Mission “Japa”

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May Nigeria not happen to you,” is a common prayer in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

It is a heartfelt wish born out of the frustration of living in a country so dysfunctional that even wealth cannot insulate you from the troubles of Nigeria and its systemic failures.

So those who can leave, leave.

The term “japa” in recent years, has become something of a buzzword on the streets of cities such as Lagos as a growing number of often young, educated Nigerians look to move abroad to escape unemployment, inflation and low salaries.

They are part of the “japa” wave, the Yoruba word for run or flee that has become the shorthand for the exodus out of Nigeria for better pastures overseas.

A staggering 69% of Nigerians would relocate out of the country with their families if given the chance, a 2022 survey by the Africa Polling Institute found. Only 39% were willing to emigrate in 2019 according to the same poll.

Persistent insecurity, a crumbling economy and rampant corruption are the leading issues for the next government, according to a pre-election survey of voters by Lagos-based SBM Intelligence. 

Coupled with the high cost of living and unemployment, these concerns have made the country unstable and unpredictable for many, even hostile.

As conditions have worsened in the country, more Nigerians are getting out. Europe and North America are the top destinations for resettlement. 

The number of “Worker” visas in the UK issued to Nigerians shot up by 399% comparing 2019 to the year ending September 2022, according to data from the UK Home Office. Nigeria was the 5th largest source of immigrants to Canada in 2021, moving up eight places in just five years, Statistics Canada reported.

Nigeria’s health sector is among the worst hit by the japa phenomenon as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals emigrate for better working conditions, higher pay and a predictable life.

The Nigerian Medical Association says 50 health professionals leave the country every week.

An entire cottage industry has sprung up to support those who want to emigrate from Nigeria. Immigration consultants and agencies charge thousands of dollars to offer relocation advice, visa processing services and immigration routes.

The next leader of Nigeria can’t do much in the immediate future to reverse the steady stream of talent leaving the country and needs to focus on restoring confidence, and making sure that people believe that their living standards are not being eroded. 

Stemming that is one of the very first things the new president would have to focus on. As well as security of course, but all of that would take time

In the meantime; there are thousands of TikTok videos, Instagram posts, tweets and Facebook updates of Nigerians celebrating their new lives abroad. They are powerful magnets for those still left at home, considering whether it’s time for the parachute out of “the giant of Africa.”

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