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Japa: Nigeria 63 Years On

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It has been 63 years since Nigeria was granted independence from the colonial rule of Great Britain. Nigeria has since then experienced a plethora of political, social, and economic issues which continues to threaten the stability and integrity of the nation and the lives of those within it. With little to no prospect of a brighter future, many Nigerians are starting to leave the country in unprecedented numbers than ever before.


‘Japa’ is a Yoruba colloquialism that translates to ‘run away’, or ‘to leave abruptly’. The usage of this term has now become entrenched with the strong desire amongst Nigerians to emigrate in pursuit of a better life, for which some have now coined as the‘Japa syndrome.’ Despite what appears to be a sudden wave of ‘japa’ amongst Nigerians, this phenomenon isn’t new, but the increase in emigration both through legal and illegal avenues has been attributed to the systematic failings within Nigeria and duplicitous leadership which continues to infests the country.

Japa at it's Peak
Japa at it’s Peak


Nigerians, particularly the younger generation, are progressively losing faith in the prospect of a better Nigeria. A recent report by the Africa Polling Institute underscored this sentiment, revealing that 7 out of 10 Nigerians are inclined to leave their homeland if given the opportunity. This growing disillusionment is mirrored in the significant surge of skilled work and study visas granted by the UK Home Office to Nigerians, with numbers escalating from 19,000 to 59,000 between 2019 and 2021. However, despite the clear indication of dissatisfaction from Nigerians regarding the state of their
livelihood and the nation that they call home, some responses to the ‘japa’ phenomenon have sought to label citizens who desire to leave as impatient and discontented as they are deemed to be suffering from the “grass is greener syndrome”. However, at best, such comments are not only reductionist but are disingenuous, as it deflects accountability away from Nigerian leadership, which consistently subjects citizens to a perpetual cycle of poor governance and corruption.


Equally, it’s not uncommon to hear patriotic individuals express skepticism about the popularity of the “japa” trend, asserting that poverty exists in Western nations like the United Kingdom and that there are also opportunities in Nigeria for those who are not ‘lazy’ and are actually willing to ‘work’ towards success in their homeland. However, such statements seem to be an effort to divert attention away from the systemic shortcomings in Nigeria’s governance, for example as of 2022 the unemployment rate in Nigeria currently stands at 33%, with 40% of citizens living below the poverty line, in comparison to the unemployment rate of the United Kingdom which sits at 3.6%. Undeniably, poverty is not exclusive to Nigeria, and issues regarding poverty remain a worldwide issue, but it is important not to draw a veil over the fact that there are significant discrepancies between the rates of poverty and the standard of living in Nigeria compared to other nations. This then begs the question, as to whether the Nigerian government are operating within the best interest of the people-but with a rank of 154 out of 180 in the Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, it’s plausible to conclude that they are not.


The challenges of security and social concerns have significantly contributed to the growing frustration among Nigerians. The persistent insecurity across the nation hampers efforts towards achieving stability. For well over a decade, Nigeria has grappled with terrorism emanating from extremist groups in the North-Eastern region. Alongside this, the escalating clashes and violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers have perpetuated a considerable security burden, intensifying the already existing cultural and ethnic tensions within the country.


Corruption plays a pivotal role in exacerbating the struggle to curb threats to national security. The Nigerian security forces have been implicated in numerous instances of human rights violations, extrajudicial deaths, and unlawful detentions. A stark example of this transpired during the 2020 EndsSARS protest, where the Lekki toll gate became a site of unlawful killings of protesters. Despite widespread evidence, the Nigerian government and military, to date, deny any fatalities occurred.

 

More recently, the newly elected president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has become a deeply polarising and contentious figure in Nigerian politics. His presidency has sparked intense debate and scrutiny, with doubts surrounding its legitimacy stemming from concerns about his questionable background, alleged involvement in corrupt practices, and the perception of him as a political godfather. These issues collectively cast a shadow over the state of democracy in Nigeria, raising significant questions and challenges for the nation’s democratic principles.


These incidents have fuelled a pervasive sense of distrust within the system. With such alarming threats looming over the lives of Nigerians everyday, it becomes evident why a significant number of them feel compelled to leave for seemingly greener pastures.


The fact remains that Nigeria has failed to create a country that is hospitable for its people. Contrary to arguments suggesting that those who choose to leave lack patriotism, Nigeria has not succeeded in creating a nation that can genuinely garner patriotic allegiance. Amidst the cries that the ongoing mass emigration is depleting the nation of its skilled individuals, who are envisioned as the architects of national progress and therefore are supposed to ‘build” the country, it becomes imperative for Nigerians to start challenging and reforming the existing system; rather than seeking to blame those opting for better prospects elsewhere. In a nation where a multitude of regressive policies hinders the prospects of success for the everyday citizen and impedes on the growth of businesses, particularly start-ups, the call for unwavering patriotism appears to lose its rationality. The challenging economic conditions, coupled with the absence of fundamental infrastructure, adequate healthcare, and the lack of enforcement of human rights, serve as substantial deterrents for individuals aspiring to make Nigeria their home and contribute to its advancement. This discouragement holds true not only for those currently in the country, but also for members of the diaspora hoping to return to their homeland. Nevertheless, the prospects of returning becomes unattractive when faced with the reality of a nation operating incoherently and failing to provide the basic amenities that are readily available to them abroad.


The question of whether moving abroad will offer better opportunities and increased chances of success for Nigerian citizens, simply serves as a diversion from the ingrained systemic shortcomings that ought to be the focal point in conversations about the lives of Nigerians. It is essential to channel collective energy into addressing these issues. By identifying and rectifying the structural impediments that obstruct success and opportunities within Nigeria, the nation can create an environment where its citizens and residents can thrive, ultimately contributing to a brighter future for all.


For Nigeria to grow and inspire the level of patriotism it aspires to receive from its citizens, the nation must begin to serve its citizens, even if that does mean starting 63 years later.

 

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