To Japa or not to Japa, that is the question

Chukwunweike Araka
7 min readJan 5, 2024

The thought of whether to leave or stay back in Nigeria has crossed the mind of your typical Nigerian youth who is privileged enough to dream in that direction. I say “privileged” because a flight from Nigeria to Canada — a popular Japa destination costs about 640 dollars, that’s 30 per cent of the average Nigerian’s yearly income…on just a flight.

For those who don’t know, Japa is Yoruba for run, escape, flee, desert, leave, retreat — you get the idea.

But, moving your life out of Nigeria or anywhere for that matter doesn’t come cheap. To compound things, there’s the high academic qualifications expected by Japa destinations like Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. The system I’m most familiar with is the point-based immigration system of Canada which increases your points hence your chances of making it onto the shores of the country the higher the education you have. For instance, someone with a Master’s degree would have more points than someone with just an undergraduate degree. And university education doesn’t come cheap, ask ASUU.

Need we even talk about the exchange rate loss that people who go down the path of immigration have to endure converting naira which has been at an all-time low to foreign currencies like the dollar and pounds?

More especially, you have to be in the know as to how to leave Nigeria for your dream destination. The other day I saw a Canada Visa Fair advertisement along Ahmadu Bello Way, a major highway traversing Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. Some are lucky enough to know how to manoeuvre the often intricate immigration process of Japa destinations like Canada. Others have to pay travel consultants exorbitant prices to help them navigate the immigration maze usually set up by Japa destinations to filter out only those that would benefit their economy.

Photo by Stephen Olatunde on Unsplash

Ultimately, the highest price for Japaing is paid by those who gamble limb and life to make it through the desert, across the Atlantic to the shores of Europe in small fishing boats. These are people unable to afford the education, plane tickets, high exchange rates and minimum cash requirements often set by the likes of Canada to ensure immigrants have enough money to sustain themselves while setting up their new lives in their new country. Poor people who lack the resources to access legal migration routes instead go on dangerous journeys to become refugees in Europe.

It then begs the question — “what is so dire in Nigeria that some are willing to stake their lives just to become refugees in a foreign country?” Last year, on the 27th of June, four stowaways perched on the rudder of a ship they thought was going to Europe only to be discovered and rescued two weeks later by the Brazilian police as the ship was headed to Brazil. What manner of desperation would push a person to travel fourteen days across the Atlantic in conditions I dare say are comparable to those slaves were transported in two centuries ago?

If you have been in Nigeria in the past year or if you have been following the news about all that’s going on in the country, it shouldn’t be hard to see why “Japa no matter the cost” is a growing phenomenon. Where do I even start? Several fires are on at the same time in the country. First, you have the heart-wrenching issue of hunger — about 25 million people were estimated to be food insecure in Nigeria as of 2023. There are so many other issues feeding food insecurity in the country — the most significant being the naira devaluation policy pursued by the Tinubu-led government. With the devaluation of the naira against the dollar, imports of foodstuff like rice suddenly became more expensive.

Another factor dealing a blow to food security in Nigeria is the hydra-headed problem of insecurity. Bloody skirmishes between herders and farmers hurt food production as farmers are unable to go to their farms.

But it doesn’t end with just conflict between farmers and herders, insecurity in Nigeria is multifaceted with Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group terrorizing the country’s North East. In the South East, you have the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB causing chaos. Then there are the more clandestine “unknown gunmen” and bandits operating with impunity out of every corner of Nigeria. Just last year, about 150 people living in communities within Plateau state were slaughtered on Christmas Eve by “unknown gunmen.”

