December 8, 2023

“Japa” is a Yoruba word that means flight or escape. Since the borders reopened after the pandemic, the term has been co-opted to refer to the exodus of Nigerians.

@tosinsilverdam My Japa journey begins, the process and international passport collection was so smooth at the Ikoyi passport/immigration office. Thanks to Madam Grace, PRO Ikoyi Passport office. I don’t scratch my car anymore people from my village at work #fyp #vira ♬ original sound – Tosin Silverdam

Young people like Tosin Silverman, a young man waving a waistcoat, flock to social media to share their japa stories. Silverdam’s 48-second TikTok video alone has garnered nearly 19,000 views, while the hashtag “japa” has over 700 million views on TikTok. YouTube is full of videos explaining “How to japa” and “relocating content creators”. major influencers on Instagram.

For the field of study abroad, clicks on social networks translate into new customers.

Emeka Ude, BCIE’s Managing Director for Nigeria, said the past two years have been the busiest of his 22-year career. “It’s a noise, it’s a buzz. Everyone is moving,” Ude tells The PIE.

“What’s happening now is like a trend, it’s like a fad,” agrees Chamberlain Okolue, INTO University Partnerships operations manager at the University Access Center in Lagos.

IN survey 202173% of Nigerians said they would relocate with their families if given the opportunity, and many use international education to do so. Number of Nigerian students in the UK more than doubled in the academic year 2021/22 compared to the previous year. In Canada, there were over 8,000 more Nigerian study permit holders in the country in 2022 than in 2021.

But while social media may add to the “buzz,” TikTok content alone is unlikely to convince someone to up and leave the country of their birth. Rather, the explosion in japa content reflects deeper factors driving Nigerians out of the country.

Political and economic upheavals

Nigeria’s February 2023 election was mired in controversy after the Electoral Commission failed to transmit results from polling stations on time, prompting allegations of manipulation and rigging. Bola Tinubu emerged as the country’s new president, but opposition parties called for another election.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Okolue says. “Will it go from bad to worse?”

Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, a research analyst at the Center for Democracy and Development, a Nigerian think tank, says the election result “has led to some renewed comments on the internet to speed up plans to move, mainly because the ruling party in charge for the last eight years has won another term in power”.

“The divisive nature of the campaigns meant there was always going to be trouble for whoever won, and disillusionment with the whole process added to the ‘japa’ wave,” he says.

The Nigerian economy is also under pressure. The country faces continued forex shortages, high inflation (hitting 22% last year) and a poorer population as the number of Nigerians living in poverty rises by 35 million in 2022.

Okolue said problems at home are forcing the youth to seek a better life abroad. “There’s always that uncertainty,” he says. “They would like to use this opportunity to get out of the crisis.”

@erdoona finally I can use this sound😁😁😁 #fyp #fypviralシ #discovery #Japa #erdoona ♬ Celebrate the Good Times – ✨ FS ✨

Demand for higher education

Nigeria’s youth are among the worst affected by the country’s economic woes, with a youth unemployment rate of 43%. If those affected want to go to university and get the qualifications they need to make it in a crowded job market, it’s tough at home.

In Africa’s most populous country, the number of school age students is increasing rapidly. According to a recent report by the British Council, “the consequent increase in demand for university places in recent years has meant that competition for limited places has increased significantly”.

With limited capacity at home and ongoing industrial disputes disrupting the education of those who make it to the country’s universities, students are increasingly seeking qualifications abroad.

“Nigeria’s historical ties to the UK and US mean they remain by far the most attractive destinations, but Canada and Australia are fast becoming desirable areas,” says Adekaiyaoja. “European education centers are becoming attractive and companies offering relocation to other African cities such as Nairobi, Accra and Johannesburg are highly sought after.”

International politics

Attractive student-friendly policies also attract students to these destinations. The UK currently offers a golden combination of post-study work visas, dependent visas and study work rights. Deciding whether to study in the UK is for many, agents say, simply a question of maths, with the cost of a year’s postgraduate study ultimately offset by two years of work.

The UK visa system is also perceived to be more flexible than in the past. “It’s so seamless right now,” Okolue says.

“Like no one cares,” Ude said more bluntly, gesturing at the number of students drawing short-term loans bypass the visa requirement.

However, changes to British policy are expected imminently and students are watching developments closely. Following reports of a proposed plan to shorten the length of the graduate journey, one Nigerian paper ran the headline: “Nigerian students in UK risk deportation”.

As rumors like this swirl, students want to get in before the country takes any drastic measures. “We’ve seen a big increase in applications, and that’s because students want to put in their application before … they announce the policy change,” says Okolue.

“Students are quoting all the news articles in the world,” says Ude, “and they’re telling us they’ve heard about it and they’re panicking, which is why you’re seeing some of the spike because some of them are trying to get in before it starts. .”

If the UK implements stricter measures, will fewer Nigerians choose to study there?

Okolue believes the dependent visa changes could have a short-term impact on the numbers, but will make little difference in the long run. “Dependents can always come on a visitor visa to see their loved ones and then come back,” he said. Ude agrees that the Nigerian market will continue to grow both ways and predicts that more Nigerians will find the money to enroll as students instead of migrating as dependents.

Changes to the graduate pathway are likely to have a bigger impact on the numbers, agents say. Students would likely transfer to other destinations that offer longer work visas after graduation, such as Australia and Canada.

Is japa a trend?

Besides generating buzz, japa’s social media content makes the study abroad process more transparent. “People hear about it, but they don’t know how to do it,” says Okolue. “So social media platforms give people experiences, people tell their stories or their progress reports about how they tried to apply to study abroad.”

But as Adekaiyaoja points out, no matter how much content is online, not everyone can ‘japa’. Migration is associated with high costs and often lengthy immigration processes.

And while japa content can go viral, migration patterns in Nigeria are actually “nothing new”, says Adekaiyaoja. He argues that this particular wave has received more attention than past ones because it’s so well documented—and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

“Ultimately, and unfortunately, this brain drain will only serve to deprive the country of needed talent and manpower at a time when all hands are needed to try and move the country forward.”

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