The rapidly approaching 2023 elections have generated a modicum of excitement despite the fact that voting has never changed much in our political evolution. The Independent National Electoral Commission, which apparently has upped its game, has projected that 95 million Nigerians will vote come next year. To be sure, insecurity still poses a big hurdle as the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, recently intimated. Nonetheless, there is optimism that at least a preponderant majority of registered voters will show up to vote and that the elections will be credible, transparent and fair. One interesting feature of the emerging demographics of the voting population is the addition of nearly 10 million youths defined as those between the ages of 18 and 35 to the electoral register in the twilight of the Permanent Voter’s Card registration exercise. It is too early to say whether this will amount to a radical shift concerning the choice of voters. Certainly, however, it constitutes an aspect of the elections to watch out for.
One hitherto ignored dimension of the projected voting arrangement concerns those young and not-so-young Nigerians who are voting with their feet by leaving the country under the Yorùbá #japa which translates roughly to “leave the country in a hurry.” Of course, there is nothing new about the immigration of skilled professionals to other lands. In our country, it has occurred in waves and one recalls vividly those who left the universities in the midst of gripping decay between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Many of those immigrants, mainly from the Ivory Tower, went over to pursue their careers in Western countries, especially the United States and the United Kingdom. Interestingly, many of them have returned home after retirement while a few have stubbornly refused to come back, even if this meant that they would die and be buried in a foreign land. In the same breath, globalisation has stimulated soaring immigration, especially of professionals who see the world rather than particular nations as their oysters. This happens among both developing and developed countries and has become part of the international diplomacy of the global technocracy.
Linked to that syndrome is the fact that immigration of skilled labour occurs most when particular countries face recession, prolonged adversity, devaluation of their currency and other woes which make foreign lands attractive. This is the background to the latest wave of mainly young Nigerians leaving our shores to study or work or live permanently in countries like Britain, the US and Canada to name but a few. In this sense, the recent statement of Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, to the effect that “We speak of “Japa” as a one-way phenomenon but we also have Nigerians constantly returning home. There are examples of Nigerians returning home, occasionally or permanently, to do interesting things” but she misses the point. It should be noted that there are no statistics to back up her claim. Also, the more important and tragic issue is that Nigerian professionals are not just abandoning a country that has orphaned them through an irresponsible governance mien but that very few from other lands, who are non-Nigerians are emigrating to our country because of the lack of amenities and the abiding fear of being decapitated by roving bandits.
People of my generation recall that when we were growing up almost every one of our universities had a fair share of expatriate lecturers teaching as well as students from other countries studying along with Nigerians. In my undergraduate days at Ife, at least three of my lecturers came over from the UK to teach at Ife, including the late Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Professor J. D. Y. Peel whose last port of call was the University of Cambridge. Everybody knows that expatriates do not look for teaching assignments or sabbatical leaves in our universities any longer. It may surprise the reader that some of them still go to Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda among other African countries where there are more clement and conducive environments for learning, and for doing business for those who are so inclined. What this means is that it was possible for Nigerians to obtain world-class education at that time without necessarily going abroad.
Talking about the ongoing wave of the exodus of Nigerian professionals abroad, The PUNCH reportedly recently that no fewer than 7,256 trained nurses in Nigeria relocated to the UK between March 2021 and March 2022. In the same vein, The PUNCH also reported that at least 6,068 Nigeria-trained medical doctors relocated to the UK in the last couple of years. Please note that these figures pertain only to the United Kingdom and do not speak to the swelling number of Nigerian professionals in countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, US, Canada and several European countries. The latest wave of absconding Nigerian professionals relates to those in the Information Technology sector working in the banks as well as independent software operators running businesses in Nigeria. Banks like Zenith and Guaranty Trust suddenly woke up to see that some of their best IT hands have relocated to the UK and other countries. According to Legit.ng (August 1, 2022), more than 500 tech engineers have said bye to Nigerian shores and left mostly for Canada and other European countries since the beginning of this year. That is not all. Over 1,000 key banking staff in many banks have deserted their jobs to take mouth-watering offers abroad in the last couple of months.
Needless to say that this depressing narrative is a reality check of sorts for those who trumpet that the current administration is the best thing ever that happened to this country. True, and as mentioned previously, there will always be push and pull factors when it comes to skilled professionals getting jobs outside their countries. What is unique is that increasingly Nigeria has become a target for many countries around the world as a source of labour because life has become nastier, more brutish and shorter for the majority of Nigerians such that those who have options have chosen to exercise those options abroad. Needless to say that partly because of the prolonged strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, itself occasioned by governmental dilly-dallying and the backwater position of Nigerian universities, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Nigerians rummaging for overseas universities to study.
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In spite of the current anomaly of an increasing number of Nigerians voting with their feet, all hope is not lost. Ghana and Rwanda are examples of African countries that bounced back from deathbed circumstances to find a place, not just on the continental but on the global map. If and when things return to normalcy, regarding good governance, there is nothing stopping Nigerians who have emigrated from returning home in droves. Normalcy, in this sense, will include drastic curtailing of rampaging insecurity, return of the naira to respectability, ending the ASUU strike-through proper funding of tertiary education as well as putting a human face to the current inflationary spiral which has turned many Nigerians into beggars.
Seeking to score points or sidestep the malaise will only worsen matters. Hopefully, the incoming government will see the lurking danger and do something about it.