Japa Syndrome in Nigeria: Cultural Exodus or Societal Concern?

Japa Syndrome in Nigeria: Cultural Exodus or Societal Concern?

Photo by Tope A. Asokere: Pexel

Author: Christopher Danladi

What other way to begin a discourse on ‘Japa’ Syndrome in Nigeria if not by recourse to the trans-Atlantic slave trade when our ancestors were forcibly taken from their homes in their millions to foreign lands; able-bodied men, women, and children alike, our lands left barren, and development stagnated. Many African scholars believe that the slave trade impeded the highly endowed continent from developing both in terms of human and natural resources. More than 200 years after the colonial advent, this migration has experienced a paradigm shift from slave trade to human capital flight otherwise termed ‘japa’, a Yoruba locution which means “to run, or escape.” In present-day Nigeria, the trend of the “Japa Syndrome” has emerged as a hot topic, reflecting a cultural shift or, for some, societal concern. This is because individuals hunger for personal growth, hence the need to explore global prospects, and also because the country has failed to provide technology facilities, job security, prestige, and high salaries or incentives that are seductive for manpower assets in underdeveloped societies. As the saying goes, water usually finds its own level, and so, similarly, labor goes to where it is required, appreciated, and adequately rewarded. This essay brooks no delay in examining the causation factor of the “Japa Syndrome” and through constructive recommendations, some of which include creating entrepreneurship opportunities within home countries, Investment in education and research, development of diaspora networks, and rethinking talent management, it draws the curtain with the reminder that all hands must be on deck to curb the current spate of emigration for the greatest good of the greatest number.

Japa Syndrome in Nigeria: Cultural Exodus or Societal Concern?

Much like the elusive quest of Nigerians on a voyage of finding who has the best ‘Jollof’ rice recipe, the ‘japa’ trend seems to have sent Nigerians, especially the large youth demographic on an endless pursuit of opportunities abroad. Funny as this may sound, there are myriad reasons for this mass exodus. Economic underdevelopment, poor working conditions, insecurity, the need for a better standard of living, and liberation from the shackles of political uncertainty act as powerful magnets, creating an enabling environment for this migration trend. It is for this reason that Everett Lee in his works summed up the factors acting as compelling forces behind the ‘japa’ trend: The push and pull factors

The Push Factors

Push factors are things or variables that are unfavorable to the home area in which one lives, and pull factors are things that attract one to another host area. This is further explained by the negative features of the home country that form the drive for intelligent people to migrate from developing nations. In Nigeria, there is a ton of societal problems that have propelled the citizens to seek refuge or protection elsewhere. Aside from unemployment, political instability, and insecurity, some other push factors include famine or drought, employment discrimination, economic underdevelopment, lack of freedom, and poor working conditions. Notable among these societal issues that have driven many Nigerians to seek better prospects abroad is the “#endSARS” protest of 2020. It began as a call to end police brutality and extrajudicial killings that had become endemic in Nigeria. Harassment and unjustifiable derogation of the rights of Nigerians by the police were the highlights of the protest; as a result, citizens lost faith in law enforcement, and the scamper for the security of their lives and properties began, as most of these people considered migration as a means to ensure their safety and relish good governance elsewhere.

The Pull Factors

Pull factors are those factors that attract people to move to a specific place. They are also referred to as the good traits of the developed nation from which the immigrant would profit. These features include higher remuneration and a better standard of living, a superior economic outlook, the prestige of foreign training, a relatively stable political environment, and a modernized educational system to allow for superior training, intellectual freedom, and rich cultures. As a result of this trend, healthcare professionals, academics, creatives, and even sportsmen have left Nigeria for other industrialized nations in search of better working conditions, a conducive learning environment, and opportunities to elevate their careers to greater heights.

Societal Concerns and Repercussions of the Japa Syndrome

As Nigerians pack their bags and bid farewell to their home soil in the quest for a better life, the ‘Japa’ trend looms like a veil, casting a gloomy shadow that reduces the likelihood of any national development. In finding the root cause and far-reaching consequences of this phenomenon, it is of essence to point out the attendant effects of the ‘Japa’ syndrome on the national economy:

1. Loss of Skilled Workforce: Departure of highly skilled professionals causes countries, industries, and organizations to lose a core portion of valuable individuals including groups of doctors, health care workers, scientists, engineers, or financial and technology professionals. When these people leave, the places they leave are affected in two ways; Expertise is lost with each emigrant, diminishing the supply of that profession, and the (country’s) economy is harmed because each professional represents surplus spending units.

2. Increase in cases of Human Trafficking: Human trafficking in Nigeria is exacerbated by ‘Japa’ syndrome as both skilled and unskilled individuals leaving the country for greener pastures expose themselves to exploitation; ultimately contributing to the rise in human trafficking cases in Nigeria. In the case of certain unskilled persons, the harsh economic situation is enough drive to make these persons more desperate and vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers who promise them or their families a better life abroad.

3. Fall in Standard of Education: The mass exodus of highly skilled and seasoned academics from Nigeria’s tertiary institutions (particularly universities) to other countries for greener pastures has certainly adversely tampered with the quality of outputs from the institutions. The quality of graduates is so poor that their impact on the national economy in terms of productivity is generally below the required standard for a developing economy hence, serving as a bane to the country’s ability to produce a skilled workforce equipped for the demands of a rapidly evolving global economy.

Policy Recommendations

1. Virtual Internship opportunity for students: To make much-needed progress in reducing the migration of Nigerians to other nations, employers of labor and the leadership of the country must develop platforms that present young Nigerians with the opportunity to intern with world-class global companies. Since physical distance is no longer a barrier, this virtual internship opportunity provides them with experience and connections without having to leave the country, thereby providing them with broad exposure that enhances their competitiveness and shows them what a potential career path looks like. Thus, they can be retained to foster Economic Growth.

2. Rethinking Talent Management: Talent goes where talent wants and so companies must offer attractive value propositions that meet the needs of their employees, such as improved incentives or remunerations, remote work options, and psychologically safe work environments. If companies fail to prioritize employee well-being and job satisfaction, they risk losing top talent and skilled manpower to organizations that do.

3. Cultural Diplomacy: Undeniably, Cultural diplomacy has been identified as an indispensable tool for fostering national identity, and pride, and curbing the ‘japa’ phenomenon. This can be achieved by promoting Nigerian culture abroad through music, dance, literature, and art on the international stage, thereby providing opportunities for these talents and attracting Nigerians back home. By bringing Nigerians home, our National image is better promoted through our national fabrics, body adornments, crafts, cuisines, religious beliefs, and teaching of Nigerian languages abroad.


Much like a blacksmith wielding a mallet to shape iron into a particular form, Nigeria’s economic situation has molded the youth into rethinking their prospects within the country. Recognizing the harm occasioned by this mass exodus, the government has endeavored to reorient those in the diaspora, emphasizing their potential role in the nation’s progress. However, for this to happen, it should be borne in mind that there is a need for a shift in thinking from wrongs to rights in values and actions by our elites with the fervent belief that this phenomenon can be tackled without further delay and that the nation can be launched on the trajectory of rapid and sustainable socio-economic and political growth and development.


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