Japa does not mean to walk away. It is to flee from danger or a compromising situation. It means fleeing an abusive relationship, an extremely demanding situation, and life-threatening issues. And the king of the meanings: Flee from Nigeria.
Slangs like Japa are apt socio-linguals that capture the state and situations of society and how the people are faring. They give linguists and society the ability to understand the nation from mere conversations and expressions. Using the same word for different concepts signifies similarity of situation or property, and where fleeing is applicable, it means there is implied and immediate gravitation from discomfort to comfort. To put Nigeria on the negative end of Japa is a disturbing development that needs urgent attention from relevant quarters.
Nigerian society has reached the point where unnecessary compromises and prolonged discomfort cannot be endured any further. The phenomenon has taught people to say no dulling to such instances, as one must know when to japa before it is too late. The vast applicability of this concept creates the struggle of balance between patience, endurance, and the desire to succeed. It does not tell you to leave; it tells you to flee.
A Yoruba proverb says: “Suuru ni baba iwa, agba to ni suuru, ohun gbogbo lo ni,” which means patience is the greatest virtue and a patient elder has all within his coven. Japa is gradually negating this wisdom of the elders, and in the case of Nigeria, it is justifiably doing so. It seems that the youths have realized that suuru might not be a virtue or wisdom in the case of Nigeria, and there is an increased sensitization to japa.
There is a proliferating rate of emerging urge to leave Nigeria by the old and the young, who see the diaspora as their most promising chance at achieving success. The surge of emigration has been hitting the country since the 1980s due to discouraging situations and political instability, and data dive has been increasing since then. The Nigerian migration balance in the 21st century has been negative, with the current migration rate as of 2021 at -0.29, indicating that more people are emigrating from the country than those immigrating. To be fair, Japa is a continental issue; more than 65% of African countries have a negative migration rate, with Eritrea having -10.11. However, considering Nigeria’s population of about 210 million people, -0.29 is not better than nations with a worse rate. Moreover, if more people have the means and opportunity to leave the country, there is a disturbing possibility that they will.
Leaving the country ought not to be an accomplishment, but when your destination provides more opportunities and ease, Japa becomes a lifetime achievement. The problem with Nigeria is not so much the number of people who emigrate almost monthly; it is the damning effects on the nation and its systems. The effects extend the scopes behind Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published fifty years ago. In a country battling inefficient systems, emigration increases inefficiency, causes brain drain, and stalls development. Recently, the Nigerian banking and Fintech industries are facing a mass resignation of their staff, affecting their service delivery. This has been slowing down banking processes, leaving many people frustrated as it affects important transactions.
As young women and men pop champagne at every japa, the system keeps taking steps backward. The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors revealed that six out of ten Nigerian doctors have intentions to japa. The number might not look worrying yet, but in 2021, Professor Innocent Ujah, the former President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), disclosed that about 50% of Nigerian doctors had found their way out of the country. Dr. Uche Ojinmah stated that only about 20,000 to 25,000 doctors in Nigeria provide medical care for more than 200 million Nigerians. Taking 25,000 doctors to 200 million Nigerians, Nigeria should currently have a ratio of one doctor to more than 8000 citizens. And if Prof. Ujah’s expectations materialize, Nigeria might be left with one doctor to more than 16,000 patients if six in ten doctors japa. This fear is not an exaggeration: it is a reality if nothing is done. For instance, from 2016 to 2018, the former NMA president claimed that about 9000 doctors migrated to the USA, UK, and Canada.
The brain drain affects almost all sectors of the Nigerian economy, not only the medical or banking sectors. Those who japa are mostly highly skilled individuals with specific talents across different industries. A report in 2002 shows that out of about 247,500 Nigerians in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, 55% were remarkably skilled and trained professionals. With a progressive expected increase in the number of emigrants, one might not be able to fathom the impact on the nation. Aside from these skilled individuals, Nigerians with innovative and developmental ideas and establishments prefer to japa, putting the nation’s future in doubt. If the future depends on innovations and ideas and those who have them prefer to take or have taken their trade elsewhere, then the future is in danger.
