By Muyiwa Adetiba
He was a medical doctor with his own practice. His wife was a Director in a multi-national company. He was in his late forties. His wife, a few years younger. Together, they had a set of twins. Together, they had purchased their own home.
They were members of top recreational clubs. The twins attended pricy and elite primary and secondary schools. The picture I have painted is that of middle to upper middle class of the 70s, 80s and 90s to which the couple belonged by virtue of education and grit. You could therefore imagine the surprise when this seemingly successful couple felt obliged to uproot everything to move abroad.
The reason the doctor, my friend gave was that he wanted the best tertiary education for his twins. I felt he was making a mistake. I felt his situation was not different from that of the rest of us who were coping with the tertiary education of our children within the circumstances even if it meant putting the rest our lives on hold as many had to do.
This was about twenty-five years ago. It seems time, and the deteriorating situations in Nigeria, have proved him right. So right one feels with hindsight, that he must have looked into a crystal ball.
Today, Nigerians are leaving in droves. One witnesses it in churches, offices, communities and families. We even have a word for it now. We call it ‘Japa’. Like my friend the doctor, quality education for their children, the cost or lack of it, is still the main reason many middle class and middle-aged people are leaving.
It is also the reason many young, upwardly mobile ones are leaving. They fear they will not be able to afford the quality of education they had enjoyed themselves for their own children. There is also the professional middle-aged class which feels increasingly dissatisfied with falling professional standards in the country.
This class seeks to practice its profession in a conducive environment while craving the last financial hurray and the hope of a comfortable nest at retirement. Then there is the overly optimistic class. This is the class of people with poor skills which thinks that European streets are paved with gold and is prepared to sell everything it has to make the trip.
Then of course the desperate class which goes through illegal and extremely dangerous routes in its attempt to ‘Japa’. Many in this class end up losing their freedom and in many cases, their lives.
It is easy to see why people are leaving the country. It is easy to see why they cannot spot the gold that abounds underneath the dust and rust of pervasive corruption and bad governance. Everybody wants a better life. But the avenues to a better life seem to have been cornered by politicians who have carved lucrative portions of the commonwealth for themselves, their family members and complicit elites.
You can’t therefore blame those who see their future in a foreign land. To some, any foreign land will do. But as they say, ‘to go Lagos nor hard. Na to return’. This is because it is easier to play the blame game when you don’t succeed in your country than to retrace your steps when that foreign land becomes a bitter experience. And for many, it is a bitter experience emotionally and otherwise.
I do not want to be unnecessarily cynical but its hard not to see this as another form of slavery. During the earlier slave trade, the West needed brawn to till the land and construct the roads. Today, it needs brain to power its institutions. In both instances – whether brain or brawn – the West is again having to look elsewhere to get manpower for the things its people could not or would not do.
The problem comes when these immigrants, having done their bit for their host countries, will want social acceptance, integration and equality. The West will not be prepared to accept, let alone integrate, let alone treat equally. One sees the other as a hired hand and therefore a second class citizen while the so called hired hand sees itself as a prospective settler with an equal stake in the commonwealth.
Frustration creeps in and with it comes repression which eventually leads to confrontation. An uncomfortable awareness of a rapidly changing demography around the Western World will lead to increased nationalism and subsequent denial of rights. This battle for acceptance and a rightful place under the Western sun is an age-old battle that will linger into the foreseeable future.
The end to ‘japa’ will likely come when Third World countries take governance with an effective management of men and material resources seriously. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. If it can halt emigration, it will bring respect to the black colour all over the world. The things that make for emigration are known to all of us – education, security, health, job opportunity and an uncertain life in retirement. They are legion but they are interwoven. They are caused in the main, by bad governance and a system that breeds mediocrity and corruption.
We go to the polls in just about five months and have a chance to change the direction of governance for good or ill. None of the three front liners is a saint. But we need one of them. Who therefore is more likely to promote accountability and prudence? Who is more likely to restructure the polity in a way that will release the positive energy of the people?
In other words, who is more likely to change the direction of governance? We have to choose wisely if we want emigration and some of the social ills to abate. Unless this is done, people my generation and even younger, are faced with a lonely and forlorn twilight. Our children are travelling out everyday.
With them goes the traditional support system as we know it. Someone I consider an elder brother told me last week that his only daughter and her family were emigrating. He loves his daughter and has invested a lot emotionally in his grandchildren. He is over eighty and might never see those grandchildren again. I feel for him but he is not alone.
All of us oldies are going to miss the patter of small feet in our homes and those naughty but inquisitive grandchildren in our lives. Our grandchildren are going to grow up without our input. They will grow up assimilating foreign culture. If there is any Independence prayer for me, it will be ‘Oh Lord, please let’s do the things that will make our children come back home’.