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‘Japa’ - The Nigerian Student Emigration Syndrome

Submitted by Editor2 on 11 May 2023

By Michelle Mojisola Savage

Japa: “To flee or escape without an intention of coming back.”

In recent years, the word ‘japa’ has become a common lexicon in Nigeria. Originating from the Yoruba language, its meaning has evolved from being a simple verb to representing the optimal solution to various challenges facing the country. For Nigerian students, japa is viewed as the solution to a subpar education system that grapples with insufficient teachers, low academic standards, inadequate funding, and incessant strikes. As a result, the emigration syndrome is now so endemic that nearly 90% of young Nigerians prefer overseas education. 

As a university student, I can attest that the japa trend is prevalent among my peers, with students either joining the statistics during undergrad or striving for it after graduation. Even the lecturers aren't immune. After the nationwide university strike in 2022, I was surprised to find out that a significant number of my lecturers had left the country. This trend is not unique to my university alone; it is happening across the country. These lecturers left to pursue further education or transferred to foreign schools where their skills would be more appreciated and rewarded.

Quality education is the ultimate goal for many of them who believe the Nigerian standard too low to allow favorable competition with their foreign counterparts. The goal for some, however, is joining the prestigious "japa" or "I just gah back" group. When we see our peers thriving overseas, the emigration syndrome kicks in, after all, it is only natural for humans to strive for a better life. Pursuing higher education abroad is considered the best way to achieve this life, and some parents would even sell the clothes off their backs to fund their children's exams like SAT and IELTS for top destinations such as the US, UK, Canada, and other places outside the continent.

Studying abroad not only offers better education facilities and resources, resulting in higher quality education, but also exposes students to diverse cultures and lifestyles, broadening their horizons and offering a highly valued global perspective. However, the japa trend has its downsides, including brain drain, loss of human capital, and economic setbacks that can undermine growth. When so many young people leave, where will Nigeria find its future leaders? It is not in the country’s best interest to ignore this issue, which has the potential to aggravate existing problems.

Despite the allure of studying abroad, it comes with untold hardships that are often overlooked. Stories abound of students living on the streets, facing racism, stereotypes, discrimination, and harsh weather conditions. For instance, during the 2022 crisis in Ukraine, Nigerian students experienced racism and couldn't flee with the natives.

It is quite disheartening that many students would rather endure these challenges in other countries than return to Nigeria. This highlights the dire consequences of the japa trend: the loss of bright minds to foreign countries due to better opportunities for growth and appreciation. Recently, the WHO listed Nigeria as one of the 55 countries that developed nations should not engage with their health workers, due to the shortage of medical personnel in their countries. This highlights the significant loss of human capital.

Emigration has made the world a global village, but it can hurt developing countries like Nigeria. To address this, Nigeria needs to invest in its education system and create a better environment for students to thrive. This would encourage those who study abroad to come back and apply their education to developing the country.


Michelle Mojisola Savage 
is a writer and Engineering 
student at the University of
Lagos. Her interests include
playing the guitar, strong 
political arguments and 
talking to dogs.