The japa syndrome seems to have infected everybody recently. I mean, talmabout asking about Victor and you hear, “ah, he don travel out”. Just like that. No warning, no heads-up. Just…
Everybody has at least that one person that they know, or somebody that they know knows, or someone that… you get the drift! The japa phenomenon is an intricate and interconnected web that touches almost every Nigerian, and in return, it spurs them on to become its latest candidates.
Everyone wants to japa on some level, no matter what they might say. Hand anyone who might say otherwise a visa and plane ticket, and see if they can stand by their answer.
That being said, it is time to grab this japa fellow by the collar and find out; what is this japa syndrome that it is infecting poor Nigerians with?
Japa is not just the verb for leaving (the country) under certain conditions. According to the Urban Dictionary, japa originates from two Yoruba words; Ja, which means to run, and Pa, a modifier used to exaggerate any verb. Therefore, to japa means to run swiftly away from a dangerous situation.
And that, in itself, is the perfect definition, given that Nigeria has become what Nigeria has become. Emigrating in search of greener pastures has become more apt than ever before, since, despite the color of our flag, Nigeria’s pasture is no longer green. If it can even be called a pasture.
Origin of the Japa Syndrome
Despite the recent mass exodus seemingly hitting the country, the japa syndrome is not a new craze. Since the 1970s, with the Civil War and ensuing military coups, Nigerians have been packing their bags and hitting the highway like their Israelite ancestors.
In fact, from seemingly time immemorial, the average Nigerian dreams of living in Europe or America. And those who do are regarded with the kind of reverence reserved for gods.
However, the country’s deteriorating state seems to have fed the japa syndrome with orijin and Monster, mixed with a lot of Bullet. Every youth now dreams of life outside the country’s shores, away from extorting law enforcement officers, unemployment, the Balon D’Or worthy striker by the name of ASUU, and other problems.
Many who are infected by the japa syndrome say they have lost hope and believe Nigeria has nothing to offer them. And despite certain reports from emigrated Nigerians that life abroad is not the rosy dream that people imagine it to be, it doesn’t stop Nigerians from jumping the train at the slightest opportunity. Talk about the devil you know; they’ve seen this particular devil, and are prepared to take their chances with the unknown angel.
It can be a little intimidating, at times, to suddenly hear that someone you know has ejected themselves from the country. But that just acts as extra motivation to join the herd. While some have chosen the education and employment option to japa, others go by more dangerous routes like crossing the deserts of northern Africa or attempting perilous trips through the Mediterranean Sea.
That is the japa syndrome.
Japa Syndrome: Why do people Japa?
There are several reasons why people japa, and they include:
This is one of the major reasons why people emigrate. Frustration due to unemployment and seeking to escape the country in search of better opportunities is usually the first symptom that someone has been infected by the japa syndrome.
Take Nigeria, for example; as of December 2020, the country’s unemployment rate sat at 33% according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Furthermore, the rate of unemployment among people between the ages of 15-34, who are considered to be the working population, rose from 34.9% to 42.5%. Given these statistics, it is no surprise why people of the age mentioned above leave the country to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
The grass is generally considered to be greener on the other side. And while it might not necessarily be true, as said earlier, known devils and unknown angels.
Tied with employment as the major weapon in the japa syndrome’s arsenal is education. Thanks to ASUU, the world’s greatest striker and substitute god of thunder, tertiary education is a tricky prospect in Nigeria. A 4-year course usually comes with additional condiments that can extend it to as much as 6 years or even a decade for those whose village people have strong GPS.
Apart from ASUU, some people also emigrate in order to get quality education elsewhere or to experience a new perspective. Learning is a continuous process, and it is not restricted to the four walls of a classroom.
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Reuniting With Family
Some people who have given in to the japa syndrome and relocated abroad end up infecting their family members, especially their nuclear family.
Why are you running? Oh, because you heard “nuclear”, you think say na bomb? SMH; this is what you get when you don’t pay attention in social studies class. I mean nuclear family, as in immediate family; mother, father, siblings.
Almost everybody who japas desires to have their family members join them, and even if they don’t, their family will pester them until they do so. Talk about Black Tax at its finest.
Several countries have, over the years, suffered from one form of crisis or the other. Nigeria is no different; as mentioned above, a lot of Nigerians from the South East fled the country during the Civil War. This has forced people to flee their homes for safety reasons.
