Nigeria: The Japa Syndrome –

A recent media report claimed that the Presidency sees nothing wrong with the overwhelming desire by Nigerians, across all age and social spectrum, to seek greener pasture outside the nation’s shores in what has come to be known in street lingo as ‘japa.’ According to the report, the Presidency believes that what it described as a syndrome has always been there and therefore, there was no crime committed if Nigerians decided to seek better opportunities abroad.

To a certain degree, the Presidency is right. There is nothing wrong with a Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu leaving his job as the Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take up an appointment with the World Health Organisation (WHO). There is, certainly, nothing wrong with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala taking up an appointment as Director General of World Trade Organisation (WTO) or for that matter, Dr Akinwumi Adesina taking up a job as President of African Development Bank (AfDB). But these are not part of the issue here.

We are talking about frustrated, disillusioned and harassed Nigerians leaving the country in droves because they believe it has nothing to offer them. It is about despondency and lose of hope by sections of the demography that ought to, under normal circumstances, hold the key to the economic, social and political growth and development of the nation. It is about a ruling political elite that has lost touch with reality and, in the process, infused in its citizens a feeling distrust and doubt. It is about a government that should be embarrassed that the citizens are beginning to lose faith in Nigeria as a nation.

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Nigeria experienced the same urge to flee the country in search of greener pasture in the immediate post-Shagari civilian administration. It was then known as brain drain and the Federal Ministry of Information’s jingles on television, radio and newspapers were strident in persuading ‘Andrew’ to think twice before checking out. Now, the same federal government is saying that a similar phenomenon is permissible.

Then, in the early 1980s stretching to 1990s, the military were in government and in power – the Buhari/Idiagbon regime and, later, the Babangida administration. Now, the nation is under a democratic dispensation under the All Progressives Congress (APC) when most Nigerians were lulled into abominable complacency based on an erroneous impression that there will be a difference. Then, as at now, there is a debilitating constriction of the economic space that gave rise to massive unemployment especially among young school leavers. Job seekers still pay hundreds of thousands to be given a letter for a non-existent job opportunity in mostly government ministries departments and agencies. Then, there was high level of crime, in particular, economic crime – advance fee fraud – euphemistically dismissed as ‘419’, a reference to a section in the criminal code. The situation, instead of improving, is getting worse by the day. Now, it is a combination of cybercrime or yahoo-yahoo and terrorism, banditry and kidnapping for ransom.

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These are part of the factors driving Nigerians into self-inflicted slavery. There is definitely something wrong in a bank manager abandoning his lucrative job in Nigeria to go abroad for a job as a factory hand just because the pay is higher. There is something wrong when a lawyer abandons his practice in Nigeria to go take up a job abroad as a janitor. There is something wrong for a nurse or a teacher to abandon their calling to take up a volunteer job abroad in the hope that after a period of time they will be given resident permit and a better- paying menial job.

The situation is worse for specialized professions like medicine where accomplished surgeons are lined up for job interviews like labourers at a recruiting ground. The danger in what is going on is that most of those embarking on japa, by training and orientation, are some of the nation’s best. And that is one reason why we, as a newspaper, are persuaded to urge the federal government or the Presidency not to trivialize what is obviously a national tragedy.