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‘Japa’ – Let’s water our grass properly

Nigerians have always yearned to travel overseas. In days gone by they did so to “seek the golden fleece” and return home as “made men”…

Nigerians have always yearned to travel overseas. In days gone by they did so to “seek the golden fleece” and return home as “made men” These days things are different; Nigerians are fleeing hoping never to return.

“Japa” is a Yoruba word meaning “to run” or “to flee”. It is one of those words like “mumu” which has become part of every Nigerian language! These days “japa” syndrome describes Nigerians of all ages relocating abroad. The increasing numbers of Nigerians desiring to flee the nation is the result of discouraging economic, social and security indices.

According to recent surveys, 45 per cent of Nigerian adults plan to relocate overseas motivated by the hope of better job prospects, higher income, and improved living standards. The phrase “the grass is greener on the other side” is a common expression which refers to the manner in which people look at others and believe that their own lives are not good enough. It’s a belief that things would be better if personal circumstances were different. It’s really about a desire to live like others.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of those who manage to Japa, their conditions worsen and they discover too late that they would have been better off staying put. Of course, people finding themselves in war zones, or lands ravaged by famine, should definitely make every attempt to get out! However, others struggling to leave their country, by all means, should not believe that suffering is limited to their homeland. According to United Nations (UN) statistics relating to worldwide suffering, about 70 million children worldwide don’t have access to basic education; 800 million people do not have enough food to eat on a daily basis; and 783 million do not have access to clean water or adequate sanitation. It is understandable that such people should dream of living in a better place. Paradoxically they are not the problem.

People who are truly poverty-stricken rarely try to relocate abroad. The real problem is advances in visual media technology which have created a proliferation of misleading enticing images of the “good life”. Television reality shows, Instagram, Tik Tok, and Facebook display images designed to convince people that they are not enjoying a good life no matter how manageable their life is! This causes gullible Nigerians to have unrealistic expectations of how japa will positively alter their lives.

Describing japa as “modern slavery” is emotional drivel. It is not slavery. Slaves never entered slave ships voluntarily, and neither did they ever plan or desire to travel. It defies logic to blame Europeans for the adverse condition of those who successfully arrived overseas in a fraudulent manner and find themselves in dire circumstances, it is entirely their fault.

The Director General, Office of Foreigners, Government of Belgium pleaded with Nigerian youths not to be deceived by unrealistic dreams of life in Europe because the economic meltdown is global and there is no more golden fleece over there. He affirmed that Nigeria has the highest number of prostitutes in his country and explained that even though by law they are obliged to assist all asylum seekers, they cannot do so because the numbers have become overwhelming. Thus, many asylum seekers end up sleeping on the streets in cold weather and trying to survive without government assistance.

The social media is replete with disturbing images of Nigerians being humbled and having to resort to menial jobs they would never consider doing at home. Such Ill-considered relocations overseas were caused by government’s neglect of duty towards citizens.

Nigerians cannot be blamed for becoming frustrated by the serial procession of political leaders who promise Eldorado while campaigning for office but end up mismanaging affairs and worsening their plight. The economy has deteriorated to the extent that the unemployment rate is expected to surpass 35 per cent in 2024.

The blame lies squarely on high-level incompetence, corruption, and political brigandage. The lack of socio-political ideology, absence of transparency and accountability in government operations, and deficiency of a generally agreed concrete development plan have led to levels of hopelessness and frustration which erode confidence in the nation’s future and foster plans to “escape” in a hurry. Nigerians who wish to leave the country for developed nations cannot and indeed should not be restrained by the government.

There are many advantages to Nigerians experiencing life in properly run nations where citizens work hard, pay taxes and hold their government to account. Unfortunately, Nigerians do not have the privilege of living in a nation where citizens work and pay taxes while holding their public officials accountable. Rather than work hard, pay taxes and expect the government to solve their problems, they are encouraged to be in prayer houses for successful visa applications!

The truth is that Nigerians need to squarely face their political leaders and hold them accountable, not try to run away. Policymakers must appreciate that in this modern era of computerization and automation, it is sheer economic bunkum to believe that private industry can create the mass employment necessary for economic recovery. What is required is affirmative government policies aimed at job creation and economic growth. To paraphrase and re-iterate late British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher; Nigeria isn’t a poor country it’s a rich country full of poor people! The grass looks greener on the other side simply because we fail to water our own grass properly! 


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