Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Dilemma for Young Nigerians


Nigerian graduate Olotu Olanrewaju faces a choice between staying in the country he loves and the possibility of a better life elsewhere.

He loves the culture, the food, the music and the family mentality at home, especially the way people care for each other and pursue common goals.

But the 24-year-old electrical engineer feels hampered in his professional development.

“I’m looking for greener pastures and better opportunities, rather than being stuck here in Nigeria,” he tells the BBC podcast What in the World, adding that he thinks his degree would be “more valued” abroad.

There is also a sense that the lack of reliable basic infrastructure, which causes power outages for example, as well as concerns about security, corruption and poor governance, pose unnecessary obstacles to daily life.

Mr. Olanrewaju is one of tens of thousands of young, disillusioned Nigerians considering joining the many others abroad, a trend known by the Yoruba word “japa,” meaning “escape.”

The BBC has contacted several government officials to ask for their response to what he and other young Nigerians told us, but has not yet received a response.

The idea of ​​emigrating from Nigeria is not new.

Since the 1980s, many middle-class Nigerians have sought economic opportunities abroad, but the scale and urgency now feels different, with japa becoming increasingly popular with Gen Z and millennials.

A 2022 survey by the African Polling Institute found that 69% of Nigerians aged 18-35 would move if given the chance, despite a slight decline from 2021. In 2019, this figure was just 39%.

Young Nigerians are posting on social media about their japa experiences.

While some share how much they miss their home country, others emphasize the appeal of moving and encourage their peers to do the same.

But leaving is an expensive undertaking.

The rising cost of living and the depreciation of the currency, the naira, have made the expensive process even more difficult, but have also led to more people trying to leave.

For professionals and university graduates who have the necessary skills and qualifications, it is much easier to secure a well-paid job and a visa in the West, and they have the financial means to start a new life in a country where the cost of living is much higher than at home.

In addition to those seeking legal routes, many Nigerians attempt to move abroad without a visa, crossing the Sahara or the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands die each year on the journey, and those who do make it often struggle to find work or a decent place to live.

For years, Mr. Olanrewaju and his parents have been saving. He hopes to move to Germany or Spain and has enrolled in German lessons to increase his chances.

He is not the first in his family to take this path.

Two years ago, his now 27-year-old brother Daniel managed to swap the clammy heat of Nigeria for the cooler coast of the Scottish city of Aberdeen.

He works there as a photographer and social worker and although he thinks it is a bit expensive, he tells his brother about the benefits of Scotland’s infrastructure, including the fact that people can trust that the electricity, water and transport systems work properly.

A young woman with chestnut braids and a red top A young woman with chestnut braids and a red top

Elizabeth Ademuyi Anuoluwapo says leaving is the only way to gain financial stability (BBC)

Social worker Oluwatobi Abodunrin, 29, moved to London last year and is also positive about her move, saying Nigeria is full of “passionate, active young people” who want more from their careers.

“I decided to leave Nigeria because I wasn’t getting what I wanted,” she says.

“We are very talented, we want to be recognized, we want our voices to be heard and we want to be respected.”

She also acknowledges how difficult it is to leave friends and family behind.

“It was a difficult decision to leave home. To leave people who are sweet, kind, generous and passionate. But I am glad I made the decision and that things are going well.”

According to government statistics, there are more than 270,000 Nigerians like Ms Abodunrin living in the UK.

It is one of the most popular destinations for japa. The number of Nigerians granted work visas to the UK has quadrupled since 2019 due to changes in immigration rules after Brexit.

However, the UK has responded to this increase by tightening the rules for people seeking work visas.

The US and Canada are also very attractive.

Canada has seen a surge in migration, with the number of Nigerians applying for residency there tripling since 2015, a phenomenon known as the “Canada Rush”.

Zoology student Elizabeth Ademuyi Anuoluwapo acknowledges the difficulties of leaving, but she believes it is the only way to gain the financial stability she needs.

“I would miss my people, my food, my friends, my family. The atmosphere here is very cozy,” she says. “Maybe I’ll go there for a few years and then come back.”

Japan has hit the medical world particularly hard.

According to the Nigerian Medical Association, at least 50 doctors left the country every week in 2022.

This has left an already overburdened healthcare system in further trouble.

The government has said it will train more people to fill these gaps and backed a new bill that would require medical graduates to work in Nigeria for at least five years after completing their training, a bill that was fiercely opposed by doctors’ unions.

A similar directive has been issued for nurses, who must work in the country for at least two years before they are allowed to leave.

Some, like Dr Vongdip Nankpah of Abuja University Teaching Hospital, feel it is important to stay.

He believes that career goals encompass more than just an individual’s interests. They should also relate to the community and the value that an individual can contribute to society.

“If I want to make the most of my medical practice, I would rather stay in Nigeria and see if we can improve the country and the region,” he says.

“These are the things that still motivate me to stay in the country.”

But despite the emotional attachment, Mr Olanrewaju does not feel he owes anything to Nigeria and would not feel guilty if he were to leave.

“Most of my personal growth and gains have been self-generated,” he says.

Instead, he would see himself as a representative of Nigerians abroad, advocating for those who may not have the same opportunities to move abroad.

For those who can afford it, japa is the ultimate choice.

It promises a future full of adventure, ambition and wealth, but it also carries the risk of severing ties with the past.

Like many Nigerian students, Mr Olanrewaju is now weighing the benefits against the costs of what he is leaving behind.

Additional reporting by Makuochi Okafor, Faith Oshoko, Emily Horler and Alex Rhodes.

More BBC stories about Nigeria:

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(BBC channel)

What in the world is a daily podcast from BBC World Service that helps you understand what’s happening in the world, presented by Hannah Gelbart.

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