In the last decade, Nigeria has experienced large migration flows, both internally and externally. The oil boom of the 1970s served as a major attraction to foreigners, with the country experiencing more immigration than emigration, but this was not to be long-lasting. Quickly enough, in the 1980s to be precise, more Nigerians were leaving the country due to political instability and the economic downturn.
Since the 1980s, Nigeria with the largest population in Africa has maintained a negative net migration rate and in early 1983, the Nigerian government announced that all illegal migrants present in Nigeria were required to leave. Due to the unavailability of concrete data, estimates vary but up to 2 million people were presumed to have been forced to leave, with Ghanaians making up half of the number. In 1985, another expulsion was carried out with the numbers approximated to be about 250,000.
Immigration in Nigeria has remained very heterogeneous, with the total number of international immigrants in the country growing extensively. The majority of Nigeria’s immigrant population is made up of ECOWAS countries, particularly Benin, Ghana, Mali, Togo, and Niger, which constitute a whopping 74% of the total immigrants resident in Nigeria. Indians, Lebanese, Greek, and Chinese nationals have also found a home in Nigeria, managing decades-old family businesses and forging lifelong bonds in the country.
In recent times, there have been significant reforms to Nigeria’s migration policy – such as the 2015 National Migration Policy. Although there is more focus on Nigeria’s emigration trends and citizens in diaspora, there is a wealth of legal and policy frameworks that reflect ease of mobility rather than a stark control of immigration. Today, The Giant of Africa remains a destination country for migrants who are highly skilled and often feature prominently in engineering, education, and general and corporate management. The immigration rate is evidence that the Nigerian economy, despite apparent challenges remains attractive to both regional and international migrants.
For many of Nigeria’s migrant demographics, Nigeria has been home since as early as the 19th century. Most migrants are third or even fourth-generation migrants meaning their families have been in Nigeria for several generations. The Lebanese, for instance, first came to Nigeria in 1890, the Greeks, whose presence predated Nigerian independence numbered over 10,000 before the 1980s, the Chinese had begun residing in Nigeria before the 1930s and by the end of the 19th century, Indians had already established a commercial presence in Nigeria.
One thing rings true across the migrant demographic, – the main appeal of Nigeria is its very viable commercial sector. Here in Nigeria, migrant businesses have thrived since the ‘90s with conglomerates like Leventis Group of Companies owned by the Greeks, the China Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC), Chellarams Plc owned by the Indians, and Aim Group belonging to the Lebanese flourishing over time.
In a 2019 docu-film, Father’s Land, Devesh Uba explores the ties that Indians have to Nigeria. Devesh, an Indian photographer, who lived in Nigeria at the time, was intrigued by the thriving Indian community in Nigeria and the willingness of fellow Indians to settle in a country whose prospects seemed very bleak to those back home.
Devesh’s documentary does more than reveal the commercial appeal Nigeria has and touches on how easy it is for migrants in Nigeria to become acclimatized. An obvious reason for this ease in adjustment is the general happy disposition of the average Nigerian. In a 2015 interview, when asked about her experience living in Nigeria, British ex-pat Clementine Wallop described Nigerians as being “funny, kind and interesting people; it’s cliche but there’s never a dull moment.”
Father’s Land is a very candid docu-film that affords us the opportunity to see Nigeria through the eyes of people who have left their countries and found their footing here in Nigeria. These migrant entrepreneurs who have made a name for themselves here acknowledge the challenges that come with running a business in Nigeria. Despite the numerous opportunities the country offers, Indian merchants Gautam Kumar and Sudhanshu Gaurav who have been in Nigeria since 2006 and 2011 respectively detail the business environment in Nigeria as “overly choking.” Despite the obstacles they face here, they persevere, remaining where many of them fondly refer to as their fatherland, christening Nigeria their second home.
Watch Devesh Uba’s docu-film here.