Japa, a Nigerian slang term that gained popularity on social media, is often used to describe the act of leaving or escaping from a situation or place, especially when it becomes unfavourable. When someone says they want to “japa,” they mean they want to leave a particular place or situation for “greener pastures abroad”.
Shortly after this term was coined, the phrase “reverse japa” emerged, used to describe Nigerians in the diaspora that do the complete opposite and move back to the country. The return of diaspora Nigerians has emerged as a significant and, in most cases, transformative phenomenon in recent years.
Nigerians who had sought opportunities abroad are increasingly making the decision to return to their homeland, driven by a complex interplay of factors such as economic opportunities, a renewed sense of patriotism, and a desire to contribute to the nation’s development. This return holds immense promise for Nigeria, offering the potential to harness the skills, resources, and experiences of its diaspora population to address pressing challenges and shape a brighter future.
What’s the motivation?
I recall seeing several stories on social media of Nigerians who had travelled to the country just before the COVID-19 pandemic happened, got stuck there during the lockdown, but decided to continue living in Nigeria after movement restrictions were lifted. It didn’t surprise me, rather I was invested in these individual case studies because reverse japa wasn’t commonly discussed.
The Nigerian presidential election was held on 25 February 2023 to elect the president and Vice President of Nigeria. During that period, I began to notice an increase in the use of the phrase “reverse japa” as the collective feeling of hope that a “new Nigeria” was coming, spread across social platforms alike.
I soon stumbled across dozens of stories of Nigerians born and raised abroad, moving back to start their adult life in the country. Some returned because their jobs became fully remote, which gave them the freedom to work anywhere in the world, which meant earning in pounds or dollars and spending in naira became increasingly appealing from a “quality of life” perspective. Others took a leap of faith and quit their job completely in hopes of a complete career do-over in Nigeria.
The motivations behind the return of diaspora Nigerians are multifaceted and reflect both personal and collective aspirations. One of the primary reasons is the pursuit of economic opportunities. Many Nigerians who had left the country in search of better prospects abroad are finding that Nigeria’s growing economy and burgeoning tech sector offer a fertile ground for entrepreneurship and career advancement. The rise of technology hubs in cities like Lagos has attracted skilled professionals from the diaspora, eager to contribute to the country’s technological revolution.
Another key motivation is a renewed sense of patriotism and a desire to be part of Nigeria’s transformation. The feeling of being disconnected from one’s homeland often weighs heavily on diaspora Nigerians. Many of them grew up with stories of Nigeria’s potential and the dreams of a prosperous nation. The hope of playing a part in realising these dreams motivates their return.
Moreover, familial ties and a sense of responsibility to care for ageing parents or provide a better future for their children often pull Nigerians back to their homeland. The diaspora’s return is driven not only by personal ambitions but also by a sense of duty to their loved ones. Some have even found their way back to the motherland because of love, as I have several friends who travelled to Nigeria on holiday, found a partner, got married and relocated back permanently to start their lives and raise their kids.
Case studies and the impact on the economy
The return of diaspora Nigerians is having a tangible impact on the nation’s economy. Many returnees bring with them valuable skills, experiences, and financial resources. The entrepreneurial spirit of the diaspora is contributing to the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across various sectors. These businesses are creating jobs, fostering innovation, and stimulating economic growth.
Fara Ashiru Jituboh, founder and CEO of Okra, a fintech application that lets users access financial data and more with one API, is just one of many who have moved back to Nigeria permanently and made a real difference.
Aliko Dangote, one of the wealthiest individuals in Africa, is known for his industrial conglomerate, the Dangote Group. While he spent time abroad for his education and early career, he eventually returned to Nigeria to build his business empire.
The motivations behind the return of diaspora Nigerians are multifaceted and reflect both personal and collective aspirations
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a prominent Nigerian economist and international figure who served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister twice and also held the position of Managing Director of the World Bank. She spent a significant portion of her career abroad but returned to Nigeria and served in key government positions.
Jidenna Theodore Mobisson, known professionally as Jidenna, is a Nigerian-American singer, songwriter, and record producer. He was born in Wisconsin, USA, but later moved to Nigeria where he spent part of his childhood. Jidenna has achieved success in the music industry and has been involved in philanthropic efforts in Nigeria.
While Davido was born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, he moved back to Nigeria and has become one of the most successful and influential musicians in the Nigerian music scene. He has won numerous awards and is known for hits like “If” and “Fall.”
Other case studies such as the likes of Burna Boy and Tiwa Savage (when looking at the music and entertainment industry) echoes the same sentiment. Both rose to fame in Nigeria despite spending time abroad.
And it’s not just individuals. Enterprises, brands and food chain establishments are all witnessing the huge opportunity that is embedded in Nigeria and are taking action in order to get a piece of the pie. Music festivals such as Afronation and NeoFest, or even fast food companies like KFC and Burger King are just a handful of examples of brands that not only see the potential Nigeria has to offer, but are actively taking strides to tap into the market.
The remittances sent by diaspora Nigerians, both before and after their return, are crucial for stabilising the country’s balance of payments and supporting families back home. These financial inflows serve as a lifeline for many households, helping to improve living standards.
In addition to contributing to the formal economy, returnees are also playing a pivotal role in the informal sector. They often bring back new ideas, market insights, and connections, which can be harnessed for informal trade and entrepreneurship. This has the potential to boost income generation in urban and rural areas alike.
Reverse japa in most cases brings in a wealth of knowledge and expertise that can be leveraged to address challenges in various sectors in Nigeria. Many returnees hold advanced degrees and have gained experience in fields such as healthcare, education, engineering, entertainment, and finance. They are well-positioned to contribute to capacity building initiatives, research, and development projects that can enhance Nigeria’s infrastructure and services.
The return of diaspora Nigerians fosters a rich exchange of ideas, culture, and perspectives. These returnees often bring with them a global outlook, which can be instrumental in driving innovation and creativity. Their exposure to diverse cultures and experiences abroad can lead to the development of unique solutions to local challenges.
Additionally, the cultural exchange between the diaspora and their homeland enriches Nigerian society. It promotes tolerance, understanding, and appreciation of different cultures and traditions, creating a more inclusive and harmonious society. But it’s not just the country that benefits from reverse japa. Nigeria, with its large population and diverse economy, offers a range of financial opportunities, in which those returning home benefit from.
Challenges and considerations
While the return of diaspora Nigerians is a positive development, it is not without its challenges. Infrastructure deficits, bureaucratic hurdles, and issues related to security and governance continue to pose obstacles to the successful reintegration of returnees. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort from both the government and civil society.
Moreover, the expectations and pressures placed on returnees can be overwhelming. Many return with high hopes and face the daunting task of navigating a different socio-economic environment. However, the return of diaspora Nigerians is a story of hope, renewal, and nation-building in a “you scratch my back and I scratch yours” sentiment. It represents a powerful opportunity for Nigeria to harness the talents and resources of its diaspora population, as well as the chance for returnees to develop their personal careers in various sectors.
Opiah is a London-based journalist and documentary filmmaker with over 7 years of experience freelancing as well as writing for tech publications in the UK, US and Canada. She’s currently working on a documentary titled IJGB: Lagos in December, the detty-est time of the year, which is set to highlight the best bits of Nigeria, her country of origin