Tue. May 28th, 2024

By Chris Anyokwu

Nigerians are now voting with their feet, going North and other foreign destinations. Both old and young, especially the youth, whose future the older generation has in their stolen or destroyed or both. For our young people, therefore, deliverance lies only in doing a rapid dialogue with their feet, in a manner of speaking. The term, Japa, recognises this phenomenon of mass youth exodus. Simply put, Japa in Yoruba means to leave or travel out of the country at the slightest opportunity due in large part to the suffocating economic and political environment. Thus the never-ending, seemingly perennial socio-economic and political problems bedevilling Nigeria have bred in most a wander-lust never witnessed in these parts before.

Youth unemployment, stagflation, insecurity, institutionalised corruption and leadership deficit have all conspired to create a dystopian maelstrom of sorts, a rapacious vortex into which young dreams are sucked and meaning is blanched from existence. Hope, they say, springs eternal in the human breast, yet there is absolutely nothing that inspires hope wherever one turns. The roads are always famished; so are the rails, stalked as they are by sundry goons of death – kidnappers, bandit-terrorists, and rogue soldiers of fortune, all lying in wait for the hapless traveller to set upon, and, more often than not, demand ransom for their life. Nigerians have never stopped wondering where suddenly all our security agents (army, navy, air-force, civil defence, the DSS, the police, etc.) have disappeared into! Why all these well-armed criminals kill, maim and destroy, day in, day out, unchallenged, without let or hindrance by our security forces who draw salaries and allowances monthly from tax-payers’ money! Added to this is the virtual lack of basic amenities which have, finally, sired and spawned apocalyptic misery and Biblical immiseratism in the land. The mood is deeply foul and the auguries are perpetually contrary, signifying approaching hoof-beats of cataclysmic implosion.

Roasted on the spikes of deepening despair and hopelessness, our so-called “Leaders of Tomorrow”, the youth seem to have had it up to their neck with the elite conspiracy of silence. With the complete collapse of motivation and the virtual liquidation of all illusion, they now stare at the unblinking hardness of life, their paper qualifications as well as cognate certifications a little better than a tissue of symbolic relevance and power. And they are asking, how long are they going to wait out this life-long gerontocratic mismanagement of their commonweal? How long will they allow their common patrimony being made the fiefdoms of tin-gods? For how long shall they cling onto the vanishing illusion of the improbable break in the dans macabre called governance in their country? Will there ever be jobs for university and polytechnics graduates one day soon? Will Nigerians have potable water, an uninterrupted supply of electricity, good road-and-rail infrastructure and functional healthcare one day? When will this scourge of homelessness, the lot of the urban déclassé and rural dirt-poor come to an end? Will the naira now devalued beyond recognition be able to buy anything of worth in a corner-shop or on the open market one day? And when and how does a young man get a good job, rent an apartment and save up to get married and raise a family? Nigeria today is bursting at its seams with ageing bachelors and spinsters, all of them roaming the streets searching for non-existent jobs and hoping to get off the marriage souk one day. Worship centres are packed with these no-hopers who have turned to God for the fulfilment of a basic rite of passage, namely: marriage. Given the bleak prospects of landing a job, any job for that matter, with the chariot of time hurtling them down the steep and slippery slope of unmarriageability due to age, these woe-begone young people have chosen to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors who have long emigrated overseas – to Europe, the UK, Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, China, and Japan) and, of course North America (the USA and Canada, the latest destination of choice).

But truth be told, there is nothing earthshakingly novel or unprecedented about people Japa-ing. In fact, Father Abraham was one of the first recorded cases of people voting with the feet under inauspicious and adverse circumstances. Now, let us probe a bit this mythic turn in the overarching problematique of Japaism. Where else can we turn tobut the Bible? “The LORD had said to Abram “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12: 1). Thus Abram or Abraham had left the Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of the Canaanites, a foreign country in search of greener pastures. Nigerian historian Toyin Falola has devoted much of his academic career to the exploration and reasoned interrogation of Diasporality, notably the Black Atlantic/Diaspora. His research has also imbricated what have come to be known as Transatlantic migrations (the slave trade and the “Middle Passage”). (See The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalisation, 2013)

The history of human migration, to be sure, remains a fascinating subject of intellectual ruminations for an immense variety of scholars and researchers. Human migration is the movement by people from one place to another, particularly different countries with the intention of settling temporarily or permanently in the new location. During the so-called Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras, it was said that people had migrated in large numbers peopling sparely populated areas. Colonialism, the forcible occupation of territories originally native to others, furnishes a dimension of expansionist territorialisation through gunboat diplomacy a laLugardian Nigeria. In modern times, legal immigration or uncontrolled and the violation of immigration laws (that is illegal immigration) constitute a major global issue. The fact of the matter is that migration can be voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary migration, our main concern here, includes forced displacement such as deportation, slave trade, trafficking in human beings and flight (involving such social categories as war refugees and victims of ethnic cleansing). However, both voluntary (for example, foreign students,etc.) and involuntary types of migration usually result in the creation of diasporas (see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’sThe Thing Around Your Neck and Americanah). What’s more? Both human-induced and natural disasters help swell the tidal waves of individual and mass movements. Droughts, famine, pestilences, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, political persecution, social strife and religious persecution are well-known factors that lead to migration as Aijaz Ahmad lucidly argues in his important book entitled In Other Worlds. Pilgrim Fathers fleeing religious persecution in Europe were able to harness African slave labour to build the United States of America.

