Musings on the current trend of japa-ing abroad
If you haven’t noticed, everyone, their family, and their dog seem to be departing the country in large numbers every day, at least if social media and WhatsApp groups are to be believed. The act of packing up and leaving Nigeria in search of, presumably, a better life overseas is known as “Japa.”
There are probably not as many people leaving the country as you may think. But you start to see it from a different perspective when you realize that it’s not about how many Nigerians are leaving, but rather how many people in your social circles are departing. Many people are choosing to leave their “comfortable by Naija” standard of living and what one could typically regard to be plum employment, to relocate abroad. Many are leaving in their old age, and others even take their elderly parents with them. Nowadays, it’s no longer about who is leaving but who is left.
Many who choose to travel japa don’t simply get up, buy a ticket, pack their bags, and take off. Ideally, they have given their decision some thought and have made preparations for it. Why exactly should I japa? They most likely also tried to get their families to support them (spouse and children, if they have any say in the matter). They must then decide where they want to go and why they want to go there.
One of the most popular ways to japa is to attend school abroad, and the United Kingdom has emerged as a favourite choice because of their change in position on post-study work visas (better understood as an outcome of Brexit). Additionally, it appears that the UK is issuing study visas to individuals and their families like how an aunt distributes party packs at a child’s birthday party, so everyone is queuing up for theirs.
Another reason the UK is a favoured destination is due to its cosmopolitan nature as one is certain to occasionally encounter another Nigerian in many of its multicultural cities. Although the weather isn’t what many Nigerians are used to, winter fashion is the best and one gets to wear beanies, cardigans, thick socks, boots, long coats, and everything else needed to keep warm when the temperatures drop.
Speaking of being welcomed with open arms, the UK also offers a variety of other visa categories that are advantageous to persons looking to live abroad. Many European, North American, and Asian nations are also excellent locations for higher study, but their value is only directly correlated with the likelihood of obtaining a permanent residence, naturally taking japa into consideration of course.
And when it comes to permanent residency, Canada appears to be the number one destination. I remember when a friend of mine moved there almost twenty years ago, I wondered if she had her head firmly screwed on, now I know better. Getting your citizenship in as fast as three years, what’s not to love about that? There’s also Australia but not a lot of people appear to be headed there, I mean, they don’t call them “the land down under” for nothing.
Some people are lucky (or should I say they have done their research properly) and have got jobs abroad that come with a work visa. Many people swear that only happens by luck but I am sure these people just know where and how to look for such opportunities. Some other people may even be transferred to an international office of the global firm they work for in Nigeria. Good for them, right?
And finally, some probably did wake up bright and early one morning, bought a ticket to some city in the West, travelled, and plan never to come back. The only problem is that some of these people travelled on a visit visa and would surely overstay their welcome. They can’t work proper jobs because they are undocumented so they have to resort to either using “ori olori” (identity theft) or working under the radar on jobs that would be guaranteed to exploit them.
No day goes by that I don’t see someone tweeting about japa or sharing their experience or handing out unsolicited advice about migrating. Trust Nigerians to maximise every opportunity, some people have also become japa consultants! How can one blame anyone for tapping into this great opportunity though? At the rate at which the conversations go on everywhere, one would think everyone in Nigeria is in a queue out of Naija!
I don’t blame anyone who leaves or wants to leave Nigeria. Things are tough, definitely and they are guaranteed to become tougher in the days ahead. If anyone believes they can have it easier elsewhere, why should anyone convince them otherwise? But I just wonder, are things so bad that many have lost hope in Nigeria?
Does this mean I have no plans to japa? I keep getting asked that question by people who have either gone or are probably planning to leave. I think about it frequently and I often wonder what would make me get to the point of making that decision. Or maybe I have already decided and I’m just keeping my cards close to my chest? You know we don’t announce our departure until we have arrived “in the abroad”.
Many of us are convinced that life abroad is much better than life in Naija but how many consider which indices truly matter to them? I have always believed that people need to understand exactly what they are running away from and what they are running to. Many are unprepared for the shock of living abroad, especially those who have either never travelled before or have only ever gone on short holidays. What are those things that you have taken for granted here that may not be available to you abroad at the terms you accessed them here? How important are those things to your livelihood?
If you must japa, by all means, japa with sense. Think through your decision and don’t be swayed by the crowd. If you decide not to go anywhere, many will wonder if your head is still firmly screwed on and that’s not their business. Life comes with its ups and downs: one day things are going well and the next, it’s a different ball game. One just needs to learn to manage whichever side of the divide one finds one’s self: this is the way I see things today.