By Lola Akande
Writing reference/recommendation letters for Nigerians seeking admission into foreign universities is fast becoming a major activity of a colleague at the University of Lagos. He has written no less than twelve in the last three weeks; but he is still being pestered by more requests.As casual as it may seem, the above scenario is symptomatic of the current reality in Nigeria. This piece reflects on the growing desire of many Nigerians to flee the country, and pays attention to the consequences of the trend. To be clear, migration is a normal phenomenon. People migrate for different reasons ranging from a desire for new experiences, higher employment, more wealth, good climate, political stability, lower risks from natural hazards, to the search for superior healthcare.Indeed, the most developed countries in the world achieve true development through migration because the best minds in the world some of who do not have ancestral ties with the countries live there. Forbes reports, for instance, that eight out of the current ten richest people in the world are Americans. While two out of the eight (Elon Musk and Sergey Brin) are direct immigrants, another two have ancestral ties with other countries. Mark Zuckerberg’s grandparents and Jeff Bezos’ father were immigrants. This shows that four out of eight current richest people in America are the result of migration.
What is worrying about the Nigerian situation is that the country does not attract immigrants; yet, it continues to lose the best of its own to other countries. Our national team, which does not boast of a single immigrant, is a case in point; whereas, a look at Euro 2020 shows that out of the twenty-four teams that participated in the tournament, three of them have at least one Nigerian representing them. England has Bukayo Saka, Manuel Obafemi Akanji represented Switzerland, and David Alaba played for Austria. In addition to Nigeria’s inability to attract immigrants, it is disturbing that Nigerians continue to migrate mostly to become economic refugees in other countries. This type of migration clearly portends danger for the country, the family, and the migrants.
A recent report claims that among all children that were born between 1981 and 1996 across the world, one hundred and six billionaires have emerged. While thirty-three of them are Americans and twenty-three Chinese, none has emerged from the whole of Africa. The implication of this report is that Nigerians, and by extension Africans, are leaving their motherland only to help build up other countries at the expense of their ancestral countries. How can a society progress when its teeming youth are leaving in droves? In Nigeria, youth unemployment is a push factor for migration. With no hope of gainful employment, a majority of male Nigerian graduates are forced into photography, cryptocurrency trading, buying and selling computer gadgets,gambling, social media influencing, and aspiring to gain entry into reality shows such as Big Brother Naija. Others simply choose fraud. The females contend themselves with careers in event planning, fashion designing, hair dressing, or selling skin care products, shoes, bags, clothes, and jewellery on social media. The less industrious of the lot take the age old route of prostitution. The youths are disillusioned; their parents are disenchanted. A friend who informed me three years ago about his plan to enrol his only child in a Nigerian university would later opt for a Canadian university instead.My friend is just one out of a multitude of Nigerian parents who are overstretching themselves to support their children to study abroad in the hope that the children would secure gainful employment after their study. Sadly, the mass exodus of Nigerian youths to foreign countries leads to loneliness, unhappiness, and untimely death for the parents they leave behind. It is now common knowledge that most of the children who go abroad for higher education, employment, or business opportunities do not come back to take care of their parents. Some of them marry foreigners and permanently foreclose the possibility of returning home. In an article titled: “My generation of Nigerians could be heading for a poorer, lonelier old age,” published in the Vanguard newspaper of July 3, 2021, Muyiwa Adetiba recounts the tragic story of his friend who “died a fortnight ago. None of his four children was in the country. None to hold his hand as he breathed his last.”
Loneliness and despondency are not the only consequences of forced migration currently ravaging Nigeria. Spousal relationships are not faring any better because relationships become strained as result of the long distances spouses often have to endure. Sometimes, the strain becomes overwhelming and unmanageable as spouses become strangers to themselves. Long separation breeds mutual distrust, infidelity, declining interest in the marriage institution, and divorce. Children from this type of marriage are often improperly raised. They become strangers, if not enemies to one or both parents, and the family is in disarray eventually. Another negative effect is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for young Nigerians living at home to find love. You meet someone you truly like today, but the person wants to leave the country for good. You are aggrieved because every day seems temporary; there is no calm, no stability, and no hope of building a strong relationship. It is like the country is a jungle.Everyone is trying to escape from it.
There are positive and negative consequences for the individual that flees. One of the psychological consequences of living abroad is loneliness. The average Nigerian in diaspora is basically alone. Also, as an economic refugee, the average Nigerian in diaspora is at a disadvantage; they have to work more hours than the citizens so much that the situation is almost comparable to modern slavery as they have to work really hard sometimes just for minimum wage. On the positive side is that eventually, they are able to settle down and live decently because they are dealing with a system that works. With the prevailing situation in Nigeria in which there is absolute lack of value for human life, it may be preferable to live as a fourth or fifth class citizen in a foreign country than to live as a second or third class citizen in Nigeria where the rich gleefully oppress the poor. It is no secret that a majority of Nigerians don’t live dignified lives. This is in sharp contrast to their counterparts in diaspora who have access to food, water, electricity, and virtually all basic necessities of life even if they have to pay for them. More importantly, the lower/middle class people are less prone to oppression. Sycophancy is at its barest minimum, there are fewer poor people to oppress with your wealth since most people can afford dignified lives. Rich people can’t buy law enforcement officers and drive in convoys oppressing the masses as they do in Nigeria. You’re less likely to be above the law.
Has anyone wondered why Nigerians in diaspora seem angrier at circumstances in Nigeria than Nigerians at home? Perhaps, it is because they are exposed to how systems work elsewhere; they are unhappy that things are different in Nigeria.For as long as Nigeria continues to grapple with declining educational standards, youth unemployment, bad governance, corruption, boko haram, banditry, terrorism, poor infrastructure, ethnic conflicts, and more, it appears more Nigerians will continue to flee regardless of the dire consequences.
*Lola Akande, PhD, Department of English, University of Lagos