By John Adeoluwa OGUNRINDE
Many Nigerians have found it extremely depressive to have travelled thousands of miles across the sea only to find themselves arrived at the same place they had hurriedly escaped (JAPA). If you ask the honest ones, they are quick to bare that if things were just a little better at home, they’d rather preferred living in Nigeria, than serving the tax master in the United Kingdom.
Those who have ever been away to test the foreign waters know that the United Kingdom or the United States is not a paradise as often painted in conversations or portrayed by the media, it is just another groups of cities with cleaner streets and stricter rules inhabited by similarly flawed humans- battling police reforms, union strikes, electioneering, throwing banters in the parliament, calling for secession and denying referendum, arguing on trade options, fighting on immigration, health service funding and pension disputes.
Rather than plucking Pounds and Dollars on the supposed golden trees and living happily ever after, many Nigerians are rather faced with a shocking awareness of their new identity – determined not by their last names but by their ‘blackness’, ‘Africaness’ and ‘Nigerianess’- an identity some had erroneously wished they could opt out or immediately unsubscribe at the point of exit at the Nigeria airports.
Anyway, identity will always matter. Just as Father-Christmas must always be a white-bearded European in red costume, our origins come as the first question when we found ourselves struggling for survival in a land where our acceptance was rather unnatural, but by immigration policies and stamps. Even at that, the word ‘immigrant’ has never for once been used by the ‘rich west’ without condescension and underlying contempt, regardless of the huge fortunes and millions reaped from visa processing.
Meanwhile, though the sub-class rating and undignifying job placement of Nigerians abroad is topical and will always be, but then a little wisdom would tell us that we need to de-emphasize the effects and focus on the cause. Generally, the larger implication we should be looking at is not on the Nigerians in diaspora, rather on the masses back at home; the Nigeria nationhood in terms of nation-building, sovereignty, stability, real economic independence, and actual freedom from our colonial past.
While there have been many talks on the pains and gains of ‘JAPA’- an imagery for Nigerians fleeing bad conditions at home for better conditions abroad- there have been little in-depth analysis from the dimension of our nationhood vis-a-vis our celebrated independence, self-sufficiency and self-determination in which we “pledge to Nigeria my country” at the time we drove out the colonial masters and which for the first time we held our own national destiny in our own hands.
The “JAPA” slang addresses mass exodus to the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and the rest West. But the case of the UK is zoomed here, particularly because it has been the largest recipient of the fleeing Nigerians in the last couple of years- thousands of visa for students and dependents, and thousands of work visas draining Nigerian pool of doctors, nurses, health assistants, I.T experts and other skilled men and women made in Nigeria.
If you have ‘JAPA’ like I have done, or you are planning to, or just reading for insights on this matter, we would have failed to see our own selves or even failed to acknowledge our situation, if we ignore having an honest analysis of the ‘JAPA’ syndrome around our national life.
On close assessment, the story of ‘JAPA’ is a story of nationalism versus individualism. For individuals, it is a matter of self-sustenance, of economic refuge, fear of loss, uncertainty and most of all-safety. But on the national scale, it is a story of new colonization, requested, applied, pleaded, prayed and paid for by the colonized; regardless that such submission to the sovereignty of colonial nationality was ignited by ruptured governance system, poverty and insecurity back in the homeland.
Economically, ‘JAPA’ is a disaster, a national suicide, a rapid and significant decline of our national assets. An October 20th report by The Punch quotes SBM intelligence that the year 2022 alone has accounted for £1.9bn accrued expenditure from about 65,000 Nigerian students and their dependents into the UK economy, excluding skilled labour visas. The rough estimate of this figure in domestic value is about N1trillion, which is just a pinch less than the total monetary demand of ASUU for 13 years; penny wise, pound foolish?
This report may appear bogus, but it has largely excluded how much of naira was transferred from the Nigeria’s lean purse to the fat economic wallets of the US, Canada, Australia, and their counterparts around Europe as heavily taxed tuitions and visa fees via the CBN and black market. The summation of naira outlets flowing into these many foreign economic pools should fever any responsible government- seeing how the ‘poor Nigerian Peter’ is bleeding out to pay the ‘rich European Pauls’, living the ‘poor Peter’ even poorer, leaner and hungrier.
Apart from the economic trap-hole ‘JAPA’ puts Nigeria, it is an obvious national disgrace- not because of the mass exodus- exodus itself is not new and not peculiar to Nigeria, but the disgrace is in the push factors causing such exodus: for ransom kidnapping, for long period of strike, for business collapse, for job lay-offs or inability to find one, for health and safety or the continuous herder-killer banditry, terrorism threats plus police brutality none of which the government has shown any serious capacity to end at the earliest- hence the push for many Nigerians to live the country at the earliest.
But then, while ‘JAPA’ may seem to have solved individuals’ short term cravings, we need not criticized those who define a VISA as an invitation to modern slavery; because for one, it is an invitation and two it is only smart technologies, cool infrastructure and labour laws that make it look less like slavery. Looking at it however, there is no way the United Kingdom or her counterparts grants an express visa to anyone who has got no skilled-service to render, or no huge money to splash in her economy or no trainings to support her system. In short, when refugee figure spiked in 2022- the United Kingdom found it too burdensome and shoved them down to Rwanda. So by rational estimate, every million spent in visa application, every skilled labour transferred, every family dependent, and every human flight- it is always a well-negotiated multi-fold profits for the UK and a blind multi-fold loss for Nigeria.
It is more worrisome that a huge percentage of those who had ‘JAPA’ were educated, trained, nurtured and certified in government-established and funded tertiary institutions, where students paid less to nothing under a heavily-subsidized system- a direct opposite of what is operated in the sought UK where tertiary education is highly priced and are self-funded by anyone seeking higher education either by loans or direct debit.
Back home, this heavy investment through subventions, salary payment and equipment procurement to train Nigerian students for Nigeria’s development is directly harvested and benefited by the UK for the UK’s development when those graduates exit Nigeria to activate and monetized those skills abroad.
Indeed, since migration is a natural human instinct, we cannot discuss migrants like some billion-naira cargo-goods sailing west, but for any thoughtful person, the image that keeps replaying in the whole ‘JAPA’ scenario is that of the pre-independence era, when Nigerians labour day and night to pay the British tax master and to continually fill up the coin bags in the treasury of Her Majesty The Queen.
Sixty-two years since independence from the British grip of economic enslavement, and nothing much seems to have changed except for the means and method at which Nigeria was at the very behest of the British Royalty and Premiership- servicing their economy with trillions of naira annually and with hard labour. If there is anything new at all: it is only that we now go to them begging, praying and paying for acceptance as opposed to the first colonial time when they came to us- invaded, plundered, harvested and chained slaves away.
Given this situation, plus our heavy reliance on imported goods, unending borrowing from abroad, domestic duplication of western ways and policies, it is difficult to lay any reasonable claim to freedom and independence in the actual sense of self-reliance. The only question that becomes difficult is whether we are BACK TO COLONY or we never really left in the first place?