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Despite COVID-19, Nigerians escape to overseas in droves

Despite stringent COVID-19 protocols, major airports in Nigeria, especially the international gateways

The 2020 COVID-19 lockdown was seen as a big blow for many Nigerians who had planned to relocate abroad in search of greener pastures.

As the pandemic subsided, the airspace became open for international flights and thousands of Nigerians began to plan their escape, mostly to Europe, United States and the Middle East.

Despite stringent COVID-19 protocols, major airports in Nigeria, especially the international gateways – Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja – began to record an influx of passengers leaving the country.

Also, foreign embassies in Nigeria continually receive verification requests from skilled Nigerians, including medical doctors, nurses, engineers, artisans, among others, who are leaving for better opportunities.

Findings by Daily Trust revealed that such requests are mostly at the embassies of the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia.

When our correspondents interviewed these Nigerians migrating and those already overseas, most of them highlighted insecurity, poor pay and lack of medical facilities as major reasons compelling them to leave and take up jobs overseas.

A medical doctor who spoke to our correspondent in one of the embassies and simply identified himself as Solomon said there was an exodus of Nigerian doctors and other health staff abroad.

“This is creating an acute shortage of medical personnel, and it is threatening Nigeria’s future,” he said.

Immigrants struggling to go to Europe

To corroborate his point, Solomon called a colleague that had already crossed to the United Arab Emirate (UAE), Dr Dalhatu, who told him that medical profession could not be measured in monetary terms.

“Medical doctors should at least be made comfortable in Nigeria. Back in Nigeria, I was made to work long hours, attending to many patients everyday without break or the required facilities. Here, the system is perfectly working, the number of patients is little and all the facilities are available,” Dalhatu said.

He added that health workers in Nigeria were vulnerable to contagious diseases. “Only God saved us during the COVID-19 pandemic. We battled so hard for protective kits, but in the end, it was not provided and some of us paid the price,” he said.


Not only the skilled migrate to Saudi Arabia

In Kano, Daily Trust gathered that not only skilled labourers travel to other countries for greener pastures, especially Saudi Arabia as others also do so to work as housemaids or do other menial jobs.

Abubakar Sulaiman, 28, left Kano in 2018 and presently works in one of the cities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

According to him, he now earns an average of N170,000 every month.

“Before I left Kano in 2018, I did not have something specific to do. I am the eldest son of my father’s family of 10, so when I revealed the idea of travelling there to him, he welcomed it.

“I work based on an agreement with one company and earn about N170,000 as a monthly salary.

“Since then, I have been saving a lot. And I pray that in the next couple of years, I would be able to save enough money that I can use as capital.

“I have seen the greener pasture I have been dreaming of. I did not go there with the intention of staying forever,” Sulaiman concluded.


‘System failure fuel our desire to migrate’

Young Nigerians have said the failure of the country’s system to provide them opportunities to excel is among factors fuelling their desire to leave the country.

They argued that though risky, there are better opportunities outside the country.

Adakeja Samson, a graduate of Political Science, said he was seeking ways to leave the country, arguing that Nigeria does not give opportunities for the youth to excel.

“The country is in a mess. The youths are suffering. There’s no employment, no power, so what should I be doing here as a youth?” he queried.

Corroborating this view, Adesunloye Victor Adeniyi said he was tired of the country. He hinged his desire to leave Nigeria on the search for greener pastures.

“We are asked to go to school and graduate with good grades. But after that, there are no jobs. Those in power have shared the lucrative jobs among themselves, leaving the menial jobs for others,” he said, adding that the government has not provided enough platforms for entrepreneurs to excel.

A Mass Communication graduate, Bukola Adegboye, also said she was plotting how to leave the country because of the high level of insecurity and economic hardship.

She lamented that “Nigeria will frustrate even the most patriotic person to seek a sane place.”

A Nigerian tech expert in London who did not want his name in print said he received requests on a daily basis from some of his colleagues that are seeking opportunities to leave the country.

“There are always two requests – financial assistance and how to leave the country. I am afraid that Nigeria is losing some of her best brains because the environment is not good enough for them to thrive. Government needs to be intentional with their policies and programmes so that these young people can stay,” he said.

He admitted that there are better opportunities in Europe.

“There is no doubt about that because the system is working here. Don’t be deceived, most Nigerians roaming the streets back home will excel here if given the opportunity. Nigeria has the potential, but we have bad government with retarded policies,” he lamented.

But a development expert, Dr Tunde Akanni, called for caution in travelling abroad, narrating how he left Nigeria as a graduate for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia in search of a teaching job after the introduction of the Structural adjustment Programme (SAP) by the Ibrahim Babangida-led administration, which led to job scarcity.

