As mass emigration of Nigerian youths for greener pastures in foreign countries continues, with many older citizens also making moves to relocate abroad, CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes on the causes and consequences for the country as well as how to stem the tide.
Dissatisfaction with the state of the nation has continued to propel mass emigration of young Nigerians for greener pastures abroad with fear that the situation could further have dire consequences for the socio-economic wellbeing of the country.
The mass exit from Nigeria, tagged Japa, caused by high level of insecurity, unemployment, infrastructural deficit, hunger and failure of the various levels of government to provide opportunities for the youths to live their desired life and achieve their dreams, is becoming a social epidemic.
Though a risky adventure, as evidence has shown, many young and elderly Nigerians are bent on leaving the country in which they have lost hope of opportunities to realise their life ambitions.
In a viral video recently, a young Nigerian, who successfully travelled to Canada, laid face upward on the ground screaming on top of his voice in excitement that he had exited Nigeria and had found himself in an environment of freedom. He thanked God for successfully running away from hunger, killings and hardship allegedly under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Many people in Canada may not understand why he was very happy in the video, other Nigerians who are making similar move to run away from Nigeria told The Guardian that in Canada, a person could sleep on the street and be safe.
The unnamed young Nigerian who laid on the ground with his two legs and hands up in the video, screamed: “I have arrived oo. I’m delivered from Buhari. I’m delivered from Nigeria. Thank You God. Thank You Lord of Host for delivering me from slave trade.” He likened living in Nigeria to that of a slave.
Though not all Nigerians who travelled abroad are doing well financially, majority of young people seeking greener pastures in foreign countries believe that living in any other country of the world, including the war-torn Somalia and Ukraine, will be better than living Nigeria.
In most cases, they whip up sentiment to attract sympathy and favour from the government of their host countries by painting bleak pictures of Nigeria abroad. This happens especially when they seek asylum. Some of them describe Nigeria as a slave country and cemetery, where their parents, wives, sisters, daughters, husbands, brothers and sons are being slaughtered by terrorists and buried by the government.
To many of the youths and elderly ones embarking on this voyage, there are better opportunities in foreign prisons than moving freely in Nigeria without any means of livelihood.
The Guardian recalled that certain interventions were made by some Nigerians about three decades ago to stem the tide when a similar wave of mass emigration was sweeping across the country over dissatisfaction with the state of the nation. Popular Nigerian musicians, both gospel and secular singers, stormed the recording studios to communicate the situation to the government and discourage emigration, reassuring their fellow citizens that Nigeria would be great again.
For example, in the campaign against emigration then, “Nigeria go survive, African go survive, my people go survive ooo, Nigeria go survive” became the popular song by Veno Marioghae, which was released in 1986 with the title ‘Nigeria Go Survive.’ The song aimed to raise the hope of the hopeless and discourage the prevailing Japa, the slang now given to mass emigration. Unfortunately, today, 36 years after, the hope is still very glim as the expectations of a better Nigeria and improved livelihood, among others, are still a mirage while the country is facing worse challenges of senseless killings of innocent citizens, hunger, unemployment, lack of vibrant justice system, infrastructural deficits, brain drain among medical doctors, nurses and other professionals, and lack of political will to deal with the remote and immediate causes of the various crises in the country.
This prompted the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor to say that “Delay in the trial of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and others for terror-related crimes is undermining efforts at curtailing security threats in the country.”
The late gospel singer and leader of the Ozzidi band, Sonny Okosun released a poser, ‘Which Way Nigeria’, a song that is trying to decipher the direction in which Nigeria is going as everything seemed not to be working.
Involvement of elderly Nigerians in seeking resident visas abroad has painted a hopeless situation for the younger generations, who now engage in all manners of odd things to get out of the country, including the men marrying women of their mothers’ ages, while women embark on sex trafficking.
In 2018, according to Afrobarometer, one in every three Nigerians, considered emigration mostly to find economic opportunity. The Federal Government revealed that over 17 million Nigerian are currently living in various countries of the world, and about 36, 000 of them arrived Europe by sea, risking their lives.
