilled migration to the UK. By the time I was able to get one across to her she had already applied for a visa. The process was seamlessly straightforward for her. The UK was filling the labour gap in the sector with migrant workers, she has a sterling qualification from the country and had gained the requisite professional experience.

This is the case for many others like my brother who relocated back home in 2009 after 5 years in the UK. Armed with a master’s degree in Business and Public admin plus experience in the retail sector he was excited to be back home after securing a job in a portfolio management firm. The remuneration was good enough and an official car in addition to performance bonuses was supposed to bake the cake nicely.

It wasn’t to be. No official car was provided, the bonuses weren’t forthcoming and when they did come my brother was shortchanged. In less than 2 years the company was already struggling with insolvency. By the 3rd year, my bro packed his load and headed back to the UK where he has now made home.

It took 11 and 3 years for Nigeria to convince Ada and my brother that their future may lie elsewhere. As I write my brother has set up the Christmas tree in their cosy London apartment while Ada has secured visas for her family and is making final arrangements to leave. In our last chat, she said that they are selling almost everything they own. I encouraged her that relocation is a big project but that is well worth it and advised her not to dispose of their landed properties. I pray they get to spend Xmas in the UK so that they can use the holiday season to settle in.

Now back to Mr Femi Adesina’s last statement. Do those Nigerians who he claims “would never leave the country no matter how things are” have the means to migrate legally? Of course not. How many Nigerians own a passport? Those who desire to procure one cannot even do so given the problem of booklet shortage that has plagued the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). So we can see that the difficulty starts at the very beginning.

Nigeria will always be home and naturally, humans prefer to live with their relatives. However, with the rising poverty and insecurity, the number of productive citizens who are losing hope continues to surge. I mean most Nigerians just want a conducive environment to carry on their daily activities without fear. How difficult is it for the government to provide basic amenities and security? Someone once opined that if the western nations open their embassies to grant free and unconditional visas only criminals will remain in Nigeria. Of course, this person spoke figuratively but it captures the hopelessness that precipitates the desperate rush for greener pastures.

Yet, despite the loss of productive members to households and communities, opportunities are created and the overcrowded labour market is relieved with each departing countryman. The remittances that these migrants will make in the future can also boost the economy. So let us encourage those who want to japa to do so by all legitimate means while Femi and his die-hard friends should remain in Nigeria to continue with nation-building. After all, “ekelu olu eke” according to my friend. In Economic systems, it is called the division of labour.

Chinemelu Nwokike is a media consultant who writes on sociopolitical topics. He tweets @cmonionline

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