Some people also feel persecuted in their country for several reasons like religion, race, s3xual orientation or political affiliation. Some of the Nigerians who hit the international express in the ’60s and ’70s did so due to the government hunting them, especially during the military regime. Even with democracy in practice, some prominent persons have still japad due to harassment by security agencies over their opposition to the government of the day or their general political views.
People also japa due to religious differences, especially those luckily spared violent death after being labeled infidels. And the newest weapon the japa syndrome is employing to get Nigerians to leave the country is s3xual orientation, especially those who identify themselves as LGBTQ+ and do not want to be victims of the country’s strict anti-homos3xual law.
After all, just because home is where the heart is doesn’t mean you should lose it, and other body parts there.
Any learned Nigerian, by now, should be familiar with the term “medical tourism”. If you aren’t, congratulations; that is your Word of the Day.
Medical tourism is when people from less-developed countries travel to highly developed ones for treatment unavailable at home. Due to the poor state of Nigeria’s health sector, citizens who can either afford treatment or receive sponsorship prefer to travel out of the country for medical care. Some ultimately use this as an avenue to make their relocation permanent.
If all the above reasons are cookies, this is perhaps the cookie box, a summation of all of them. Due to the country’s socioeconomic and other challenges, some people come to the conclusion that it is best for them to permanently settle abroad.
This is one of, if not the major reasons Nigerians leave their country. Some believe they can pursue their dreams elsewhere; others imagine many countries as being their safe haven where they can explore new opportunities.
Whatever one chooses to call it, it is the fever-pitch height of the japa syndrome. At this stage, there is no cure anymore. The best you can do is just let them go.
Effects of the Japa Syndrome on the Country’s Economy
According to the 2021 Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey by the African Polling Institute, an average of 7 out 10 Nigerians would leave the country at the slightest opportunity. That’s a whopping 70% of the entire population; who go come remain?
With these stats, it is no surprise that the japa syndrome will have adverse effects on the country’s economy, some of which include:
Skill Gaps in Organisations
One of the major consequences of the japa syndrome is the huge skill gap that it leaves in organizations. With great talents emigrating, companies are losing their best hands who are taking their years of training and skills with them to foreign countries.
This results in a gap that these organizations will have to feel with newer talents, most of whom may not necessarily be as experienced as those that left. In other words, organizations have to repeatedly invest in staff retraining.
Crippled Industry Growth
The japa syndrome has stunted the growth of some key industries in Nigeria. Imagine a health sector where the best doctors have emigrated, a tech sector where the best techies are expressing their talents in Europe and America, and an academic system where the best academics have taken their knowledge abroad. Imagine this scenario for every other sector of the economy.
The African Union stated in its Revised Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action (2018-2027) that an estimated 70,000 skilled professionals emigrate from Africa each year. According to reports, Nigeria lost over 9000 medical doctors to the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S.A between 2016-2018. With a depleting number of medical doctors, Nigeria annually spends between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion on medical tourism.
Loss of Talents
The japa syndrome has made Nigeria lose a lot of skilled workers to the labor markets of other countries. Many professionals, especially medical practitioners, bankers, academics and techies are leaving the shores of the country for greener pastures abroad.
A report by the UK Government revealed that Work Visa approvals to Nigerian increased by 11,854 between December 2019 to June 2022. This is a 303% increment from 3,918 in December 2019 to 15,772 in June 2022, making Nigerians the second-highest recipients. The enormous wealth of Nigeria’s human resources has never been more evident as Western countries are welcoming large numbers of Nigerians as skilled workers.
Yet one man in kaftan has the guts to call us lazy.
High Dollar Demand and Depreciation of Naira
Due to a surge in the number of Nigerians who need dollars to travel, the US’ currency has become scarce. This has put tremendous pressure on the Naira, forcing it to exchange for as much as N700 to a dollar in the parallel market. The alarming exchange rate has caused a rise in almost every imported commodity in Nigeria.
And unfortunately, none of the policies introduced by the CBN to save the Naira from a continuous fall seems to be working. Probably why the apex bank decided to redesign it; maybe if it’s too ugly, the dollar will leave it alone.
