• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Japa syndrome: Nigerians in new wave of voluntary slavery

Economic struggles and hope: ‘Sapa’ from ‘Japa’ Phenomenon

Gathering around the Point-Of-No-Return monument for pictures, some young adults on private bonding event at the Badagry beach in Lagos were excited at the beautiful images their camera created with the monument’s background.

Woah! Gush! They screamed.

Yet, Charles Ituni, an undergraduate of Babcock University, who was on picnic with his Church’s youth group, did not see any reason to use the monument as background for his picture.

“Do you know that this place is cursed? It was the door through which our people were sold into slavery decades ago,” he decried to some listening ears close by.

But his listeners interjected quickly. “What curse? If the slave ship returns now, I will join it,” one said.

“I too,” another said.

“No job for us, no fuel, no security, no money and no wife to marry- a jobless guy. The only option is to leave the country like Tunde, Chris, Bidemi, and even Jonas that used to squat in my room is now in Canada,” the most frustrated of his listeners voiced out.

Sadly, those seemingly frustrated voices are reflecting the reality in today’s Nigeria.

If there is a replay of the slave trade saga today, many Nigerians, both young and old, would be willing to sail on the slave merchant ship, as long as it takes them out of the sufferings and near hopeless situations in the country.

The above is the basis for the ‘japa’ syndrome, which has ushered in an exodus of Nigerians abroad like never before.

The situation is getting out of hand now as there is hardly anyone in Nigeria who does not have a friend, colleague, associate or family member that has relocated abroad in line with the trending and sustained ‘japa’ wave.

Read also: Exodus of the next generation; time to be concerned .

According to a 2022 survey by the Africa Polling Institute, a staggering 69 percent of Nigerians would relocate out of the country with their families if given the chance. Almost 80 percent will leave this 2023, while only 39 percent were willing to emigrate in 2019, according to the same poll.

In reality, everybody who has the means and even those you least expect, are leaving the country.

Many are selling off their properties, others emptying their life savings and more going through cheaper routes as holding bay to leave the country at all means.

As expected, embassies in Nigeria, especially the UK, US and Canada are daily being besieged by Nigerians seeking visas to leave. But that has created huge business opportunities for passport offices, visa racketeering, travel agents, overseas job agents, among others.

The intrigue for Marcel Itodo, an immigration officer, is that ‘japa’ is for everybody as some senior officers have relocated their families abroad and hoping to finally join them after their official or voluntary retirement.

“We all know the situations we are in. If our immediate past president sees no reason to remain in the country after handing over power, why will you see hope where there is none,” Itodo said.

According to him, the number of passports issued, and the number of Nigerians that leave the country every day, are under-reported.

“People, families, elite and even foreigners are leaving. The rich are leaving more than others because they can afford the cost and some even bought houses over there before leaving,” he said.

On the reason for the exodus, Olutayo Adewole, a journalist who stayed back in the UK after his master’s degree programme in Manchester, said that he was willing to return, at least to be with his family, but the harsh economic reality at home discouraged him.

“I truly missed my family in Nigeria. But my wife, my family members, friends and even my employer all advised me to stay back and look for something to do. I am working on bringing my family over here. It is costly, but the good life and high quality of healthcare and education here are worth the cost,” he disclosed.

Adewole is not alone as over 40 percent of Nigerian students in the UK hardly return after their programmes because of the better job opportunities and high quality of life over there.

“Governments abroad frown at abscondment, visa overstay and other immigration offenses, but the situations at home are compelling some Nigerians to commit these offenses, the worst of which is abscondment,” Itodo said.

Also considering the high cost of living, 41 percent rate of unemployment in the country, over 22 percent inflation rate, amid consecutive increase since this year, Donald Onumah, a senior lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, decried that the harshness of the economy and a seeming inaction by the government to control the situation have combined to boost the exodus of the citizens.

“At almost 30 percent interest rate, depending on the bank, loans are out of the reach of an average SME, how then do you stimulate the economy and create jobs when the harsh reality is grinding the SMEs, which are the engine room of the economy,” he noted.

The economist also noted that with the Naira depreciating every day, hard currencies are now bait for Nigerians, especially young people.

The development has also increased the remittance to the country and these young people, according to him, want to be part of those sending hard currencies to their families and friends.

Statisca, a research and evaluation firm, noted that personal remittances received in Nigeria amounted to $USD 20.13 billion in 2023, reflecting a 3.59 percent increase from the previous year.

With more Nigerians in foreign land, the amount of yearly remittances is going to increase incredibly, according to Onumah, though with a negative impact on our economy as that encourages brain drain.

Stack realities abroad

While the reason has always been for greener pastures, Ikedi Ubani, a father of three, who resigned his position at Access Bank in Warri to relocate to Atlanta in the US, noted that the juicy jobs are not so easy to find abroad because the number of immigrants who need jobs is increasing every day and giving concern to the host country.

“I was doing well in the treasury in the bank in Nigeria and had also upskilled before moving to the US, but the system here is different. I had to wait for some time to get a starter job. It was just recently that I got a better job. It is not as easy as we were told before relocating, but once you are here, life cannot be the same as it is back home,” he said.

Ubani, who had money from his savings in Nigeria to sustain his family for the time he was searching for a job, noted that many are doing menial jobs abroad, not just to survive, probably because they don’t have the skills, certificate or contacts to get well-paying jobs.

Read also: ‘Japa’ wave, rising rents take toll on school business

For those people, Ubani said their pasture is not as green as they anticipated.

Julie Ezenwa, a medical doctor in Canada, who stayed back after her studies, said the Canadian government is aware of the rise in the number of Nigerian immigrants in Canada and also the many seeking visas at her embassy in Nigeria to enable them to relocate.

She noted that when there are too many people from a single country in another country, it gives grave concern to the host, especially if their guests are not meeting expectations.

“There are too many Nigerians in Canada now. My fear is that it might result in measures to curtail the exodus of Nigerians, which I see happening soon,” she said.

Ezenwa said that though the pasture is greener in Canada, the taxes are not friendly; the extreme weather condition in most parts of the country makes menial jobs harsher and the laws are there too.

Across Europe and America, some Nigerians, who are supposedly abroad for greener pastures, are in jail for committing one offence or the other.

Adjusting to life abroad, especially obeying the laws and earning honest pay are some of the challenges most Nigerians who don’t obey laws while in their country are facing abroad.

“To make money here in Canada, you have to follow the procedures and don’t expect to become a billionaire. But you will be comfortable. So, if your aim of coming to Canada is to become rich overnight, you will land in jail,” Dayo Daramola, a Nigerian lawyer, who has been living in Canada for 10 years now, said.