Nigeria: Emigrate, but Don't Burn Your Nigerian Bridge

7 January 2021
opinion

Once again, Nigerian professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 are emigrating abroad. Those who are married go with their families. Economic upheaval at home and an almost out of hand national security challenge explain why these young citizens choose to vote with their passports. But this is also a global phenomenon. Whether in Africa, Asia or the Americas, we are dealing with what Patrick Gilligan has described as the 'No Nation' Generation whose members "are breaking ties with their birth countries and seeking a more affordable and better standard of living overseas."

The leading countries in which most of these professionals seek to reside, going by the latest MoveHub global survey, are the United Kingdom, Australia, US, Spain, Canada, France, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and Portugal. At number 16, the only African country on the list is South Africa. According to the survey, "the majority chose better job prospects as the main reason to move country" which then reveals that "young people are moving abroad for profound reasons, to advance themselves and their career in a hospitable environment, rather than for the change of weather."

In the case of Nigeria, dwindling opportunities resulting from mismanagement of our affairs amid a population growth that far exceeds our resources has compelled many of our young citizens to look abroad. As I said in my 1st October 2016 Platform Nigeria presentation, confronted with a dilemma of having roamed the streets for several years after graduation without job prospects, many have re-examined their options. Even those supposedly meaningfully engaged suffer all manner of indignities from places of work where they are paid miserable wages. With these challenges, as I reasoned in that intervention, our young professionals now pose the same question popularized by the four Biblical lepers in 2 Kings, chapter 7, verses 3 and 4: "Why are we sitting here until we die?"

For these compatriots, the most preferred destination is Canada, essentially due to its easy path to citizenship. Canada, by the way, supported--both in cash and kind--the efforts of civil society groups like the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to confront the tyranny of the late General Sani Abacha in the nineties. So, the country has always been friendly towards Nigeria. The main attraction of course is that obtaining Canadian citizenship provides access to job opportunities. More crucially, their law allows for multiple citizenship so you are not required to renounce your Nigerian root in the process. Besides, a Canadian Passport also enables citizens to travel to many countries without having to obtain a visa.

With an estimated population of 37,742,154 people and a density of four persons per square kilometre (given its 9,093,507 square kilometre land size), Canada is always going to need more people. To underscore that need, the United States has a population density of 36 persons per square kilometre, which means a Canadian has nine times the size of land available to an American! But Canada has approached immigration in a strategic manner by attracting the best around the world, regardless of colour or creed.

Meanwhile, it is a legitimate aspiration for our young citizens to seek better prospects abroad. But I am concerned about a growing trend on social media. The moment someone secures their papers to emigrate, they will denigrate, abuse and curse Nigeria before they depart or after they get to their 'promised land'. It is not a wise thing to do. I made this point in my September 2017 lecture at BAZE University, Abuja on 'Leadership and Responsibility in the Age of Social Media', where I warned the audience to be well aware that the things they document in a moment of exuberance or anger could come back to haunt them. And I cited two examples from my experience as presidential spokesman to make the point. So, to our young citizens, please explore possibilities to seek greener pastures abroad. But don't throw darts at the country of your birth on your way out.

'Nigeria is a useless country' is a standard refrain. Some of our young citizens who emigrate have perfected the art of detaching themselves from the nation as a shared patrimony. Yet regardless of whatever may be their frustrations with Nigeria, critical stakeholders should take responsibility for lost opportunities and the challenge of national retrieval. That of course requires leadership and political will. Unfortunately, this tragic gap has bedeviled our nation repeatedly for more than six decades. Even at that, we can look at the emigration drove in different ways.

Nigeria has one of the most educated and enterprising Diaspora populations across the world. At home, we have a population of young people. Not only are many countries in Asia and Europe ageing, some are also now declining in numbers. In the year just ended, for instance, South Korea recorded more deaths than births for the first time in their history. In 2020, only 275,800 babies were born while 307,764 persons died. At some point, these countries would have labour shortages and might seek migrants. Only the prepared in terms of quality education will be able to take advantage of such opportunities when they eventually come. The real problem is that we are breeding liabilities, not assets, since the majority of our young population are lacking in education or basic skills. It is worse in the northern parts of the country where bandits, Boko Haram and other criminal networks have combined to make schools unsafe for children, thus effectively mortgaging their future.

At all levels, and in practically all sectors, we are running a system that is rigged against our young people. Some universities are yet to complete the 2018/2019 academic session! On Monday, Bayero University, Kano (BUK) officially announced the cancellation of the 2019/2020 academic session. Others may not want to admit it but there is hardly any federal university in Nigeria today that has not lost at least an academic calendar to recent ASUU strikes. But no matter the frustration with the system, resentment against the government should never translate into hate for one's country. Our young people must begin to differentiate between Nigeria and the government in power, even though I also understand the trigger. At every epoch, public officials and their supporters have behaved as though they have a monopoly on patriotism. They will defend Nigeria--which they equate to the government they serve or support--until the baton changes hands and then they also begin to disparage the same country they once opportunistically defended. In essence, Nigeria has always been the scapegoat for the failings of its leaders.

