The history of ‘Japa’ and how it came to mean the world to Nigeria’s youth

Adeola Adegunwa December 22, 2022
Nigerian youth. Photo: Guardian Nigeria

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the beginning of the first wave of emigration from Nigeria, which the locals called “Japa.” Many young people in Nigeria fled the country in search of better opportunities in the West, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom, as the country was going through a difficult period economically and politically.

Over the past few decades, many Nigerians have left their country, searching for a better life elsewhere. Some of these emigrants have achieved a great deal of success in various industries and provide a significant financial boost to Nigeria through the money they send back home. This money is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion each year.

Emigration can benefit a country if its citizens come back with new skills and wealth to invest in the local economy after living elsewhere. On the other hand, for this to become a reality, the government of Nigeria needs to establish a favorable climate and develop a comprehensive and far-reaching strategy for Nigerians currently residing in other countries.

People from other countries also leave their homelands in large numbers, not just Nigerians. Since the 1980s, when the government started easing its emigration laws, more and more Chinese people have been leaving their country. According to an article published by The Wall Street Journal in 2014, “almost anyone who wants a passport can get one,” and “rapidly growing numbers” of Chinese citizens were leaving the country permanently.

It is concerning that young people in Nigeria are choosing to leave the country in such large numbers, given that citizens of a global power such as China are also leaving in large numbers. It makes it seem like Nigeria is not a good place for its people to live, and those deeper problems may need to be fixed.

Take the example of the 8,737 Nigerian doctors who are currently working as doctors in the UK. In 2020, 862 Nigerian doctors were given licenses to practice medicine in the UK. Between June and September of the following year, 353 more doctors were registered. This is cause for concern because the ratio of doctors to patients in Nigeria is 1:5,000, which is significantly lower than the recommendation by the World Health Organization (which is 1:600). It is evident that Nigeria is giving away valuable human resources to other countries.

A significant number of unskilled workers are leaving the country because they are unhappy with the system. This is a substantial loss for Nigeria, but many skilled workers are leaving. Examples of these skilled workers include doctors and technology experts. It would be unfair to judge those who leave Nigeria for better economic opportunities elsewhere. Still, it would also be unfair to claim that Nigeria has nothing to offer in the way of personal development and success opportunities.

Nigeria has the potential to be a thriving and prosperous country. Still, for this potential to be realized, the country’s people must work hard and be committed to making it happen. If we are willing to tend to the plant and water it regularly, we can plant our seed anywhere and watch it grow. There are opportunities to be had in Nigeria, however, we must foster an environment where those opportunities can be realized to their full potential.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 23, 2022


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