Nigerian youth are leaving their country — giving rise to a movement known as japa

Supporters of second-place Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party, attend a protest against the recent election results in Abuja on March 6. Thousands of opposition supporters have been staging protests, as calls for a re-vote intensified. (Gbemiga Olamikan/Associated Press - image credit)
Supporters of second-place Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party, attend a protest against the recent election results in Abuja on March 6. Thousands of opposition supporters have been staging protests, as calls for a re-vote intensified. (Gbemiga Olamikan/Associated Press - image credit)

A number of young Nigerians are on the brink of making a life-changing decision: Whether to stay in their country and deal with corruption, broken infrastructure and the lack of jobs, or to leave and begin anew abroad.

For a lot of them, that decision will be based on the results of the recent presidential election. Young voters in Africa's most populous country registered in record numbers, with many pinning their hopes on Labour Party Leader Peter Obi.

But Bola Tinubu, of Nigeria's ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has been declared president-elect, with about 37 per cent of ballots — the country's first presidential candidate to win with less than half of the total votes.

Third-place Obi and other opposition party leaders have called the election a "sham," saying the election body failed to transmit the results electronically, through a system meant to show transparency. They are demanding a new vote, vowing to challenge the results in court in the coming days.

"I love my country," Cyril Aliemeke, 32, told Nothing is Foreign host Tamara Khandaker. "But in the last couple of years … it's been toxic.

"And it's born out of insecurity, problems with transportation, problems with health care, problems with education. Everyone just wants to go somewhere where they believe that it's better … and they don't have to complain about the basics of life."

Aliemeke is not alone. An entire movement — dubbed japa — has sprung up from disenchanted youth looking to get out. Japa is the Yoruba word that means to leave.

According to a recent survey by the Africa Polling Institute, 69 per cent of Nigerians would relocate if given the chance — a significant increase from the 40 per cent who felt that way in 2019.

Adu Ayeni, a former radio host in Lagos, recently migrated from Nigeria to the U.K. to start a new job. He told CNN he wanted to "live a better life" in a "better economy" for his family.

Oludayo Sokunbi, a graduate student at Concordia University in Montreal, tweeted he is tired of this election. He also runs the company Japaconsults to help young Nigerians apply for admissions, scholarships and jobs abroad.

A young population

Nigeria has a very young population, with 70 per cent of people under the age of 30, making them a significant voters' block.

In January, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mahmood Yakubu announced in a meeting with the political parties at the commission's headquarters that there were 9.4 million newly registered voters, with 7.28 million, or 76 per cent of them, being young people

The voter registration data also shows that a majority of voters, about 40 per cent, identified as students, followed by farmers and fishers at 15.8 per cent.

Aliemeke is a Peter Obi supporter who has been thinking about leaving Nigeria. He lives and works in Lagos, while his family is approximately 420 kilometres east, in the Niger Delta. He has not visited them in two years out of concerns for safety.

The young voter explained how common it is to travel by road and suddenly be attacked by gunmen, who then call the victim's family members for a ransom. The alternative is to travel by air, but he says the increasing price of tickets is hard to afford.

The breakdown of law and order in Nigeria frustrates Aliemeke. He says he does not want to leave his country, but he wants to live in peace.

"Even if I move to Canada tomorrow, I have family here," he said. "Your mind will still be back at home. You will be thinking, 'What's happening with my mom? Or what's happening with my dad?'"

Samuel Alabi/AFP/Getty Images
Samuel Alabi/AFP/Getty Images

Systemic corruption

In 2015, Aliemeke had also become disheartened by his country's health-care and emergency response sector after his best friend died, he said. It took an emergency team six hours to arrive after his friend got into a car accident. Instead, they drove him to the hospital, but it was too late. As they entered the building, Aliemeke said his friend took his final breath.

"If I had gotten a call, I would have gone there and I would have saved him myself," Aliemeke said.

David Hundeyin, a Nigerian investigative journalist, says corruption is "basically woven into the fabric" of Nigerian society.

He says he watched his father die in a similar way in 2017, after suffering a stroke.

"I called the ambulance, and we kept waiting and it just didn't show up. And he died," Hundeyin told Nothing is Foreign. He looked into why exactly the publicly funded service did not function the way it was supposed to — and said it came down to an empty tank.

When the ambulance eventually did show up, the crew told Hundeyin that they were not allowed to carry dead bodies. He said he found another way to get his dad's body to the hospital, but when they arrived at the morgue, the attendant told Hundeyin that they could not take the body without a death certificate.

Hundeyin says he gave the attendant some money to issue a certificate "through the back door" and that got his dad's body accepted into the morgue.

"Basically, twice in the space of one day, the corruption killed my dad and then insulted him one last time," he said.

Ben Curtis/Associated Press
Ben Curtis/Associated Press

More than enough youth

If there is a mass exodus of Nigerian youth leaving the country, Hundeyin says he believes no one in the government will notice.

In November, Nigeria's Health Minister Osagie Ehanire downplayed the country's loss of doctors, even after thousands had migrated to other countries in recent years. According to Hundeyin, they are part of a number of Nigerians who worked in essential services (along with nurses and teachers) that went for months without receiving pay.

But Hundeyin warns that the "brain drain" could lead to the country not having enough experienced medical professionals to even train the next generation, potentially exacerbating the issue for years to come.

"It's like [the government is saying], 'We don't need you. Like, you can be replaced at any time, because there's just that many of you,'" he said.

Patrick Meinhardt/AFP/Getty Images
Patrick Meinhardt/AFP/Getty Images

Last year, the World Bank reported that Nigeria's economy under outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari was worse than it was 10 years ago.

The Buhari administration introduced capital controls and policies that kept the Nigerian currency artificially high as a matter of national pride, according to Reuters. During the last oil price crash in 2016, the Nigerian central bank created a system of multiple exchange rates to avoid a large official devaluation. Buhari also closed the land borders on trade.

"Nigeria genuinely believes that it's a wealthy country, so it spends money on all of the wrong things," Hundeyin explained. "These sort of really weird decisions that the government makes and the refusal to invest in the things that it actually needs to invest in are the reasons why professionals end up getting frustrated."