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Foreigners troop to Nigeria as citizens japa in search of greener pastures

A recent visit to the departure hall of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos was a beehive of activities with thousands of Nigerians leaving the…

A recent visit to the departure hall of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos was a beehive of activities with thousands of Nigerians leaving the country. From findings, majority of them were going with a one-way ticket, which means that they have no intention of coming back soon, if at all they would return.

This is the reality of the moment as the japa syndrome that has hit the country’s fabric has continued unabated, with thousands of Nigerians leaving the country on a daily basis in search of what is usually known as the greener pastures in Europe, America and other countries, where they believe there are opportunities.

The founder of a medical facility in Lagos recently complained how he lost virtually all his personnel (doctors and nurses) to the Japa syndrome, leaving him virtually stranded and unable to cope with the number of patients trooping to his clinic. This is the case in other sectors as citizens flee the country while the country’s human resource is badly depleted.

In the first half of 2023, the United Kingdom, which is unarguably the first country of destination by many Nigerians, especially those going for further studies with their dependents, said it issued some 132,000 visas to Nigerians.

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According to Jonny Baxter, British Deputy High Commissioner in Lagos, “In the first half of the year we granted approximately 132,000 visas, which include visit, work and study.

“In the previous full year before that, we issued about 324,000. In that year, the United Kingdom issued about three million visas, and of the number, 324,000 were issued to Nigerians, which is about 10 per cent.”

Apart from the United Kingdom, those going on irregular migration through the Sahara desert are also in thousands despite the risk involved as shown in the figure of evacuation. In the first half of 2023, no fewer than 4,000 Nigerians were stranded in different countries, especially the Middle East and were evacuated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in different exercises.

The IOM, through its Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme, also repatriated over 3,000 Nigerians from Libya alone in 2023, with majority of the returnees languishing in Libyan detention camps before the help of the IOM came. They were arrested after failed attempts to cross to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

While this migration, whether regularly or irregularly, otherwise known as Japa, has continued, some foreigners are not seeing an entirely hopeless situation in Nigeria as many of them also troop to the country on a daily basis for businesses.


Foreigners find solace in Nigeria

Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday indicate that many foreigners from China, India, Lebanon, United Kingdom, among others, have also found Nigerians as home, leveraging on opportunities in the country in oil and gas, construction, telecommunication sector, among others.

Our correspondent gathered that foreigners trooping into the country for businesses have virtually tripled in recent times, with China leading. Also, Indians, Lebanese, among other nationals have made Nigeria their homes, working in various sectors.

From Ikeja GRA to Victoria Island, the Lebanese community in Nigeria has grown over time, becoming one of the largest diaspora communities in Nigeria with about 75,000 people. The existence of blue chip companies owned by Lebanese, as well as construction sites belonging to their nationals, has seen some of their kinsmen playing significant roles in their operation.

Similarly, the Chinese community has grown in leaps and bounds owing to the various construction projects handled by Chinese construction giants in Nigeria like the China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC) handling various railway projects. The CCECC constructed the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge railway, Abuja-Kaduna rail, Kaduna-Kano rail, the four new international airport terminals, among other projects.

In addition, findings by our correspondent showed that many Chinese are working at various quarry sites across Nigeria.

Our correspondent recently visited the popular Chinese Village in Lagos, which has become a marketplace for their nationals in the state, where they live and ply their trade.

According to an official of the village, more Chinese nationals troop into the village on a daily basis.

“If you need any special Chinese attire or product, you see hundreds of China Town vendors in this village. They are here making a living and contributing to the economy of the state and Nigeria in general,” the manager said.

India is another big community in Nigeria spread across the South and northern part of the country. According to India’s High Commissioner in Nigeria, Gangadharan Balasubramanian, there are no fewer than 60,000 Indians who have made Nigeria their home. In all, there are estimated 90,000 Indians in Nigeria working in various industries, especially the manufacturing sector.

In most cases, they are filling vacancies in management and technical positions, especially where the expertise is lacking in Nigeria. But many Nigerians have also raised questions about the abuse of expatriate quota.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that expatriate quota policy enables foreign companies to recruit foreign employees to work legitimately in Nigeria.

“In Nigeria, we have about 60,000 Indians who have made Nigeria their home for the last three to four decades. There are more than 135 Indian companies manufacturing and working here in Nigeria for the past three to four decades, just to mention a little more about Indians in Nigeria,” the Higher Commissioner said in an interview earlier this year.

