Japá Young Nigerians’ Search for Prosperity and Its Effect on Political Participation in Nigeria

Most young Nigerians would welcome the opportunity to leave the country and never return. What does that mean for Nigeria’s future?

It is 60 years after independence, and perhaps the most prevalent prayer in the minds of young Nigerians who make up more than 40 per cent of Nigeria’s population is the acquisition of Canadian citizenship or residency. If my grandparents were to be alive, they would laud the rapidly changing world, hail the ability to see another person who is miles away only with the use of a mobile phone. They would applaud a lot of technological and innovative additions the world has experienced but might lament the unchanging nature of an inexistent national identity in Nigeria.

For a lot of Nigerians, relocating abroad with little or no intent to return has become a life goal. Only that in recent times, ‘abroad’ has come to mean Canada. According to CIC News, Nigerians’ emigration to Canada has tripled in years with Nigeria in 2019 becoming the fourth leading source country of new immigrants to Canada only behind India, China, and the Philippines. In an online survey conducted by Africa Polling Institute, 75 per cent of respondents—most of this figure which are aged between 18-35 years—claimed they were migrating for better opportunities. Whilst the emigrations note a longing for a ‘better life’, it also negatively impacts the loss of belonging young people feel to the nation. The word that has epitomized this movement for youth is ‘japá’, a Yoruba word that translates to ‘run away’. For some, the Nigerian project requires abandonment.

However, on the flipside of ‘japá’ are young Nigerians who have lived abroad and returned with careers in sports or entertainment. The nation might seem unfit for some professional careers based on the mindset of some Nigerians, nevertheless, individuals in sports and entertainment have easily discovered that it might be easy to thrive being a representative of Nigeria than another country. According to research by PWC, the Entertainment and Media industry in Nigeria will rise at a 19.3 per cent compound annual growth rate to reach $10.8 billion in 2023. We have seen artistes like Davido and Burna Boy return to Nigeria and experience huge global recognition. Bolanle Austen-Peters is also a top name in the movie industry who returned to Nigeria, later founding Terra Kulture and Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions. On the sports side, Anthony Joshua, Israel Adesanya, Alex Iwobi, Mike Edwards have continued to profess their belonging to the nation. In the technology/innovation space also, Nigerians have found themselves great solution providers. Nigerians, like Iyinoluwa Aboyeji and Silas Adekunle, have leveraged global opportunities and exposure to enrich the technological innovation space in Nigeria. It is not far-fetched to conclude that Nigeria abounds with countless opportunities.

Studies on the rise of some great nations have shown that emigration is inevitable. In fact, some of the nations that we call great today once sent some of their nationals to locations abroad to build capacity in order to develop the nation. Japan is the third-largest economy in the world by GDP, and during the Meiji era, Japan sent Japanese nationals to universities in the West to learn and return to Japan to contribute to their country’s development. Hence, since ‘japá’ cannot be stopped, the question then is how can Nigerian leaders ensure patriotism such that Nigerians in diaspora, particularly young Nigerians, feel connected to the polity of the nation and have more political participation? What can Nigerian leaders do to maximize the huge human capital we have?

An important step has been the creation of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) with a duty to engage diasporic Nigerians in national policies and projects towards development and nation building. Diasporic Nigerians contribute significantly in remittances to the Nigerian economy and the establishment of NIDCOM makes space for a coordinated approach to increase the contributions of Nigerians in diaspora to national affairs.

Be that as it may, using linkage politics theory that suggests a link between foreign politics and domestic politics, the success of NIDCOM might be determined by domestic efforts towards effective citizens’ engagement. What this means for the government is that since all politics is local (as campaign efforts for instance during elections are done locally), efforts towards entrenching an active citizenry should be local. The local government should not only serve as the government closer to the grassroots in theory but also in practice. This means cascading efforts in relation to effective citizens’ engagement from the centre to the 774 local government areas in Nigeria. The local government should also be responsible for implementing strategies in line with ensuring national unity, nation building, and development.

Finally, young people are bursting with ideas and passion to contribute to nation building. The frustration comes when their voices are not heard, or when their creativity is stifled. Government officials and policymakers have to ensure co-creation of policies and strategies that should ensure the development of the nation. This can be done when governments create an enabling environment for citizens to thrive, for businesses to blossom, and for ideas to materialize. Although successes have been recorded as Nigeria was named one of the world’s most improved economies by the World Bank in 2019, more efforts need to go into the digital economy that COVID-19 has made necessary. An active local government and efficient institutions would easily ensure co-creation between the government and the citizens.

When these structures are in place, we will see more people contribute to the development of the nation both at home and in the diaspora. While this will not stop citizens from emigrating, the major intent of such emigrations would change. The goal will become learning instead of leaving without plans to return. The government must make an effort to ensure that strategies are drawn that will ensure appreciation of our human capital in the short and long term, with more responsibility for local government administration in Nigeria to implement such strategies. Else the continuous brain drain we are experiencing might just be a ticking bomb waiting to be exploded

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