JAPA PHENOMENON REFLECTS THE WORSENING OF NIGERIA’S SOCIO-ECONOMIC CRISIS
• Only Mass Struggle for a Better Nigeria and Socialist Alternative can Stop Mass Emigration
Immediately after the news of the brutal massacre of protesters at Lekki Toll Gate by men of the Nigerian Army broke, increasing numbers of Nigerian youths who had just been freshly radicalized by the ground-shaking #EndSARS protests that were being repressed had one chorus – JAPA. This is the local slang for relocation out of Nigeria. The word is loosely interpreted as running very swiftly to escape a very dangerous situation. This meaning draws a clear picture of the intensity behind the intentions of the average young Nigerian trying to relocate out of Nigeria. For them, it is an escape.
By Omole Ibukun
Most people who are interested in traveling out of the country are searching for greener pastures for their dreams – a decent society where their futures can be guaranteed. The qualities of this society will have to include a better economy, better employment opportunities, better healthcare, better justice system, more security, somewhere better to bring up children etc. It is not a coincidence that the favourite destinations for most Nigerian youths are the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, etc. The USA and the UK have substantially more Nigerian immigrants than many African countries. This is because to most Nigerians, the countries of choice have a semblance of a functioning system that they desire to live in. This is also a good number of UK citizens with Nigerian heritage given the colonial history.
Millions think of leaving
In 2021, a study revealed that 7 out of 10 Nigerians plan to relocate if they had the opportunity to do so, and 45% of the country’s adult population plan to relocate to another country within the next five years. Most of those who wish to travel out of the country are seeking greener pastures for economic reasons. People travel out of Nigeria to work very hard to send money home to their loved ones, hoping that the exchange rate would turn the little money they send home into something substantial. In recent periods, the Central Bank of Nigeria has rolled out policies to regulate and moderate the availability of foreign exchange resources.
According to a World Bank Report, Nigerians in the diaspora remitted $60.22Billion dollars within the three-year period of 2019 and 2021. In Q1 2022, the diaspora remittances rose by 20.3% to $5.16billion for the first quarter alone. Nigerians are said to spend about $11.6 billion on foreign education in the last 3 years (Nairametrics October 6, 2022).
The fact that the human resources necessary to develop the national economy are being lost to mass migration and brain drain is a valid concern. This is the sentiment that the Buhari government has played into overtime even though it is its mismanagement of the economy and failure to tackle insecurity that is driving mass emigration. For instance, in 2021, the Minister for Interior, Rauf Aregbesola decried the rate at which Nigerian youths are renouncing their citizenship of Nigeria, and the Ministry moved to set up a committee to reduce the movement of youths out of the country.
Leaders’ hypocritical attacks on those leaving
Equally, last month, the Federal government claimed that it was looking into ways to end the trend of Nigerians relocating abroad, promising economic transformation and gainful employment. Amosun, the ex-governor of Ogun state who also owed workers’ salaries as governor just like Aregbesola when he was governor, criticized countries granting visas to Nigerian youths to ‘Japa’ as wicked, last month. In 2021, operatives of the Department of State Services forcefully dispersed medical doctors who were at the Sheraton Hotels, Abuja to take part in a recruitment interview organized for them by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health. This reaction of local capitalist politicians is very hypocritical given that these are the same politicians perpetuating austerity policies across the country, and destroying the economy of the country with corruption and capitalism. This in addition to sending their children out of Nigeria for education, themselves going abroad for medical treatment and buying properties aboard.
But for the Nigerians seeking greener pastures in other developed countries, it is double jeopardy. While they are often able to live a comparably better life and also take care of their family back home, they also face a number of challenges which include the low pay and casualization that comes with working as immigrants abroad. This is aside from family separation, broken homes, cultural shock, loneliness, lack of support, loss of career path, and discrimination that comes with migration.
