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Everyone wants to japa

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark… no one leaves home unless home chases you/ fire under feet, the British-Somalian…

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark… no one leaves home unless home chases you/ fire under feet, the British-Somalian poet, Warsan Shire, writes in her arguably most famous poem, ‘Home.’ When home is no longer hospitable, when it is fire burning you, you flee if you can. What else is there to do? Our people say that the only thing you beat and it stays (to receive the beating) is a tree.

On my recent trip to Naija, almost everyone I spoke to—from the taxi driver who carried me one day to the young man who helped me with my luggage at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport in Abuja—wants to japa. The luggage carrier said he was a student of architecture at some university, but he wasn’t optimistic about his prospects. And how could he get to Canada? I told him I didn’t know but I wished him luck. The driver dreamed of moving somewhere abroad. He had a family; the country was hard, he said.

This sentiment echoed in countless conversations, even among those better off than the driver and the young man. An acquaintance with a massive home and one of those generators that purr like some over-indulged pet rather than belch and roar is seriously thinking of relocating. He’d never thought he’d even consider leaving, he said, but now he’s out of patience with Naija. While the rising cost of everything made its way into almost every conversation, for him it was also “just things not working.” You can have all the money, he said, “but money only goes so far before it can’t help you.” True. How does your money help you when you are in a supermarket but there’s nothing to buy? Or do you have to deal with constant power outages? Or you need a hospital but can’t get to one on time? A relative of ours died because when she needed emergency medical attention, her daughter drove her in the slow-moving traffic Lagos is legendary for to the hospital. When I asked why they hadn’t called an ambulance, she scoffed. It’s when I ask such questions that folks’ reactions tell me that though I visit Naija often, I have lived abroad for far too long.

With the people I spoke to, it wasn’t just  frustration with the infrastructure or the economic situation that lit the fire under their feet.  It was the pervasive sense of insecurity. A rather well-off cousin who used to travel to and through the southeast often with his own fleet of MOPOL has given up both the frequent trips and his security personnel. One reason is that the latter attracts attention, and two, because he’s scared of being abducted. In the past few months, a handful of people he knows have been abducted and released only after a huge ransom was paid. The fear of abduction is now a part of life. Everyone knows at least someone who has been kidnapped. If you walked into any market in Naija and threw a stone, I guarantee you, it will hit someone whose life or the life of someone they know has been impacted by kidnap-for-ransom. It’s like the wild, wild west.

So I don’t blame those who—whether they have any real chance to or not—dream of japaing. Everyone deserves a chance to live well, to drink water and put down their cup like my NdiIgbo say. You see, the urgency to japa is not just about seeking greener pastures; it’s about survival. It’s about dignity. It’s about the right to a life where every day isn’t an unnecessary struggle.

The challenge for our leaders in Naija is to create a society where people feel valued and secure, where their daily lives are not marred by unnecessary fear and frustration. They must create an environment where staying is a viable option, so that leaving is a choice, not an inevitability. Until then, the Andrews will continue checking out (I’ve just dated myself), driven by the simple human desire for a better, safer life. When home becomes the mouth of a shark, fire burning under your feet, you run as fast as you can away from it. Unless you can’t.

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