From sitting on the board of elite corporations across continents to topping death row lists in many foreign countries, Nigerians have proven to be key participants in a new wave of transnational movement.
The where, why, and how seem not to matter anymore, Nigerian nationals of various ages, social and financial statuses are exiting the country in droves. But is this mass exodus prompted chiefly by economic hardship and insecurity, or is there something more to it?
“The Nigerian dream is to leave Nigeria”, goes a popular joke. Within a few decades, emigration has turned from an option to a norm. For many, leaving is an obligation they owe themselves and their children. In fact, a study shows that 74% of Nigerians are seeking to leave the country, either passively or actively. It is no news that Nigerians now dominate other black immigrant communities in most countries.
It is believed that 17 million Nigerians are living in the diaspora. A report by the Migration Policy Institute, states that Nigeria is the largest source of African immigration to the United States. Yet, the US may be decreasing in popularity among Nigerians hoping to desert the country.
In 2019, over 12,500 Nigerians were granted permanent resident status in Canada, a 300% increase from the previous year. Similarly, Nigerians are among the fastest-growing migrant groups in Australia. On a general note, as upper-class Nigerians target richer countries such as Canada, New Zealand, the US, and countries in Western Europe, members of the lower-class settle for some African and Asian countries including Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, and Cambodia. By all means, movement away from Africa’s most populous nation seems lucrative and unstoppable.
While a few lucky ones are able to secure work visas from Nigeria, more choose the student visa route with the hope of staying back after studies. Nigeria has the highest number of foreign students from Africa in the US, a source reveals. Europe is equally a popular destination for Nigerian students probably due to high living standards, as well as potential after-school opportunities. Statistics show that there are over 10,000 Nigerian students in the UK, 2,000 in Germany, and several more thousands in Eastern Europe. Asia is not left out. As of 2016, nearly 5,000 Nigerian students were studying at a Chinese University.
However, applying to an embassy for a resident, work or student visa is not the only way to gain assess to dreamland. Since there are little to no opportunities for the underclass of Nigeria to legally migrate to Europe or North America, many take the rougher routes in search of greener pastures, subjecting themselves to human trafficking, enduring rape, hunger, even risking their lives in the vast dangerous Sahara.
According to BBC, 80,000 Nigerians arrived in Italy between 2015 and 2017, mostly through the sea. A majority traveled through Libya where they witnessed modern-day slavery, forced labor, kidnapping, and sexual violence in various forms. A good number of people who risk the journey do not make it alive.
So, one would ask at this point, what accounts for the unwavering determination by the rich and poor alike to leave the country by any possible means? Tellingly, economic hardship accounts for most of it. Africa is home to over 70% of the world’s poor. In 2018, Nigeria earned the infamous title, “Poverty Capital of the World”. To put this into perspective, it is estimated that by 2030, Nigeria will have over 110 million people living below poverty level. As oil prices continue to slump, and youth unemployment rates rise rapidly with no hope for economic progress in the foreseeable future, emigration seems inevitable.
Europe witnessed its great exodus from the 18th to the early 20th century. Asia had its own share of emigration as well. There is no gainsaying that humans generally want better lives and would often go any length to attain it. Since redemption isn’t forthcoming from government policies and strategic national planning, it is unsurprising that individuals have taken their fate into their hands.
The Nigerian at home who is braving all odds to create a meaningful livelihood from next to nothing is not so different from the one who would give their last drop of blood to leave – both are exploiting their innate survival instinct. Rising population and competitiveness for resources should not be neglected as well. Hunger, unemployment, lack of opportunities, and class humiliation all lead to desperation which could pressure people to reject Nigeria and its socio-economic uncertainty.
On the other hand, wealthy Nigerians are resorting to buying foreign passports, not necessarily due to poverty but for the sake of security, integrity, and easy movement. For some Politicians, as in the case of a former Minister of Petroleum, it is the surest means of escaping prosecution for financial misappropriation.
Indeed, Nigeria is one of the most unsafe places to live in the world; no wonder a UN rights expert described the country as a “pressure cooker” with Boko Haram insurgency, herdsmen terrorism, kidnappings, gang violence, crime, rape, and police brutality on the increase. Many of the people leaving just desire peace and security. They seek to escape the fear, harm, and injustices that have come to characterize the life of an average Nigerian. Because the country’s reputation has plummeted over the years, many want to dissociate themselves from its bad name and the misfortune it attracts, hence their resolve to leave in search of better options.
Nigerians are generally exposed, resilient, adventurous, strong-willed, and assertive. These qualities translate to the will to break free from deprivation, navigate the intricacies of being born on the wrong side of the world, and avail future generations a better future. Unfortunately, these qualities also explain why some Nigerians choose the way of crime, particularly internet fraud. People are generally aware of their pathetic situation, believing that their salvation is in their own hands through God’s help. But most appear to have lost fate that the said salvation can come within the shores of Nigeria, and this belief is hardly unfounded.
Finally, it can be argued that there is a cultural dimension to emigration by Nigerians. In addition to economic desperation, insecurity, population explosion, the will to negotiate a new identity, and the need to enhance one’s self, perhaps some are leaving because it is trendy or fashionable to leave. Nigerians perceive themselves as ideal citizens of the world. Attachment to family and to home is being reimagined. When I arrived in Germany in 2017, my new friends asked me how my mother reacted when I told her about my plans to leave Nigeria for a foreign country with no relatives. I simply smiled and said “Thanksgiving”. They nodded. If only they understood what thanksgiving means in Nigerian parlance.
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