No quick road to fortune
For example, the doctors, who form the majority of skilled workers drained from Nigeria, lament that they are subjected to slave labour and workplace exploitation in the UK. A recent BBC investigation did not only expose that they were being overworked thereby putting the lives of their patients at risk, but it also exposed that due to the creeping privatization of the British National Health Service (NHS), the recruitment of Nigerian doctors by a British healthcare company to work in some private hospitals broke some laws in the recruitment process. Some of the doctors claimed that they were on-call for 24 hours a day for a week at a time. One of the doctors claimed that he was too happy when he was offered a job by NES Healthcare (a private company specializing in employing doctors from overseas, especially from Nigeria) that he forgot to check the contract that had opted him out of the Working Time Directive (a UK legislation that protects workers from excessive working hours) and imposed unfair salary deductions on him.
Also, illegal migration and human trafficking have become a global issue with migrant boats capsizing and the illegal organ trade becoming a new security issue globally. Even the Nigerian political ruling class exploits the situation. Earlier in the year, the former deputy president of the Nigerian Senate, Ekweremadu, was arrested in the UK for trafficking a young man, David Ukpo, to harvest the boy’s kidney for his sick child.
Therefore, for the poor and working-class Nigerian, relocating or staying back in Nigeria represents two sides of a coin of tragedy and pain. This is because, despite wide differences, the third world to which Nigeria belongs and the industrialized countries of the world to which Nigerians flee are ruled by the same exploitative and inequitable socio-economic system called capitalism. Capitalism is a system of production based on the exploitation of the working class and the extraction of surplus value for the enrichment of a few. Hence, capitalism everywhere produces inequality and mass poverty in the midst of abundance. According to a study, inequality in the UK is one of the worst in the developed world so much so that the wealthiest 100 people in the UK have as much money as the poorest 18 million people, according to the Equality Trust.
This shows how bad things really are in the so-called industrialized world even though this bad situation would appear like heaven to any Nigerian compared to the hell that Nigeria has become on the basis of capitalist exploitation. But for balance, we must understand that for the working people of Europe and America, the conditions are far from acceptable and this explains the number of struggles that the working people in these countries are waging to fight austerity and defeat policies seeking to further drive them into the morass of poverty.
The only reasons why, despite the failings of capitalism, there exist minimal conditions for decent living in Europe and America, compared to Africa, are: first, the role of slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism which allows the ruling elite of the industrialized nations to extract the wealth of the third world to develop society/grant some concessions to the working class in the form of social programs. Secondly, another reason for the differences is the historic struggles of the working class of the advanced capitalist nations, especially the gargantuan struggles of the 20th century which led to the first successful workers’ revolution in Russia in the year 1917, and the post-second world war period, which compelled the ruling elite to permit a limited level of development like the NHS, public schools and road infrastructures in order to avoid revolution.
Imperialist countries facing crisis and falling living standards
Now over the past decades, these social reforms in the UK and other countries in Europe, which used to be the main points of attraction for poor Africans, have come under neo-liberal attacks and are fast disappearing. With the current global economic upheaval reflected in the energy crisis in Europe, we have seen previously unimaginable “third world conditions” appear in the UK and other so-called advanced capitalist countries. Asides from privatized healthcare in the UK commercialized and privatized education in the UK make it hard for the average UK citizen to opt for a college education. The total average cost of studying in the UK is estimated to be at least £22,200. This is just the minimum fees, not including living costs. Many UK students end up with total debts of £60,000 or more. The same issue has also created a student debt crisis in the US.
As winter beckons in Europe, many working-class families face the prospect of freezing to death due to the inability to afford the price of gas needed for heating! This is the new Europe that many are fleeing to something which means that the outcome for those who relocate now may be sharply different from what it was some years back. This is especially given the unfolding crisis of the world economy. Capitalism is facing severe crisis which varies in depth in different countries etc. For instance, British capitalism is particularly weak at present, hence the current drive to cut both working and middle class living standards.
Alongside it, the illusion that a better system exists outside certain borders is fast crashing. What this means is that while fleeing might appear as a short-term solution for individuals trying to better their lives, it ultimately does not resolve anything in the long run especially given the international character of capitalism and a world in crisis. Therefore, what we need is to build a mass united international struggle of the working people and youth to defeat capitalism. Only a socialist world where commanding heights of the economy are publicly owned and under democratic control of working people together with socialist planning can guarantee good quality of life, decent mass employment, basic needs of life and justice. In Nigeria, trade unions, left organisations, working people and youth have to build a mass revolutionary movement to resist all anti-poor capitalist policies and struggle for political power to enthrone a socialist order.