The Federal Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), Sadiya Umar Farouq, made the revelation at the National Consultation on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration held in Lagos.
According to Farouq, many migrants who cross international boarders resort to irregular means of drifting through dangerous routes like long treks across deserts and crossing the sea that have resulted to countless deaths and missing persons.
In reference to a report, the commissioner said that in 2016 alone, 36,000 Nigerians, about 21 per cent of the total 171, 299 immigrants, arrived Europe by sea while in March 2017, there were 1, 899, 830 internally displaced persons in Nigeria due to insurgencies and environmental disasters and for the same reason, about 200, 346 Nigerians fled in 2016 alone and were granted refugee status in the neighbouring Cameroun, Chad and Niger.
In a similar context, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Enira Krdzalic affirmed that there has been increasing number of women arriving Italy for trafficking purposes. According to him, the number of women arriving in Italy increased from 433 in 2013 to 11, 009 in 2016. Over 70 per cent of Nigerian migrants that arrived Italy in 2016 were involved in trafficking and other exploitative activities between June and November 2016.
He called on the human rights authorities and other stakeholders to come together to discuss the issues associated with migration and offer concrete recommendations on strategies and mechanisms to harness the development potential of migration while minimising its consequences.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recorded that Nigeria is one of the three leading African sources of foreign-born physicians, noting that the doctors leave for a variety of reasons depending on where they are in their careers.
According to OECD, “many leave immediately after graduation to pursue international residency training and this category of doctors usually don’t return to the country as they prefer to work where their newly acquired skills can be put to better use.”
The organisation noted that the exodus of young doctors is fueled by their inability to secure a job or space for residency training. “There are those who leave five to 10 years after graduation for better pay, while others leave after specialist training, which can be up to 10 to 15 years after graduation to seek better prospects in other countries.”
A report by the British General Medical Council shows that 896 doctors of Nigerian nationality sat for the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test between September 2016 and June 2017.
The PLAB test is for doctors who have qualified overseas and wish to practise medicine in the United Kingdom (UK) under limited registration – there are two parts to the PLAB test.
“The nationalities most frequently recorded in 2016-2017 were, in order of frequency, Nigerian, Pakistani, Indian and British,” the report says, adding that 74.6 per cent of the Nigerians that sat for the exams passed.
Just recently, the British government launched a new work visa for fast-growing businesses to hire skilled workers from abroad. In a recent report, Nigerian Information Technology (IT) workers emigrated to the UK in droves, including Nigerian banks which witnessed exodus of their ICT workers and other professionals.
The communications sector and Fintech companies are most hit with dozens getting employed on regular basis by the UK firms. Many of them are quitting their jobs. It’s that bad that highly placed Nigerians with good jobs are leaving too for different reasons.
There’s a report that the scale-up visa is open to skilled workers in professions such as engineering, architecture, medicals and software development.
According to some information available, Brexit revamp of the UK immigration rules, applicants do not need a degree, but must have a job offer with a salary of at least £33,000 ($39,000) a year and higher for some occupations.
The scheme, promised by former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, in last year’s budget statement, grants two years of residency rights in Britain, which can be extended for a further three.
It was gathered that applicants must be sponsored by a rapidly-growing company, defined by three years of 20 per cent growth in either employment or turnover, and will be allowed to bring a partner and children with them to the UK.
Clarifying this, a Home Office Minister, Mr. Kevin Foster, was reported to have said the visa would give more freedom to businesses to bring in skilled workers, even as labour shortages lead to complaints about post-Brexit restrictions.
“By supporting our high growth tech, financial services and small businesses, we are ensuring the UK remains a global hub for emerging technologies and innovation.”
More so, the Head of the Scale-Up Institute, a private sector, non-profit organisation that promoted the introduction of the visa, Rene Graham, said it should help address Britain’s demand for skills.