But not without first exterminating the aboriginal Red Indians. Whilst several other similar cases of migration abound in history, the foregoing examples merely serve to indicate the reality of the phenomenon within living memory.

But at this juncture, what should agitate our mind is the post-colonial dystopia and the perennial search for the good life in Africa. It is common knowledge that African leadership functions at the behest of its western metropolitan overlords. Our local economies are, strictly speaking, under foreign receivership. When London/Paris/New York sneeze, Abuja catches a cold. Again, for the sake of emphasis, it bears reiterating that Africa seems to have been historically designated the global site of RAW MATERIALS. Any attempt, therefore, to venture beyond the benighted tramlines of its Western-imposed mandate, any attempt to innovate and modernise, any attempt to rank-shift from consumption to production; to transform from a mono-cultural economy to a manufacturing hub is likely to be met with swift and crushing reprisals from the metropole. North is North, South, South, period! Small wonder, regime after regime, APC or PDP, it does not matter in the slightest.

It’s the same story. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Ours is a consumer continent, home to or receptacle of reach-me-downs, cast-offs of satiated foreign climes, be it ideas or ideologies, toothpick or tractors, cars or refrigerators, etc. As we all know, there is a wide conceptual gulf separating existing and living. Whilst our erstwhile colonisers and their progeny live to EAT, we barely “eat” to survive/exist, no thanks to our lords of the Manor, our kleptocratic elite.

Come to think of it, the road to Eldorado was not actually discovered, Mungo Park style, by Andrew of the I’m-checking-out fame in 1980s. Even before Independence in 1960, some adventurous Nigerians had emigrated Northwards, especially to Britain and the USA. The first generation of Nigerian – Britons and Nigerian – Americans was able to lay the groundwork for subsequent generations of Nigerian immigrants. Today many of the children of the early-birds, of the Arriviste class, are calling the shots in sensitive and powerful positions across America, Canada and the UK. As a matter of fact, some universities and colleges in North America and Britain are full of students with Nigerian ancestry. For instance, Olukemi OlufuntoBadenoch, British politician, Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities is a Nigerian-Briton. Aged 42, Kemi nearly became the Prime Minister of the UK! Also, the current administration of Joe Biden Jr. is populated by Nigerian-born Americans. These include Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo (Associate White House Counsel); Osaremen Okolo (a member of the PresidentialCovid-19 response team); Adewole Adeyemo (Equity Treasury Secretary) and Enoh Titilayo Ebong(Director, United States Trade and Development Agency). It must be conceded that it feels good and reassuring to see your “brother” or “sister” right from the entry points at the ports when you travel abroad. It is a huge mental and psychological ballast against the sundry buffetings of xenophobia and culture shock. In any event, one is always bemused when one hears Western leaders moan and caterwaul over illegal immigration in Europe. One is forced to ask: aren’t these Caucasian actors tired of their double-standards? Aren’t they keepers of stolen goods from Africa? Who are the drummers for the preying-mantises we call rulers in Africa? Are Euro-American politicians really serious about Africa’s economic development, social prosperity and political modernity? Doesn’t Africa’s eternal underdevelopment serve their own supremacist ethnocentrism? How much have they done to tell our kleptomaniacal rulers to keep their heists at home and fix their domestic mess? Now, almost daily, life is lost in what have been dubbed “Desperate Journeys” as disinherited citizens risk drowning to cross the Mediterranean. The Sahara Desert Crossings are a veritable hecatomb as human jackals lie in wait to kidnap and kill unsuspecting sojourners heading to Malta, Spain, Italy and the UK. These victims end up in concentration camps in Libya and Niger, etc. Some are seized upon and enslaved as sex slaves and as labourers without pay. Others face execution on trumped-up charges of espionage and other offences. Mass sodomisation is common in these situations. And they die of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other ailments. The VOA on 14th December 2022, quoting the Associated Press reports that “4 confirmed Dead after Boat capsizes in English Channel”. This unfortunate mishap took place in the freezing water, off the coast of Dungeness, Kent in Southern England. Thousands of migrants have relied on small boats to cross the Channel in the hope of receiving asylum in the UK. Throwing all caution to the wind, these desperadoes hitch flimsy vessels to get to Britain. But like Lampedusa, like Dover, migrants, the japa throng die like flies, as they emigrate into the belly of the Beast! Even so, for almost every youth you encounter in the street, it’s anywhere else but Nigeria. Those at school here, despite the ASUU strike action, are busy processing their papers preparatory to japa as well. Make no mistake, those remaining here are the flotsam and jetsam – the left behind. Give them an opportunity, they too will scurry off to even Ghana, Qatar, Oman or Saudi Arabia. Migration and Climate Change are said to be the two most important topics of global discourse in the 21st century. Thus, while our youth are devising ways and means to japa, some reality check is in order: Donald Trump’s walls are being replicated in ultra-nationalist far-right Europe amidst Africa’s deepening crisis of legitimacy, succession politics and elite disarray. So, the japa generation has got to contend with foreign walls (border control measures) and dark despair in Africa’s shit-holes.


Prof. Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos

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