Nigerian youth have recently been echoing their strong desires to leave the country and, although this sentiment is not new, the current uproar is linked to how young people were treated by the government during the End SARS protests of October 2020.
Nigerians are known to use regular means to migrate but also some have gone through the irregular means. In a report published in 2016, Afrobarometer stated that migrants from Nigeria were the highest in population entering countries like Italy and Greece. Also, Nigerians were the largest number of people trapped in the Libya/Mediterranean migrant crisis in 2018.
A poll conducted for the report showed that one in three Nigerians have considered emigrating: 21 per cent of those without formal education and 44 per cent of respondents with post-secondary school certificates.
The International Organization for Migration also reported that 6,700 Nigerian migrants were returned home from Libya through the efforts of local and international agencies in 2018.
According to the Pew Research Centre, 45 per cent of Nigerian adults have plans to move to another country within five years–by far the highest share among 12 countries surveyed across four continents.
In ongoing conversations about the prospect of leaving the country, one destination constantly on the lips of Nigerians is Canada, likely because of its open-door policy in welcoming migrants.
Any connection to End SARS protests?
There is a sudden surge for migration among young people and this set of people are connecting the urgency to the end SARS movement which started in early October 2020. Last year, young Nigerians took to the streets across 21 states to protest vehemently against police brutality.
The demonstrations triggered outrage on the international stage, eventually leading to the establishment of panels of inquiry in many states.
Security officials used excessive force in the cause of the protest to stop peaceful protesters which led to the killings of 56 people from the start of the protest according to an Amnesty International report.
Following the physical demonstrations and the involvement of military personnel, some active protesters and sympathisers were arrested and detained without immediate access to lawyers.
Moe Odele, who provided legal support to arrested protesters, was stopped from travelling out of the country and her passport was seized. Also, the bank accounts of some protesters and organisation that supported the End SARS campaign were frozen by the Central Bank of Nigeria allegedly based on suspected terrorism financing.
A health advocate, Nonso Bobby Egemba (@aproko_doctor), took to his Twitter page on Sunday to say that “a lot of Nigerians lost hope in this country when it treated us like terrorists just because we asked for an end to police brutality”. He added that it was the last straw for many.
Ekwenium (@Ekwenium) also wrote on January 3 that he had to shuttle between the protest and caring for his girlfriend on the sickbed–yet “we were treated like shit”. “If dem like make dem talk anything, that leaving is a must,” he added in pidgin English.
The tweet of Francis Whyte (@MrFrancisWhyte) on December 30 had spiked fresh conversations about the importance of migration. He had written that he sat for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test a total of five times in three years before he could finally travel. He waved Nigeria goodbye, saying “the evil” the country had done was enough.
In reaction, another Nigerian Twitter user @RealOrodge wrote that leaving the country was his only aim and he would not mind writing the IELTS test 10 times if necessary. “We can all fight for Nigeria outside this country,” he argued.
Tunde Babajide, a project designer based in Texas, United States, said, “When the uprising started, I was hopeful and was well eager for something powerful from us about happening.”
“But after I saw how it was approached, I knew the present crop of leaders would need to be buried before anything meaningful happened,” he told HumAngle.
From the conversations on social media, it is clear many people have their eyes set on Canada as a go-to country for relocation.
But why Canada?
Canada has projected to welcome 700,000 migrants in two consecutive years ahead from 2021-2023.
This is an attractive prospect to Nigerians but again not everyone takes the regular route. As of September 2019, the Canadian government recorded that Nigeria had the highest number of irregular migrants to the country.
Canada, according to its government, has one of the world’s older populations with low birth rates. So, it depends on migrants for the larger piece of the labour force and for economic growth.
Akin Bamidele, a freelance data analyst based in Lagos, told HumAngle Canada had become highly sought after because of its welcoming policy and the raised chances of getting in. “I do not want to raise my children on a green passport only but in addition to a foreign one,” he disclosed.
Babajide also said, “It’s mostly about providing a better place for one’s child and it’s honestly not about the luxury of peace of mind that comes from abroad.”
Is the zeal to migrate new?
A great many Nigerians have shown a strong desire to move abroad for a long time. In 2019, there were about 12,000 applications for Canadian study permits by Nigerians, seeing 81 per cent of potential students turned down–the third-highest rate on the African continent.
In the same year, Canada welcomed 341,000 immigrants in total as part of its immigration policy to attract skilled workers. Out of that number, Nigerians were 12,595.
Nigerians have been leaving the country long before now, some through regular means and others through irregular migration, which has often taken lives along dangerous routes.
In July 2018, some Nigerian migrants were held captive inside a detention centre in Libya and their lucky means of escape was a video taken from a phone and posted online that caught the attention of the world and Nigerian authorities.
One of the victims of this ordeal told Premium Times, “They don’t want us to go to Europe and also, they don’t want us to go back to our country.” They were eventually returned to Nigeria on August 30.
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Nigeria spokesman, Jorge Galindo, said that about 2,700 migrants made it back to Nigeria through IOM’s voluntary return programme in 2018. And since the programme started in 2017, almost 10,000 Nigerians returned to their home country.