“The new visa should provide a much-needed fast-track service to enable local growth companies to access the talent they need more quickly,” she said. According to a Nigerian Research Fellow, Dr. Egbuta Ben, migrants are attracted to sources of wealth as a moth is to light and Europe is the foremost part of the industrialised world, well endowed, and better governed, and the reason Europe is the destination of many migrants.
“It’s its fabled wealth that many migrants are irresistibly drawn to, yet Europe is a fortress which only the rich and powerful could easily access. In spite of its insurmountable odds, Nigerian migrants, many of them deluded by the grandiose wealth to be attained, stake everything, their patrimony and even life to attain it,” he said.
The Guardian learnt that many forged travel documents to actualise their quest to live in other countries. Others stow away in ships under turbulent seas to reach their destination-Europe, while a lot more defy the Sahara Desert to cross the perilous Mediterranean Sea Islands of Lampedusa and Spanish Canary Islands to embrace the cherished El Dorado more often in vain.
It was also learnt that the migrants, in their attempt to get around this fortress Europe, in some cases, lose their lives. Between January and early July 2014, over 500 migrants were drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on boats off the Italian coast, The Guardian learnt. Buried land mines and security operatives killed many others who tried to enter the country of their choices illegally via land border.
Also, it was gathered that foreign embassies in Nigeria, especially the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Saudi Arabia, continually receive verification requests from skilled Nigerians, including medical doctors, nurses, engineers and artisans who are leaving for better opportunities.
Recently, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, while speaking with leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to intimate them of his presidential ambition, said Nigerians were migrating abroad because the country was not working.
“Our economy is in a shambles. Insecurity is ravaging the country, things have never been this bad.
“The general summation of the situation of the country is that we are inching towards a failed state. I’m not saying that Nigeria is already a failed state, but we are inching towards that. Therefore, it is our responsibility to collectively work together towards rescuing our country, retrieving it from the All Progressives Congress (APC) before the deed is done,” Tambuwal said.
Bank customers across the country in recent times have complained about poor services by lenders, especially with regard to tech application delays and outright failure. Funds transfer among customers in some cases now takes an upward of two weeks to either drop in the receiver’s account or reverse to the sender.
Besides, information is rife that most of the banks in Nigeria are now working round the clock to manage internal tech problems that have suddenly hit them due to mass resignation of their tech experts who are travelling out of the country for greener pastures.
Despite the current wave of managing the crisis, the fear of succession has also gripped some of the establishments, as the old hands are likely to end up not having anyone to take over from them. Fears that the quality of service provided by the banks in the country might get worse in the coming years are growing, findings have shown.
Indeed, industry sources believe that banks would be hit by a great wave of resignations in this last quarter of the year as a number of their employees are booked to obtain their visas towards the end of the year.
At the post-Bankers’ Committee meeting press briefing held in April, the Chief Executive Officer of Sterling Bank Plc., Abubakar Suleiman, told reporters that exodus of tech talents had hit the industry.
“So many of our very experienced talents, especially in the area of software engineering, are either leaving the industry or leaving the country,” he said.
Suleiman stated that the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), the umbrella professional body for lenders in the country, would “drive the process of training more skills in the area where we see deficits.” The bank CEOs at the meeting discussed plans to fund training for new tech-focused staffers to replace those who have left.
Dr. Oluwole Oje noted that migration has become a top-of-mind and highly politicised issue in the country as the government pays more attention to 2023 elections than addressing the issue. “In a context of high poverty and unemployment in developing countries and demand for skilled young workers in many developed economies, global streams of people are likely to continue,” he said.
According to Oje, emigration can have both positive and negative consequences for both origin and destination countries.
“In destination countries, emigration may fill gaps in skilled and unskilled labour. In origin countries, family and friends receive remittances, which help the economy through increased spending. On the other hand, ‘brain drain’ hurts emerging economies as the best young minds seek education and employment abroad,” he explained.