On September 4, 2021, Premium Times reported a survey that stated that not less than 73% of Nigerians want to japa. Besides workers, skilled labourers, and 21st-century entrepreneurs who seek greener pastures in Europe and other places, thousands of Nigerian students are also looking for every opportunity to japa. The Central Bank of Nigeria stated that about $28.65 billion was spent by Nigerians to study outside the country from 2010 to 2020, and this does not include the various scholarship opportunities that Nigerian students dig out. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, about 100,000 Nigerians enrolled in different institutions abroad. In July 2022, the Association of Nigerian Students in Europe stated that Europe alone has more than three million Nigerians enrolled in different educational institutions. A survey also states that 89.87% of Nigerian youth prefer to study in a university outside the country. Seventy-three percent of all Nigerians, 60% of doctors, and 89.87% of students want to japa! They want to flee the country.
Is this a real representation of what Nigeria is turning into? A place to flee from? A Japa country? The country of japa people? Are people accidentally born in Nigeria, the abode of birth, to then japa after receiving their breast milk to the abode of living?
Despite this surge, millions of Nigerians are making headways, and businesses are still striving. However, will Nigerian systems and development not be affected if the surge continues and the brain drain gets aggravated? No one can blame anyone aspiring to japa, as the current situation does not encourage them. Salary scales and career progress are not encouraging; employment opportunities are few, as about 33% of Nigerians are unemployed. The Nigerian educational system is in shambles and suffering from underfunding, inefficiency, and ASUU strikes.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria is on edge, and the rising number of those who wish to japa is not surprising. The country has a poverty rate of more than 40%, with about 89 million of the population battling with sapa, another expression that epitomizes being broke and living in bondage and poverty. Sapa has originated arguably our most successful contemporary song, “Buga Lo Lo,” making Kizz Daniel a hero both of anti-sapa and anti-japa:
Don’t sleep no sleep
Wake up (Uba)
Collect your money
Wake up eh
Collect your money
Wake up (Giddem). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLF90M96m2Q
Since 1999, the Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on strike for more than 1,450 days and is currently on strike in 2022 since February 14. Insecurity in Nigeria has become a social norm, affecting businesses, education, lives, and properties. With all these affecting the personal lives of individuals, to japa will surely be a success for an average Nigerian. Seeing the effect of sapa on Nigeria, its system, and development, can we blame those who want to japa? No! One can only fault the system and country for failing its citizens at an alarming rate, leaving them with an escapist mindset.
The problem is not the massive migration; it is what causes the japa surge. The concrete sapa. If the country must keep its talents and sustain the future it wishes to create with them, it must resolve these issues and make the country more conducive to life. The government must be more deliberate about resolving issues surrounding the country’s living conditions. More relevant infrastructural developments and schemes that would allow emerging, small, and medium-scale businesses to thrive must be promoted. There is a need to revitalize the educational system, and resolving pending issues with labour unions is necessary. Decisive steps must be taken on the state of insecurity in the country, and all other issues militating against the desire to remain in Nigeria must be attended to. Without these steps, Nigerians will continue to japa to escape from sapa.
My dear Nigerians, I would be speaking with my tongue in my cheeks to say that those affected by sapa should not japa. However, as it is crystal clear that all Nigerians cannot leave, it is the people’s responsibility to take on the roles of citizenship, to japa from bad leadership, japa from drugs, japa from crime, japa from 419, japa from political lethargy, and be disposed to entrepreneurship. With good leadership and citizenship, the nation and its people can japa from situations that create a desperate craving for japa. It is from this point that development and political accountability can start. It is our Nigeria, and this Tokunbo wants you to know that everyone cannot japa.
Collect your freedom
Collect your democracy
Collect your country
Buga hi high