He recalled that he couldn’t get the teaching job as the gulf war also affected the economy of his host country, forcing him to look for a menial job as a cleaner in a furniture workshop as he couldn’t return home immediately because of the money his family had expended on the journey.

“It was not easy, but my consolation was that it offered the opportunity for me to perform Umrah and Hajj, thereby improving my relationship with Allah. And the Almighty Allah answered my prayer because I returned to Nigeria in November and was employed by the defunct Concord Newspapers in January the following year,” he said.

He urged young Nigerians not to be deceived by unverified offers from abroad, noting, “There are no trees bearing dollars in America or pound sterling in Europe.

“Yes. There are opportunities abroad, but you will have to work to get there in a respectable way. The youths should take advantage of the internet to get the right information and opportunities available before embarking on any journey, so that they won’t be exploited. Don’t hurry out; do your homework here very well so that no one will exploit you there,” he counselled.


‘Life has been smooth overseas’

Odinaka Ezeife, who spoke to Daily Trust on phone, mentioned that life had been smooth since she moved to a new country.

She said she had been out of the country for two years and had been able to achieve a lot for herself.

She recalled that the migrating process was smooth, saying, “The whole process was completed in three months and everything was done online.”

According to Odinaka, her initial plan when she relocated to Canada was to pursue her master’s degree and most likely return home to seek employment. But she was offered a job as a payroll tax analyst, which she said she could not turn down.

“The idea of being paid in foreign currency was really exciting, plus, I knew that getting a job that paid that much in Nigeria would be difficult,” she said.

She said that since she moved and started working in Canada, there had been a significant upgrade in her lifestyle.

“Life has been very good since I got here. Every infrastructure needed to support and promote my growth as an individual is being provided. My salary is enough to cater for my bills. My academic year also went smoothly,” she said.

Odinaka also said she was working towards securing the citizenship of Canada as she prefers to work and live with the options she is being given over there.

Kourtney Okoyeze, who also recently migrated to the United Kingdom, mentioned that indeed the grass is greener on the other side. After her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme without a job, she decided to move to the United Kingdom to pursue her master’s degree. Luckily for her, she has a British passport, so the process of relocation was very easy.

It has been three months since Kourtney moved from Nigeria to the U.K. According to her, life has been easier.

“It feels very nice to live in a country where the system is working. Here in the UK, there’s an amazing transportation network, constant light, more options in terms of businesses, such as boutiques, supermarkets, pharmacies and amazing outdoor attractions,” she said.

She also emphasized on the swiftness of the employment scheme in the UK. “The country offers a lot of regular paying jobs, which may not come off as amazing but will pay the bills and keep you financially afloat,” she said.


‘Situation not palatable in other countries’

Mr Daniel Atokolo, Director of Operations at NAPTIP in a chat with Daily Trust warned that the situation in the countries Nigerians are rushing to is not palatable.

Atokolo blamed the development on multifaceted factors.

He said, “Why are the people going to Mali? Why are they going to Senegal? Why are they going to Libya? For God’s sake, what are they going to do in Lebanon?

“Like I used to say, Human trafficking is a crime that is hugely fuelled by deception, ignorance, greed, peer pressure and at times parental neglect and parental irresponsibility.”

“When you have a father that is doing everything possible to sponsor his daughter, that becomes parental irresponsibility. When you see a father trying to push his daughter to go to Libya, go to Italy as it is commonplace in some sections of the country so that the daughter would go there and do all the odd jobs which we know is prostitution in the hope that the daughter would go there, ply her trade and send money back to him to buy SUVs because the next door daughter went abroad and they are building an upstair. They go there, they die, they are dying in their hundreds in the Mediterranean, in the desert.”

“But come to think of it, who gave them this false narrative?” He asked.

At NAPTIP, what we do is to give a counter narrative to what is going on and we are doing it effectively but the biggest room is the room for improvement.

The fight against human trafficking is for the whole of government and the whole of the society. All layers of government need to be involved in the fight against human trafficking.

“We believe that some people would not have been trafficked if the subliminal social amenities are available. Some people got trafficked because mere electricity is a big issue to them. If a man in the village who is a barber has a shop or he is a fashion designer and he is assured of constant electricity,  he would not move out of his village to the city centre.”

How Immigration blocks Nigerians from leaving the country

Officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) have started taking measures to curtail the influx of passengers leaving the country through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA),

The MMIA recorded over 1million passengers in the first quarter of 2021 (January to March), according to figures from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). This comprised a total of 739,560 domestic passengers and 323,751 international passengers.

This is just as a total of 149,557 passengers arrived while 174,194 departed through the international wing of the airport during the period, bringing the total passenger traffic to 323,751.