While I am not advocating that we blind ourselves to our problems, it is important to recognise that Nigeria is more than the physical space. Besides, the country many of our young citizens are emigrating to were built by people. To that extent, the pent-up anger and negative energy being unleashed against the same Nigeria that must have provided them (or their parents) some ladder in terms of the opportunity to properly emigrate is not right. And nobody should write off Nigeria. We may be down today; we are certainly not out. Our incredible array of talent in different fields still abounds. Despite our challenges, many will still choose to stay.

I have a story with which I constantly 'harass' my wife. In 1995, while we were still courting and I was an assistant editor at the Sunday Concord, she brought me an American Diversity Lottery form for us to fill as a way we might migrate to the United States if successful. More out of pride than any serious conviction, I told her to forget me in such an arrangement. To counter her disappointment, I said: "A time will come when you will not have to go to their embassy before you secure the Visa to any country of your choice." She replied: "Enu e ti po ju (you fanatise a lot)," and we laughed over it. As it turned out, for her first trip to the United States in 2003 (at a period I was editor of Sunday THISDAY), the only thing that took her to the American embassy was her finger print. The then Public Affairs Officer (PAO) at what was called United States Information Service (USIS) at the time--now Public Affairs Section of US Consulate General--in Lagos, Dr Atim Enaida George (currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Black Studies Research, University of California at Santa Barbara) gave my wife a 'Referral Letter'. For all her other trips since then, she has outsourced the responsibility of obtaining her visa to me. And with that, I have also had to keep reminding her of my 1995 'prophetic declaration'!

But I could take that calculated gamble 26 years ago because the fundamentals of our country were still strong. Our estimated population was 107 million, the national security situation was relatively okay (without insurgents, bandits and kidnappers terrorising our lives) and graduates were still getting jobs. Although we also had economic challenges at the time, most were attributed to military rule with the expectation that once we ushered in the democracy we were fighting for, our fortunes would change. Sadly, things have not turned out that way. Now, were the offer of the American Diversity Lottery form made today and I was a struggling journalist at age 29, not only would I jump at it, I would probably be exploring opportunities to emigrate to other countries as well. This is the point we should never miss in this conversation.

Globalization has created a generation of virtual citizens. Attachment to nation space and cultural roots now counts for less than material fulfillment. Young Nigerians who emigrate to more prosperous countries where they are guaranteed basic livelihoods and their children can access good education do not necessarily love Nigeria any less. But they are full of anger and disappointment with successive governments that continue to betray the hopes of our people. That is the challenge at hand. It is hard to wean back the loyalty and patriotism of youth who leave injured by the betrayal of a nation they call theirs but which fails to provide them a fighting chance to prove themselves or justify their skills and training.

All factors considered, the task of repossessing the souls of our new Diaspora citizens is still one of responsible and accountable governance. It is therefore in the enlightened self-interest of critical stakeholders in both the private and public sectors to begin to change the current narrative by making the country work for all Nigerians rather than just a privileged few. To our young citizens who seek greener pastures abroad, my admonition remains the same: Emigrate if you must. But never give up on Nigeria.

Of DNA and Coronawahala!

At a period the second wave of a dangerous pandemic is ravaging our country, what concerns many of our men is not their Covid-19 status but the DNA results of other people's children. I understand that in Lagos, laboratories that conduct DNA tests now have more customers than those that test for Covid-19 which many still doubt. Someone even told me yesterday that some National Assembly members are already drafting a bill that will compel all children in Nigeria below the age of 18 to undertake a mandatory DNA test to determine their paternity. And in a nation where the responsibility for border patrol is now left for God, one should not be surprised if the 'authentic' fathers of some of these children happen to reside somewhere in Niger Republic!

While I wait for Reuben Abati to delve into this matrimonial crinkum-crankum (I learnt that word from Hon Patrick Obahiagbon) in the way only he can, I find it hard to believe that despite the glaring evidence of how Covid-19 has been taking lives, including of prominent personalities, many still believe that this pandemic is a hoax. It doesn't help that some of our respected clerics are fueling this cynicism by encouraging their followers to shun protocols like wearing mask and keeping social distance. Yesterday, the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. Chris Bode, warned about how the resurgence of COVID-19, "through the newly mutated form, is ravaging our land, claiming many lives," adding that "unlike what we witnessed in the first wave, this one is even more easily transmitted and deadlier too."

As I wrote in my column, 'Gunman, COVID-19 and My Family' two weeks ago, Covid-19 is very much real. But for those who still argue otherwise, I have a simple prayer for them: May experience not be their best teacher!

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