Recently, there was a report alleging that Dangote Refinery neglected Nigerians and other African youths and employed more foreigners, especially Indians and Chinese, to build the complex.

Refuting the report, the management of the refinery clarified that over 30,000 Nigerians were employed while 11,000 foreigners worked on the site.

In justifying the large presence of foreigners at the site, the spokesperson of Dangote, Anthony Chiejina, explained that the magnitude of the project required a specialised skilled workforce from all over the world. He said over 30,000 Nigerians were engaged among the skilled workforce at the peak of construction in the refinery complex. He added that they were engaged along with 6,400 Indians and 3,250 Chinese workers.

With the growing Indian and Chinese companies, job opportunities for foreigners have grown, especially in areas where their technical skills are required.

Visas-on-arrival doubled

Checks by our correspondent revealed that the number of visas-on- arrival (VoA) issued at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos has doubled since the policy was implemented in line with the ease of doing business policy of the federal government.

From 38,000 VoAs issued at the busiest airport alone in 2018, the number grew to 53,644 in 2022. While efforts to get this year’s figure were futile as the immigration declined to release it, our correspondent learnt that more people are coming into the country for businesses.

The Nigeria Immigration Service also introduced the Business Trust Visa to enhance foreign investments in Nigeria and eliminate concerns about fraudulent business partners.

It was gathered that with more foreigners showing interest in investing in Nigeria, the Business Trust Visa was designed to facilitate businesses by foreigners. According to a recent data, the number of foreigners in Nigeria as at 2020 stood at 1.3m with more trooping to the country.

Opportunities abound in Nigeria – Foreigners

Some foreigners who spoke with our correspondent said opportunities still abounded in Nigeria despite the Japa syndrome.

An Indian who has made Nigeria his home said there were opportunities for the people to explore, especially in the technology and start-up ecosystem.

The Indian businessman, Anil Rai, who resides at Ilupeju, Lagos said, “Nigeria is known for having many different cultures and lots of good things to offer. One important thing is that there are various opportunities for both people and the environment. People in Nigeria are friendly to one another and show a lot of respect to their bosses at work. They are also eager to learn new things and use new technology.

“Nigeria offers numerous avenues for business, entrepreneurship and investment. With a substantial and expanding population, it stands as one of Africa’s largest consumer markets, providing prospects across multiple industries.

“The tech and start-up landscape in cities such as Lagos is thriving, attracting an increasing number of tech innovators and investors keen on the African market. Additionally, Nigeria’s demand for infrastructure enhancement, encompassing roads, transportation and energy creates attractive investment opportunities.

“In my view, therefore, Nigeria is in a phase of development and is shifting towards enhancing its core sectors like manufacturing that would help the country grow.

“Nigerians have a reputation for their genuine warmth and hospitality, frequently extending a heartfelt welcome to guests and making concerted efforts to ensure their comfort and sense of belonging.

“Nigeria boasts of a dynamic music and entertainment sector, with genres like Afrobeat gaining global acclaim. Nigerians frequently exhibit a deep enthusiasm for music, dance and entertainment.”

The consul-general of Netherlands in Lagos, Michel Deelen, has been in Nigeria for over 15 years. He believes there are opportunities in the country but the youths must be galvanised through training and skills development to be able to harness them.

He made reference to the recent close-out event for the Work in Progress (WiP) project, which supported 120 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and 138 start-ups in Nigeria.

The project, implemented by Oxfam, is aimed at improving the economic prospects of young people in Nigeria, Egypt and Somalia by building their skills to find a job and stimulate entrepreneurship.

Since 2016 when the project started in three states – Lagos, Nasarawa and Edo – no fewer than 3,135 young women and men have been trained, while 60 per cent of them were linked with employment opportunities.

In a chat with Daily Trust on Sunday, the Netherlands envoy said when there were opportunities and deliberate efforts to improve the economy and tackle the challenges of inflation, high interest rate and unemployment that come with it, Nigerians would want to stay back.

He said, “There is a huge young Nigerian population looking for jobs or how to set up businesses. Every country needs to invest in human capital because it builds your future. We are looking at the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders. You need to invest in that to ensure that the quality of people you have got to run your country and enterprises is actually good. That is a matter of education, but it can also be a matter of this specific tailor made training (the WiP programme). It is a combination; you go to school, learn, do extra training and learn more.

