When the riots in London erupted, the following quotes made their way round Nigerian social networks and Blackberry Messenger broadcasts:
“Breaking news: in the wake of riots spreading all over the UK, the Nigerian government plans to evacuate all Nigerians in the UK to Nigeria for better security!” Citizens reply: “Mr President thank you for your concern. We prefer the riot!” The moment I read the broadcast, I burst out laughing. But the truth is that this is no laughing matter.
Whether real or fictional, the quote speaks volumes about the general sentiment by residents and Diasporans about Nigeria. Though it was likely written in good fun, it explains for instance, why hundreds of thousands of Nigerians queue for hours and often, days at embassies around the country for the chance to emigrate from Nigeria at the slightest opportunity.
It also explains why Nigerians come up with the sort of excuses that they do during visa interviews. I remember an experience I had at an embassy about a year ago where a young man walked up to the consulate officer for his visa interview and when asked, said he wanted to travel to the United States to buy a helicopter. The consulate officer was taken aback but decided to give the young man the benefit of doubt. He quizzed him further on how exactly he intended to buy a helicopter in the US but he had no coherent answer. Worse still, his bank account didn’t give much credibility to his intentions.
Granted, it is true that a lot of consulates make it unreasonably difficult for Nigerians to get visas but hearing some of the reasons for wanting to leave the country by many young people there helped further illuminate what seems to be the general sentiment across the nation. “A lot of Nigerians wan ja” at any cost and using any reason, (no matter how illogical) that they think would enable them leave.
With an unemployment rate of about 19.7 percent (even though many Nigerians would argue that the percentage must be a lot higher) this makes sense. Why would one want to hang around in their country of origin when they are not gainfully employed for years on end? This situation is compounded by the fact that over 70 percent of Nigerians are under the age of 35, meaning that millions of young Nigerians find it difficult to move up the income ladder and improve their lot economically during their most active years in the labour force. This is sad.
After reading the quotes during the London riots, I began to wonder what threshold would persuade majority of Nigerians to either return home or choose not to emigrate. For instance, if there is war in the US and Nigerians are offered the opportunity to relocate there, would Nigerians rather live in a war torn US than in present day Nigeria?
If there is a famine in the UK, would Nigerians in the country rather stay back there and wait things out than return to Nigeria?
If there are absolutely no jobs for Nigerians in the US and they had the option to be on state welfare, would they rather be on welfare in the US than return to Nigeria?
It would be interesting to know to what extent majority of Nigerians need to be pushed to the wall to choose relocating back to Nigeria over staying in a “relatively more developed” country. Death?
By Nmachi Jidenma