Similarly, a total of 17, 286 aircraft were recorded at the airport during the first quarter of the year.

The figure indicated 12,744 domestic aircraft movements while international aircraft movement was 4,542.

Daily Trust reports that the figure is twice what was recorded in six months (July to December 2020), after the industry reopened from the COVID-19 shutdown.

While some of the travellers were genuine businessmen and those with valid residency in the destination countries, a large percentage of them are migrating for no genuine reason other than to jet out of Nigeria in search of better living standards.

This is why the NIS said it had ramped up its surveillance to stop irregular migration out of the country.

Just last month, 20 Nigerians were stopped from travelling out of the country through the Lagos Airport by the NIS airport command.

It was learnt that most of those stopped from travelling could not give tangible reasons for wanting to leave the country and could not give details of their travel plans.

According to a source at the command, most of those stopped could not provide documents to support their claims, while it was observed that some of them used travel agents to perfect their papers to travel out of the country by all means.

Our source lamented that most of such travellers end up returning to Nigeria with complicated health issues. He advised those willing to travel by all means to get proper education on job availabilities in any country they intend to go, and should have deep knowledge about such environment.

He maintained that most of them are not knowledgeable about their travel plans.

In January, the command also apprehended two girls who were about to board a Cairo, Egypt-bound flight with fake passports.

It was learnt that the girls were detected when the Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS) used for scanning their passports refused to clear them, on suspicion that the documents had been tampered with.

Subsequently, the NIS suspected that the passports were rejected “due to imposed fake identities of the true holders.”

Following the development, officers at the command subjected the two girls, identified as Adebayo Kolapo Kazeem and Babalola Kehinde, to interrogation.

According to the NIS, it was discovered that contrary to the claim of the girls that they were going for business, the trip was actually arranged by an agent, identified simply as Muri, suspected to be a trafficker.

His number was reportedly dialled without response, even as he was said to have processed the passport with a man’s picture on the chip as revealed by the MIDAS scanner.

An Immigration official who spoke to our correspondent in confidence said, “We are seeing some desperation from many Nigerians travelling for no just reason other than to seek greener pastures, forgetting that there are no greener pastures anywhere.

“This is the trend we are seeing, but as a command we are stepping up our surveillance to ensure that people who don’t have any genuine reason to travel out are turned back so that they don’t soil the name of the country outside.”

He warned those nursing the idea of travelling without genuine businesses to think twice, saying many young men and women are subjected to dehumanisation, slavery, among other unacceptable treatments abroad.


Brain drain major challenge facing Nigeria

When contacted, a former Ambassador to Pakistan, Dauda Danladi, said brain drain was a major challenge facing Nigeria.

He said Nigeria had been losing its best brains to different parts of the world, leading a dramatic reduction in the number of professionals, including medical doctors.

He said, “According to credible sources, Nigeria is one of the three leading African sources of foreign-born physicians.

“This exodus has led to a drop in the quality of health care service delivery, absence of qualified teachers, computer eggheads, as well as engineers. It  has created a vacuum retarding development in Nigeria due to the absence.

“It is regrettable that till date, Nigeria has not been able to get on top of her problem. Nigeria was the only African country listed among the 20 top exporters of physicians in 2004, with a loss of 5 499 doctors, up from 1,519 in 1991.

“Poor pay is a major factor for leaving, particularly for mid-career doctors who have families to support.

“Other professionals finding jobs after graduation is also a major challenge. Merits are no longer a consideration.

“Apart from pay packages that are low, actual payment of salaries is often irregular. In some states, government workers’ salaries aren’t paid on time every month.”

He continued, “Another major driver is poor working conditions. This includes having to work extra hours due to inadequate facilities.

“To reverse the brain drain, the Nigerian government should create a conducive environment that will ensure employment opportunities and reduce poverty.

“It must provide the needed infrastructures, such as good roads and transport systems, affordable and functional education, water supply, security, stable energy, in addition to a good health care system.

“On their own, these won’t be enough to prevent the brain drain among medical doctors and other professionals. It would need to be supplemented by other strategies.

“These should include providing financial and other incentives to make them stay. Institutional capacity-building that promotes career development should be fostered, along with mentorship opportunities, as well as efforts to improve working conditions of staff, lack of diagnostic facilities or to supplement monthly income.

“Also, a central human resource planning body should be instituted. This would ensure a continuous increase in the number of health care workers through careful coordination and prediction of the number of medical graduates. The next strategy is brain circulating.”


Hamisu Kabir Matazu, Rosemary Etim Bassey, Abuja, Abdullateef Aliyu, Biodun Alade, & Sani Paki

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