“So, here you are. Too foreign for home, too foreign for here. Never enough for both”- Ijeoma Umebinyo
Nigeria, with a population of over 200 million people is the most populous country in Africa. She is blessed with many natural and human resources to cater for the needs of her citizens but poor leadership, corruption and insecurity make it impossible. With citizens coming to terms with this reality, they are faced with the option to expatriate otherwise known as ‘japa’ or remain to suffer. For many, the choice of the former helps them to actualize their life goals and aspirations while the nation is left to grapple with the socioeconomic implications of the trend.
According to a recent PEW research survey, about 45% of Nigeria’s adult population plans to relocate to another country within five years. Of the 12 countries surveyed from Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America, Nigerians ranked highest among people who desperately want to relocate to other countries.
A new report by the UK government shows that Nigeria was second only to India after about 13,609 Nigerian healthcare workers were granted working visas in 2021. Official data from Canadian immigration sources indicated that 12,595 Nigerians relocated to Canada in 2019 alone.
The burden of this essay, therefore, lies in defining some terms, exploring reasons for expatriation, tracing expatriation trends, discussing its socio-economic implications, and proposing solutions to curb unnecessary expatriation in Nigeria.
Definition of terms
Expatriation is the voluntary departure from one’s native country to another country to live there permanently or for an extended period of time.
Reasons for expatriation
Poor governance fuels migration globally. For instance, when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan recently, many Afghans fled the country to become expatriates in countries like the USA because of uncertainty. In Nigeria too, the situation is similar because of the increase in migration resulting from nepotism, corruption, and electoral malpractices.
*The need for improved healthcare
Due to the weak healthcare systems of developing nations, people are motivated to become expatriates in foreign nations where they can have access to quality healthcare services. Nigerians with terminal illnesses like cancer often migrate to developed nations to get treated.
The main reason people become expatriates is because of the employment opportunities available.With Nigeria’s unemployment rate at 33.3%, those without meaningful employment opportunities within the country may move out to seek juicy opportunities abroad.
*Insecurity and conflict
Insecurity, which is the state of being open to danger or threat, is another reason why people become expatriates. The insecurity situation in Northern Nigeria coupled with the farmer-herdsmen crisis has continued to fuel the voluntary departure of many Nigerians to safer climes around the world.
*Better educational opportunities
Many expats move abroad with their families to give their children better prospects for learning and development. The destinations of these educational expats are mostly countries in North America and Western Europe because of their world-leading educational systems. Although this comes at a high cost, the experience gained in leading a better life in the future fuels the drive.
*Lower cost of living
For many expatriates, a reduced cost of living is sometimes the primary factor they consider before becoming expatriates. The average cost of living in London for example is so high when compared with that of Hong Kong and Singapore. Because of this knowledge, Londoners, are unable to keep up with the cost of living and are eager to relocate to a more affordable climate.
*Quest for relaxation
When one moves abroad, he will find himself sucked into an administrative machine. In spite of this, there is ample opportunity to let go of stress and relax. This, of course, is the case for many expatriates visiting places like Paris and Las Vegas.
*The need to broaden one’s horizons.
For many, life is for living. This fuels their quest to get into the wider world, discover new places and cultures, meet new people, and go through experiences that can enrich life and make things change for the better.
*The need to get busy.
Due to the idle nature of some geographical regions, people tend to expatriate to regions where they will be able to get busy and avoid boredom. Due to the slow pace of life during the global lockdown, for instance, many people moved abroad to get super busy. Instead of discouraging these expatriates, the challenges of learning a new language, customs, etiquette, and food made the idea appealing to their hyperactive personalities.
Although this may seem strange, it is important to note that some people become expats in order to gain confidence. When one moves abroad, he is making a huge achievement because he has moved away from family and friends, cut temporary ties with his home country, moved into a new apartment, and taken on a new job. These may be significant changes, but when combined in the context of moving abroad, the achievement makes the expatriate feel like a person who can take on anything. It also makes one feel stronger and more self-sufficient in the face of adversity.
*Desire to let go of attachments
Whether one travels light or heavy, he will be forced to cull some of his belongings when he moves, or at least leave them behind. This is liberating and one of the key reasons why so many Nigerians change for the better when they move. No wonder; expatriates lose attachment to material things and become more aware of people and what they can offer them.
*Friendly immigration policies
The strict immigration policies in place are one of the major obstacles to international mobility. When a country’s immigration process is simplified, many people in other countries are enticed to become expatriates. A worthy example is the case of the UK during the global pandemic. A shortage of health workers, skilled technicians, and truck drivers made her relax her immigration requirements to attract workers globally.