Charles Okolie, in his mid-40s, said he was set to join the league of Nigerians leaving for greener pastures abroad. The only reason he is still in Nigeria is his wife, who is in a nursing school.
“We have started making some moves towards travelling. My wife will be graduating by December. Once we get her licence, she will practise for like a year to have experience in the country, we will take off. Our destination is Canada.
“Many people who traveled out of this country that I know are doing well and building houses in their villages. Some of my friends who have traveled would call and ask why I have decided to waste my life in Nigeria. You can’t compare life in Nigeria and abroad. They are two parallel lines that can’t meet. “A domestic servant in the US is richer than a professor in Nigeria. I will rather serve jail terms in the US than stay in Nigeria and die of hunger or get killed by criminals. Very soon, bandits will force everybody out of this country to become refugees in foreign land. The hope in Nigeria is getting darker every day yet the government is treating it with kid’s gloves.”
Bovi Ewekhare’s travelling documents are being processed and would be leaving the country immediately the papers are already. Though he doesn’t have any person in Poland, where he plans to go, he believes he would find his way to his destination.
Ewekhare is the eldest of three siblings, and he takes care of the other two since their father died. He believes that to train and take care of his siblings properly, he needs to jet out of the country and bring along his younger ones and his widowed mother later when he settles down.
“With the death of my father, I have a lot of responsibilities to shoulder. My father left my mother and children behind and there is no one that can do this for me except I do it myself. I’m not happy to leave my mother and younger ones behind, but this is the only option left for me,” he said.
A couple with three children, Mr. and Mrs. Chibuike, a clearing agent at Apapa Wharf and a pre-school teacher in Oshodi, are currently in Abuja processing travelling documents for their family. They hope to travel to United States in search of better life. A family friend is inviting them after seeing what they go through in Nigeria.
Mrs. Chibuike has been a teacher in a private school in Oshodi and hasn’t made any serious progress in the job. She has about three students in the lessons class she organised to complement her monthly income.
On the mass emigration of doctors, Dr. Abdulquadri Idrisu said: “Nigeria has a system that is not working, but abroad there is already a system that works, that would propel doctors to do their job with passion and be ready to sacrifice their lives to save a patient.
“The more people that leave Nigeria, the more the system suffers here. We are still around because there is no means yet, no doctor would want to remain in Nigeria if he has the resources to go abroad.”
According to statistics, with Nigeria’s population at about 200 million people, the ratio of doctor per patient remains one doctor per 5, 000 patients against the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of one doctor per 600 patients. This puts the health of the populace at risk as health indicators may continue to decline and get worse with the mass emigration of health professionals.
Also, a former ambassador to Pakistan, Dauda Danladi, described brain drain as a major challenge facing Nigeria. “ Nigeria ha been losing its best brains to different parts of the world, leading to a dramatic reduction in the number of professionals, including medical doctors.”
But the Director of Operations at National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Mr. Daniel Atokolo disclosed that the situation in the countries to which Nigerians are rushing is not palatable, blaming the development on multifaceted factors.
To discourage mass exit of Nigerians from the country, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) recently barred over 20 citizens from travelling overseas due to poor and unconvincing documentation about their destination.
The travelers were stopped from travelling recently through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. It was learnt that most of them failed to give tangible reasons for wanting to travel out of the country and could not give details of their travels.
To stem the tide of emigration, a lawyer and Public Notary, Mr. Lawrence Ndukwe said the government needed to reassure the youths, create jobs and build infrastructures comparable to those abroad.
“The government needs to seriously tackle insecurity in the country because people relocate because of insecurity. Even ex-governors and other politicians are on the run. Almost all the politicians have their first home abroad and use Nigeria as tent.
“The proprietress of my child’s school lives abroad because of paucity of good medical care centres in the country. She needs to live in a country that would help her manage her old and fragile health. So, we need a government that genuinely wants to salvage this country, else Nigeria would continue to experience mass emigration of young and old citizens with negative consequences for the country,” he added.