A 40-Year-Old Japa Story


A 40-Year-Old Japa Story

From the ‘Checking Out’ of the 80s to today’s ‘Japa’ wave, Nigeria’s enduring struggle with brain drain has lasted far too long. Despite promises of change, the nation continues to grapple with familiar challenges that drive its citizens abroad in search of more; more opportunities, more peace of mind, and the ability to be more.

The year was 1984. Nigeria was in the throes of an economic crisis brought on by the combination of a staggering fall in oil prices and austerity measures that were supposed to be corrective, but only worsened the disaster. Unemployment abounded, inflation was cut-throat, the standard of living was bottom-of-the-barrel, and the military government was insufferable; thus Nigerians fled the country in droves in earnest search of greener pastures. 

Desperate to ebb the outflow of Nigeria’s best and brightest, the head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari launched a PR campaign urging citizens to stay back. Perhaps the most memorable element of the campaign was a TV commercial in which Andrew, played by a young Enebeli Elebuwa, expressed his disgruntlement at the state of the country and resolved to leave. ‘Men, I’m checking out. No good roads, no light, no water. Men, you can’t even get a bottle of soft drink!’ Andrew lamented in inchoate Ebonics at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. 

He was then grabbed by the hand by someone in the crowd and encouraged not to ‘check out’, because the hardships Nigeria faced would ‘soon be a thing of the past’. And just like that, Andrew let go of his pessimism and joined the crowd of believers in Nigeria’s soon-coming renewed greatness. 

This essay features in our print issue, ‘An African Feminist Manifesto’ and is only available online to paying subscribers. To continue reading register for a free trial and get unlimited access to The Republic for a week!Already a subscriber? Log in.