What does it mean to Japa? Japa loosely means to relocate abroad. A few years ago, a Nigerian posted this tweet:
The rate of Japa in Nigeria has been on a steady rise in recent years. For some, it’s because they are tired of living in a country where a lot of things don’t work. Others are in search of greener pastures with more favourable opportunities. Whatever the case may be, the young man seemed happy to have left Nigeria. He thought “Let me share this news with my fellow Nigerians” and received heavy backlash for it.
“Stay Back and Build Nigeria”
It’s Japa season so it feels like a good time to put down my thoughts on this annual phenomenon. Nigerians are very vocal people and whenever you post an opinion that a large number of people disagree with, you can be sure to get an earful of opinions 😅. But that’s social media for you: when you put something out there, you’ve opened yourself to receiving criticism and adulation in unequal measure.
On the topic of Japa, there are usually many echoes of patriotism. A great number of people are of the opinion that it’s the duty of the citizens to stay and build their country. However, there’s still a great number of people who are leaving every day because they feel the grass is greener on the other side. So the big question is this: if many people believe the youth should stay back, how do we explain the mass emigration? I think it’s important to understand some of the reasons people, especially young people, are leaving and then try to make a case to stay back.
Why Young People Leaving
The Japa wave, especially with young people, will always be a heated one. I can only speak to the reasons people in my circle have gone that route and avoid any speculation. I think part of the panic, especially with the older generation, comes from the popular saying that “children/youths are the leaders of tomorrow” so there’s a genuine concern that if young talent continues to leave, who will lead tomorrow?
From the people in my circles, it comes down to two main reasons: limited opportunities and the lack of an enabling environment.
One of the main reasons young people are leaving is because there are limited opportunities for making a living that gives you a basic level of comfort. The main export of Nigeria is oil and it’s heavily relied upon so the best bet for high-paying jobs is found in that industry. The entertainment industry is very promising but not everyone is an entertainer and there’s a less structured path for young people trying to break in.
Medicine, Law and Engineering used to be the best paths to a middle-class lifestyle but those days are long gone. These fields are less valued now and have been riddled with major issues from industrial strikes to a lack of modern facilities and poor pay.
It’s especially hard to argue since a large number of people relocating are entry-level job seekers who would require several years before they can earn a decent enough wage to have some comfort. This leaves you in a situation where you have young people who go to school, get a degree and come into a job market where there’s already a high unemployment rate.
The Lack of an Enabling Environment
By enabling environment, I mean that even if you want to learn a skill, there are a number of hurdles you need to jump. Epileptic power interruption is something most Nigerians can relate to. You can experience anything from a few hours of downtime to areas with no uptime for large periods of the year. You usually need a generator or an inverter as a backup but both of these require monetary investments that many young people don’t have.
Next, you have an inconsistent internet connection so even if you want to tap into the digital skills economy, you may find yourself waiting a good few seconds for webpages to load. Most people resort to having multiple ISP providers as having one alone is ill-advised and sure to end in disappointment.
Police brutality/harassment of young Nigerians has been a steady topic of conversation in the last couple of years. One Google search is all you need to get up to speed on this issue. The dollar rate is at an all-time high. The inflation rate is at an all-time high. When young people try to provide solutions using technology, they are sometimes met with restrictions in the form of bad policies. It’s a rough time to be a young person in Nigeria coming into the labour market and experiencing the economy for the first time.
So how do you make a case for a young person to stay back and build the country?
Making A Case For Staying Back
It’s hard to make a case but since not everyone can leave, we can try to see what can be done to slow down the rate of Japa. I don’t think this is an impossible task, I just think it requires a lot of political will. I always believe that leadership starts from the top and the leaders of the country need more than declarations of promise. Nigeria has been built on a lot of promises and there’s not much to show for it, almost 62 years later.
We can draw inspiration from countries like the UAE, China and an endless list of nations that have turned things around. I think young people also need to get more involved in politics to learn, understand and provide a fresh perspective to the current leaders. Criticism is great but active participation is more important than ever and may lead to solutions that have previously not been explored. At the end of the day, we need more implementation and less promises. Deceit and denial will never lead to growth.
For those that want to leave, I don’t think it’s fair to accuse them of being unpatriotic. Maybe the grass is greener on the other side. But for those that will stay, you need more than hope, promises and goodwill. You need the political will to drive the implementation of solutions that will tackle our collective problems.