“Seventy per cent of Nigerians can be defined as youths. Those are a huge group, and there are lots of potentials in them. If you are a Nigerian man or woman, you want to do something positive. You want to get a job and take care of your family, and for that, you need revenue. So, if there are no jobs and training, you might end up in the streets, and that is what nobody wants.”

How to reduce the Japa syndrome

On the Japa syndrome, he said that while there are opportunities in Nigeria, there are also challenges.

“The problem is the economic situation, interest rate and inflation. When I talk to people who actually engage in the Japa syndrome, they talk about their children, the education system in the country and other practical things. There are lots of elements but that is up to the new Nigerian government to make sure that these things are tweaked and the economy would be growing again.”

He said if the economy of Nigeria grew, jobs would be created and the Japa syndrome would reduce.

A foremost human resource practitioner, Alhaji Ibrahim Abdullahi, also said the seeming hopelessness in Nigeria was driving out the youth in search of greener pastures, and warned this is depleting the country’s human resource base. He said one of the best ways to retain the country’s human resources was for political leaders to change their mindset from materialism.

He said the professionals would find it hard to remain in the country when they see the kind of humongous salaries and allowances by political leaders.

“I always wonder why our political class would get to the system and continue to do what would be inimical to the progress and economic survival of the country. For example, if we have money that could cover about 30 projects and we decide to give the jobs to those we know, not those who have the ability to deliver but those who would give kickbacks, the contracts would be more than doubled and the kickback would come back to those who have given the contracts and the country would suffer for it,” he said.

The fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) said that corruption, which has eaten deep into the country’s ecosystem, made it extremely difficult for professionals to earn decent wages, while politicians live in opulence.

“There should be a holistic anti-corruption crusade that would ensure that those who are guilty of corruption are greatly punished. I can tell you that our laws are too weak to deal with corruption.

“In Nigeria today, Japa will continue as long as those in public offices are looting the treasury and the law is permitting them to walk freely through plea bargaining. Anybody that steals up to N100 million, if he is in the detention of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission  (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the court of law, by the time he is able to release N30m, they would write that he could go. As long as corruption festers in Nigeria, Japa will continue, except the government has the political will to tackle it,” he said.

He said corruption and uneven distribution of resources had put a lot of Nigerians in a hopeless situation and asked the present administration to address the challenges.

“Yes, politicians are living large because they are the best paid, from councillors to the president, and citizens of the country are suffering. Those in public offices, especially in the National Assembly, are overpaid, though they denied it. But you all know that the denial is not correct. It is true that their salary is not up to N2m or N3m, but it is a fact that 11 other allowances have been worked to their advantage,” he added.

An activist, Comrade Achike Jude, also said the Japa syndrome in Nigeria was essentially about economic migration.

According to him, there is a lot of hopelessness in Nigeria and “that is why it is not only the young people that are leaving, even people who are established in their professions and businesses leave.”

He said, “People coming into Nigeria are from Niger, and they are coming to beg, not for opportunities.

“If you are talking of foreigners that are coming here to do business or invest, definitely there is business in societies that are prone to conflict, poverty and the rest. Depending on the nature of their businesses, once they feel that there is an enabling environment for them, they would naturally come here to create wealth. That is not to say that Nigeria’s environment is generally conducive for manufacturing and businesses from abroad. It is not.”

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The Lagos State chairman of the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME), Prof Aadebayo Adams, said the local environment was not conducive for investment, noting that the foreigners are not also finding it easy to operate.

He said that insecurity, high cost of energy, multiple taxation were some of the challenges facing businesses operating in Nigeria.

According to him, many Nigerians, especially the youth, would continue to leave the country in search of greener pastures because the opportunities are not there for them to excel.

He said the few entrepreneurs in the country were being frustrated by lack of patronage.

He said, “The environment isn’t conducive for investment. Anywhere you are and there is security threat, the business will not thrive. Our ease of doing business ranking is going down. We are going backward now and that is bad. We are supposed to be moving forward.

“You see the expatriates coming into the country using security operatives to move around. All this is added into the prices of whatever they are producing. When you are also being given unnecessary taxes, your business will not grow.

“The cost of energy to run your factory is humongous. Government should look into this by creating an enabling environment. Let there be energy to assist the manufacturers.

“The environment also affects the foreigners, but let me tell you how they are doing it. You see policemen in their offices and other logistics. So government needs to encourage the patronage of made in Nigeria products to provide opportunities for our citizens to remain in the country. Also, we must eliminate multiple taxation and make the roads motorable because our roads are bad.”

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