Loss of Tax and Funds to Other Countries
According to the Chairman of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abike Dabiri-Erewa, there are about 15 million Nigerians in the diaspora. Assuming that half of this number are working, that would mean Nigeria is losing potential tax payments by 7.5 million people who could have contributed to its economy.
There is also the matter of huge amounts of money spent on visa fees and International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exams for Nigerians looking to exit the country in exchange for foreign education.
Finally, according to the CBN, Nigerians spent at least $220.86 million on foreign education between December 2021 and February 2022. Another report showed that Nigerians spent a sum of $11.6 billion (N5 trillion) on foreign education between 2019 and 2022.
All these monies lost to other nations could have made positive impacts if spent in Nigeria. Or at least, made their way into the pockets of certain individuals, all for the greater good.
How to Japa Successfully
Now that we’ve established that the japa syndrome is a bad thing and that we should avoid it at all costs, let’s figure out how we can attract it so it can infect us before someone finds a cure for it:
- Ensure you have a valid international passport. This is one of the major requirements needed for international travel, and you can get it for around 50K, depending on your plug.
- Get all your necessary travel documents months ahead.
- Have money. Sorry, this should have come as number one. Just because oyinbo people are nice doesn’t mean they will carry you to their country for free. Make sure you have enough money to fund your visa application and journey, as well as the early periods of your sojourning in the new country.
- Make proper inquiries from reputable sources. Scam plenty for outside, and they will chop your money if you’re not careful, or carry you go where you no know.
- Fill out the documents for your visa application properly, preferably with the help of a travel agent. Do not input fake or wrong information, as they may hurt your chances during your visa application interview.
- If possible, secure a scholarship (for a student visa), employment (for a work visa), or reference/guarantor letter (for a family visa) before you attend your visa application interview.
- It is also best to know someone who can be your “go-to person” and help you settle down in the first days of your arrival in your host country.
Now, you have given in to the japa syndrome and finally made it to the Great Beyond; oh, stop being superstitious. You don japa; don’t carry that Nigerian mentality to Canada with you.
Anyhoo, you’ve landed there successfully. Here are some tips to help you survive:
Prepare Yourself Mentally
As mentioned above, just because social media portrays abroad life as glamorous does not mean it is in real life. Money does not grow on trees. Canada is cold. Kangaroo and snakes will share your house with you in Australia, and you’re not the landlord. USA is… well, USA.
Point is, if you think Nigeria is complicated, wait till you get to a place where you’re not a citizen. E go shock you.
For whoever needs to hear this, stop relying on one skill alone. Yes, it’s advisable to have a niche and be a guru in it, but some situations call for the need to gather more. The skill you think makes you a boss in Nigeria could be obsolete in another country. Therefore, having several skills gives you a better employment opportunity.
Build a Strong Relationship With Family and Friends at Home
The average Nigerian believes that there is a secret team of expert agents from either their father’s house or mother’s house who are always monitoring their every move. They take the fight to them every day in violent prayer, and they’re always looking over their shoulders to avoid their ever-watchful eyes.
Calm down, Sister Philomena! Not everybody is out to destroy you. Many people make the mistake of not informing their family and friends when they travel out of the country, whereas some of these people could help you in one way or another.
In the same way you can’t go to the market without a list of items, never plan to relocate abroad without setting certain goals. These will serve as a guide to what you want your life’s final destination to look like. It will also constantly remind you of what you need to do and achieve.
Journeying to a different country comes with other distractions, and goals are a way to measure if you allowed these distractions to overwhelm you or if you made the desired progress.
SEE ALSO: What is Sapa, Is It a Good Thing?
Again, this bears repeating. KNOW SOMEONE! No man is an island. Don’t let the fever dream of the japa syndrome catch you so much that you head to a country blindly. Whether you’re going as a student or to work, have a contact where you’re going.
This person will serve as a sort of guide, your sensei to teach you how to survive in this strange new land. They don’t have to be a family member or a friend; they could be a friend to a friend or a trusted pal you met on social media. However, they must be trustworthy, to avoid stories that touch.
In Conclusion: Now The Journey Begins
The japa syndrome is a very terrible thing. It is a plague that is ravaging through our country’s population and chewing up the workforce. We must avoid it at all costs, and if need be, we must leave the country before it gets us.
See you on the other side, fam!