Insecurity in Nigeria is roundabout. It displaces people from their communities…these displaced people are often left with no livelihoods and to worsen matters, they are mostly neglected by the Nigerian government who are meant to care for them. You can only imagine what the 37 billion naira reported laundered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs would have done for the displaced in Nigeria. The corruption and ineptitude of the Nigerian government is the jewel in the crown that I would get to shortly. Nevertheless, these vulnerable displaced people neglected by the government feed back into the insecurity loop in Nigeria as they are left with no option but to engage in crime to survive. It’s safe to say that insecurity in Nigeria is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, a more ubiquitous problem that has reverberated around Nigeria and has touched both the penniless child beggar on the street and the huge conglomerates is inflation. The rise in inflation in Nigeria has been sharp — it stood at 28.20 per cent as of November 2023, a 14 per cent rise in Nigeria’s yearly inflation levels since 1996. But the high inflation level isn’t just observable in Nigeria alone, it also features in the economies of Japa destinations: inflation has been a noticeable global phenomenon since 2022. Central Banks all over the world including Nigeria’s, in response, increased interest rates high enough to try and cool the inflation but not so high as to cause a recession.

Nonetheless, inflation in Nigeria is worsened by factors at play internally. As mentioned earlier, the devaluation of the naira has made imports more expensive and to give context — Nigeria imports most things and doesn’t produce much asides oil. Another reason inflation is insanely high in Nigeria is the removal of the controversial fuel subsidy by the Tinubu government. Nigeria — one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world used to, in the past, subsidize energy for its citizens. But, the government soon realized that the bill was getting unsustainable so they scrapped the subsidy. This had the immediate effect of high energy prices in the country which snowballed into high production and transportation costs that were then passed on to the consumers.

Finally, we shall discuss the corruption and incompetence that is the backbone of the many problems faced by Nigerians and the often major determinant for most whether to Japa or not. A lot of people especially the youth have lost faith in the Nigerian government. It has become clear in Nigeria that what we run isn’t a democracy — it’s an avenue for the political class to enrich themselves and their enablers. Every government that comes in always does so on the premise of sacking corruption from Nigeria and improving the lives of people but never delivering on their promises. With the many fires burning in Nigeria at the same time, you’d wonder if Nigeria truly has a government on seat.

Considering the great resource wealth and more importantly, human potential in Nigeria it is a tragedy that Nigeria remains the way it is. The great inequality and injustice that plague Nigeria and Nigerians is a result of decades of disloyalty and treason by people who parade themselves as heads of state. The culture of impunity has been so deeply entrenched in Nigeria that it has spread its spores all over every institution in the country. But, be not deceived! A lot of Nigerians are no different from their leaders. Leaders are after all a representation of who the people are. How else would you explain the use of ethnic and religious divides by politicians in Nigeria to undermine the greater good? The average Nigerian is an ethnic bigot who owes allegiance first to his tribe before his country.

You could philosophize away the disloyalty ingrained in Nigerians by pointing to British colonialism and its divisive effects on Nigeria and Nigerians. But, it doesn’t change the fact that the average Nigerian despite ethnicity is a badly behaved person who loves to cut corners and likes to know what is in it for him even when it is clearly for the greater good. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t good Nigerians out there, there are, but they aren’t in the political class. The political class in Nigeria is full of myopic, self-serving sellouts who seem to have found a way to silence their conscience with their empty mansions, luxurious cars and expensive Ivy League education for their brats. I forgot to add that they also jet out to get world-class health care because they do not trust Nigeria’s dilapidated hospitals which they are partly responsible for.

This year I will be turning 25 years old — that’s a quarter of a century, yikes. The question I’m often asked by relatives and peers is one I have pondered severally with no clear answer — “Do you want to Japa or stay here in Nigeria?” I finished my undergrad studies in 2021, my national youth service in 2022 and law school in 2023. This question has never borne more weight than now in 2024 as I’m expected to either start a career or further my education. The question is not an easy one and I don’t think the answer should be either.

It depends. Whether I leave Nigeria or not depends on how the future unfolds itself. As for now, I intend to dog it out here and see if I can tap into the limitless potential people often rumour exists in Nigeria. But, if that doesn’t work out, i.e. I don’t get a job where the pay is inflation-proof, I intend to capitalize on my privileges to Japa. Don’t get it twisted, I love Nigeria and it will always be my home but you can’t take a horse to the river and force it to drink.



Chukwunweike Araka

As a writer I believe I'm actively part of humanity's collective memory and conscience. And as such, I owe the duty of telling the truth at all times.