Expatriation trends in Nigeria
Before the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates of the country by Lord Luggard in 1914, the geographical region now known as Nigeria had many expatriates working in other countries. During the transatlantic slave trade, for instance, people from the geographical region now known as Nigeria worked as expatriates to coordinate the slave trade. While those with skills controlled the day-to-day activities of slaves on sugar plantations, others spearheaded the forceful capture and transport of African slaves to America.
After the abolishment of slave trade and the ushering in of colonialism after the Berlin conference, young Nigerians were sent as expatriates to other countries for training and education. This continued till 1960 when the country gained its independence from Great Britain. After independence, expatriation declined, with many people hopeful of a better life in the newly independent country. However, due to a series of military coups, political unrest, and the Biafra War, also known as “the Nigerian civil war,” this was short-lived. The inhumane treatment meted out to innocent Igbos made many flee the country in search of safety abroad.
After the war, there was an oil boom, which helped the country reap bountifully from the sale of crude oil. The Nigerian government’s failure to save the excess money made from the sale and a subsequent recession caused another wave of migration around 1980.
During the regime of Sani Abacha in the 1990s, the country witnessed another wave of expatriate migration due to the mass executions of perceived enemies by the then government, miscarriages of justice, and undemocratic practices taking place across the country. The trend, however, slowed by the time civilian rule was restored in 1999.
The recent trend of expatriation can be traced back to the election of Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria in 2015.The fear in the minds of many corrupt Nigerians who had diverted the country’s resources for personal gain facilitated the mass exodus of politicians and their accomplices from the country. However, when the fight against corruption became sentimental, the trend waned among the political class.
The challenges of insecurity, poor governance, increased unemployment, ASUU strikes, and poverty between 2016 and 2019 further fuelled the expatriation of common Nigerians.
In 2018, according to the Afrobarometer, one in every three Nigerians considered emigration, mostly to find economic opportunities abroad.
In 2016 alone, about 171,299 Nigerians arrived in Europe, while 200,346 fled Nigeria to neighboring countries.
By 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic which should have halted the continuous expatriation of Nigerians to the Western world was shortlived. Towards the end of that year, the Endsars protest (a movement against the brutality of police) emboldened people to overcome their fear of the pandemic and seek for opportunities abroad. This coincided with the shortage of skilled workers like nurses, truck drivers, and specialized health workers in the Western world and paved the way for Nigerians to move out of the country in droves as expatriates.
Socio-economic implications of expatriation
Expatriation makes the country lose its best brains and talents to other nations across the world. Young talents such as Anthony Joshua, Bukayo Saka, and Chimamanda Adichie, for example, have continued to excel for their host countries while Nigeria struggles for survival.
Although the country invests billions yearly to train its citizens in public universities, the fruit of this investment is often enjoyed by foreign nations that never contributed to the development of these Nigerians.
Expatriation reduces the available working population of a country, thereby causing a shortage of skilled professionals. In many government hospitals, patients are forced to wait for weeks and sometimes months before getting the opportunity to consult a health specialist because of the mass migration of Nigerian specialists.
According to the Nigerian Medical Association, about 10,296 doctors are now practising in the United Kingdom, making Nigeria the third-highest donating country. With the country going through a crisis in the health sector, these expatriates would have helped us stem the tide if they were not expatriates in other nations.
On a positive note, data from the Central Bank of Nigeria shows that remittances from Nigerians working abroad have been on an upward trend since the third quarter of 2020. In the first quarter of 2022, for instance, the country got $5.16 billion from remittances to keep the country running. This is a worthy contribution to the country’s purse.
Expatriation sometimes dents the image of a country before the global community. Expatriates like Hushpupi and Abdul Mutallab are a few examples of Nigerian expatriates denting the image and reputation of Nigeria because of their ill behaviours.
Expatriation leads to an increase in the per capita income of sending nations. With fewer citizens to cater for, there will be an improvement in the standard of living for those left behind.
How to reduce unnecessary expatriation
Good governance needs to be provided for Nigerians to discourage them from becoming expatriates in other countries.
Closely related to this is the provision of employment opportunities for our teeming youths, coupled with the provision of good working conditions.
In addition, insecurity needs to be curbed to make the country safer and more attractive to foreign investors.
Corruption, nepotism, and miscarriages of justice should be shunned by all to give every Nigerian a level playing field to succeed.
Furthermore, there is a need for the incessant strikes clamping down on the activities of the educational sector to be eradicated to discourage educational migration.
Finally, attention needs to be given to the health sector to address the challenges of the sector and position it to deliver quality health services to Nigerians and discourage medical migration.