In 2012, less than a year into his first session in architecture school, Femi decided that he was going to leave the country. “I saw the dysfunction and unfairness of the entire system and started looking at scholarships in foreign universities,” he said. According to Statista, about 178,000 Nigerians were living in the United Kingdom in 2021, a huge jump from the 90,000 recorded in 2008 and the highest number recorded so far. As the nation’s socio-economic issues continue to worsen under the current administration, many Nigerians have made the tough decision to leave.
The mass exodus of Nigerians, tagged the “Japa wave” on social media, does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. In recent times, leaving Nigeria is the one-size-fits-all solution to every problem posed by the state of the nation. Fueled by desperation and frustration, the average Nigerian dreams of packing their bags and searching for greener pastures outside the shores of the failing state. However, emigration, despite how glowing its reviews might appear, bears heartbreaking consequences for Nigerians raised in Nigeria.
Describing her experience living abroad, Ruby explained that living abroad lacks the familiarity Nigeria offers – “When I’m in the US, the one thing I miss most about living in Nigeria is the community and familiarity of life. And I mean community in the sense that you always have people around – friends, family, church if you’re Christian, and you don’t always have to explain yourself. I miss the things that I know and the life I live here.” In search of better living conditions, Nigerians are forced to abandon years of friendships and the sense of community that one’s birth country offers. Mirabel, who left Nigeria in 2016 says she has missed several life-defining moments of family and friends, “I asked one of my little cousins what they wanted for their birthday. The first thing they said was ‘we want you here with us celebrating our birthday’ I just started crying.”
A typical Nigerian is raised by a village. From aunties and uncles in large families to aunties and uncles related to us by streets, places of worship and even schools, society plays an active part in our upbringing. Moving to a new country where no one knows your history takes that away from you. In Nigeria, every occasion has the potential to morph into a celebration with “owambes” holding major cities hostage over the weekend. Femi points out the lack of the boisterousness that characterises Nigeria in many other countries revealing that one of the biggest instances of culture shock for him when he moved abroad was how early the city slept.
“I grew up in Lagos, Abuja and lived in Accra for a while, all vibrant-night cities. Here, If I close my laptop and it’s dark outside, that’s the end of all “outside” activities. Everywhere fun and go-able is most likely closed or too far away and you can’t just drive to a random garden to eat pepper soup and fish and meet random friends who swear the night has only just started.”
Relocation involves unlearning and relearning that no one should have to go through. Different cultures of the world characterise different places and people, unfortunately, Nigerians are forced to acclimatise to an entirely different way of life. Andrew, who has lived in and out of Nigeria for years, was shocked by how much more expressive Nigerians are compared to other nationals of the world– “here they are much more conserved, expressionism doesn’t show itself here like it does in Nigeria.”
Despite the country’s terrible conditions, there are several young Nigerians who do not want to live anywhere else. “I hate thinking about relocation, I don’t think I can handle it. Nigeria is the only thing I’ve known, I’ve never been abroad. I got my first passport this year because every day the reality becomes more glaring. This country doesn’t have anything to offer me and I’ll be better off leaving, but what about my parents?” Seun who has lived in Abuja all her life asks. “Even when it’s quiet at night or there’s no activity going on, or I’m just home alone and bored, I feel a sense of comfort from knowing I’m in my father’s house, in the same city I was born and I have lived in all my life. I don’t think it’ll be the same thing in another man’s country,” she concludes.
The inability of the Nigerian government to take responsibility for the people they were elected to lead has disheartening repercussions for many families. Children, who mostly assume the duties of caring for their parents in old age are miles away instead, missing significant milestones, birthdays, anniversaries, memorials and even funerals. Many cannot afford to make regular trips back home for several reasons including financial constraints, work obligations and many other valid reasons, which only serve to further widen the familial divide. “I’m no longer as close to my siblings and my parents as I’d like to be. I wasn’t here when my eldest sister had my nieces and no matter how many gifts I bring them, they’d prefer the company of my other siblings to mine. They just don’t know me. And I’ve missed milestones – siblings who graduated or started a new job, parents who retired and they’ve equally missed important events in my life. Sure enough, we catch up but it’s not the same as when you experience these things together in real time,” mused Ruby.
For now, emigration appears to be a working solution, with many Nigerians recounting life-changing experiences from moving abroad on social media. The desire to move is at an all-time high, resulting in people leaving by any means possible. Only a few days ago, three Nigerians were rescued in the Canary Islands, Spain, after travelling over 2,700 nautical miles in 11 days on the rudder of a ship that left from Lagos. Braving the Atlantic ocean seemed a more reasonable option than remaining in Nigeria for these men. However, simply uprooting one’s self from their home cannot be a permanent fix, when carefully considered, the cons of leaving for a better life may outweigh the pros.
Nigerians abroad are subjected to racism, and other forms of systemic violence they would not have to deal with in their home country. Like the rest of Nigeria’s structure, foreign policy and matters of immigration are treated with the most lackadaisical attitude, meaning most matters that would typically require government intervention in working states are almost completely ignored by the Nigerian government.
As the 2023 general elections approach, we are witnessing more active participation by the youths than there has ever been. The fervour with which many are campaigning for their desired candidates is born out of the uncertainty of being Nigerian which stems from bad governance and an apparent lack of structure. Nigeria continues to take from its people, testing their resolve with each passing day, hopefully, 2023 gives way to a much-needed intervention.