Insecurity, high unemployment and graft are just some of the things plaguing Nigeria, Africa's most populous country. As these issues are getting worse, more and more Nigerians are trying to emigrate to Europe and North America. They even have a word for going abroad.
"I have friends whose parents have sold their properties, their land for their kids to go and migrate," said Chuka Okeke, a 33-year-old Nigerian who is applying for schools in Canada.
Okeke's parents are providing support for him and his family to move. But it can take months or even years to complete the paperwork and meet all the requirements before a visa is issued, news agency AFP reported.
At first glance, Nigeria has a lot going for it: Africa's most populous nation not only has huge oil and gas reserves, it also boasts a vibrant tech scene and a booming entertainment sector. On the flipside, its 210 million people have been suffering from ailing infrastructure, inequality and poverty -- roughly four out of ten people in Nigeria live below the poverty line, according to World Bank data.
Precarious living conditions
To make matters worse, Nigeria's unemployment rate rose five-fold to more than 30% between 2010 and 2020, according to Bloomberg. In July, inflation reached almost 20%, the highest rate since September 2005, AFP reported.
What's more, many Nigerians are deeply worried about worsening insecurity, with criminal gangs kidnapping people for ransom in northern and central states, jihadist groups waging an insurgency in the northeast and separatist groups regularly bringing life the southeast to a halt.
Moreover, widespread graft are said to deter many would-be entrepreneurs: In Transparency International's latest Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria was ranked 154 out of 180.
All of these factors cause many middle-class Nigerians to head to Europe or North America or make plans to do so in the hope for a brighter future.
To 'flee' or not to 'flee'
Nigerians even use a word for leaving their country due to economic hardship: 'Japa'. Meaning 'to flee' in Yoruba, it has become synonymous with seeking a better life abroad.
"With origins from the 2018 Naira Marley song of the same name, the word has shifted into the lexicon of Nigeria's young demographic as a marker of discontent," online publication OkayAfrica said in a recent article.
Large-scale emigration is a double-edged sword for the continent's largest economy. On the one hand, many members of the middle class leaving has led to Nigeria being among the top countries in the world for income from remittances. But 'japa' has also triggered an exodus of talent, especially among students and professionals in healthcare and banking.
In 2020, there were 1.7 million international migrants from Nigeria, according to the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs. A decade earlier, the figure stood at 990,000.
Figures for net migration and countries of destination, however, are hard to come by. The reason, according to AFP, is that Nigerian authorities record the number of citizens traveling in and out, but do not register whether departing citizens are leaving to work or live permanently abroad.
More Nigerians arriving in Europe and North America
Data from countries that issue work visas indicates that Nigerian migrants mostly stay within sub-Saharan Africa. Yet the numbers heading to Europe and North America have increased considerably in recent years.
In 2019, the last non-pandemic year, British authorities issued around 14,000 UK study and work visas to Nigerian nationals. That number, which includes dependents, almost quadrupled in 2021. Skilled workers from the healthcare sector were the largest visa recipients with more than 16,000 visas out of about 22,000 granted since January 2021, according to AFP.
Racism, exploitation and violence
Thousands of Nigerian women who arrive in Europe irregularly, often with the help of smugglers, are being forced into prostitution, often in Italy. Many others face a similar fate in Germany, where the protection rate for Nigerians is less than 10%. The figure is similar at the EU level, according to the European Union asylum agency. Moreover, there are regular reports about discrimination, exploitation and violence against Nigerian migrants, particularly in Italy.
On July 29, a white Italian man allegedly killed a Nigerian street vendor in Italy's central city of Civitanova Marche.
Nigerians lodged almost 2,000 asylum applications in the EU in May, according to the EU asylum agency. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Canada, more than 15,000 Nigerians were granted permanent residence in 2021, almost four times as many as in the previous five years.
For Chuka Okeke and other Nigerians hoping to emigrate for job or educational purposes, visas to countries like the UK, Canada and the US can be expensive. Moreover, applicants are often required to prove they have the financial means to secure their livelihoods for the duration of their stay. But the precarious situation in their home country make many young Nigerians go to great lengths to 'japa'.