Between Japa And Japada

Between Japa And Japada

Ever since Sir Isaac Newton, the English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist discovered the law of gravitation and established for the ages that, “any particle of matter in the universe attracts any other with a force varying directly as the product of the masses and inversely as the square of the distance between them”, the larger society has taken a cue from scientists that “what goes up must come down”.

In the same vein, man’s peregrinations in life are philosophically explained as “comings and goings”, or Departures which foreshadow imminent Arrivals. Thus, you have the name, “Enílolóbò” in Yoruba meaning “the person who went is the one who returned”, a testament to the cyclical nature of human existence as conceived by our forebears: Birth-Death-Return.

I was ruminating over that concept as I tried to unravel the link between the novel phenomenon, ‘Japa’, and its sibling, ‘Japada’. Japa is a Nigerian slang derived from the Yoruba language used to describe the act of escaping or fleeing from an unsavoury situation. The word, ‘Japa’, has now been adopted by Nigerians, especially the large youthful population, as the slang for the fad of relocating to a foreign country for greener pastures.

Manpower Loss
While the motive is usually economic, the trend has created gaps in manpower requirements, particularly in critical areas such as the medical profession. Frustrated by what they described as poor working conditions and low remuneration, Nigerian medical doctors have been emigrating to nations with better working conditions such as the UK, US and Canada.

In 2017, a polling agency, NOI Polls, in conjunction with Nigerian Health Watch, found that 88 percent of doctors were considering work opportunities abroad and that an average of 12 doctors per week secured employment in the UK. The trend has become a free for all as there is no calling that is insulated from what has now been dubbed the brain drain scourge.

Africa’s loss has been the gain of the host countries employing our professionals. According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, it costs an African country such as Nigeria between $21,000 and $51,000 to train a single medical doctor. Because 10% of doctors working in the UK come from African nations, the UK is saving about $2.7 billion by recruiting these doctors. A similar scenario plays out in other countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia where Nigerian doctors and other professionals can be found in huge numbers. One of the fallouts is that there is now a thriving medical tourism market involving wealthy Nigerians who travel abroad to seek specialist medical care. Ironically, in many cases, they are attended to by their compatriots, Nigerian doctors who had relocated abroad.

Even cultural exponents such as artists, musicians, actors and the like have also succumbed to the brain drain bug.

Nigerian immigrants typically take advantage of the merit-driven system to improve themselves educationally at every opportunity. It is not surprising therefore that the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) of Washington confirms that Nigerians in the United States are the most educated immigrant group, with 61 percent holding at least a bachelor’s degree, “Compared with 31 percent of the total foreign-born population and 32 percent of the US-born population.”

Annual remittances to Nigeria from the Diaspora is estimated at $22 billion. The Japa phenomenon cannot therefore be described as totally hurtful to Nigeria. It has helped a good number of our nationals who have emigrated to those countries to widen their professional coast and become a better version of themselves. Eventually, after a couple of decades, the relatively young Japa immigrant longs to return home. And he does so with all his newly acquired knowledge and international best practices, especially in corporate governance.

Reverse Brain Drain
That is the new ‘Japada’ or ‘Enílolóbò’ phase. It is called the “Reverse Brain Drain”, or the return of the professional pilgrims to give back to the original source whence they had emerged. Many countries have well designed programmes to encourage their professionals in the Diaspora to return home. In those days, African immigrants preferred to work and spend the rest of their lives abroad but these days, with the various improvements in many areas of public and communal life at home, and the rise of racism in some Western countries, many Africans are returning home after a few years or, at the latest, after retirement.

China took a giant leap in massive investment in the education of its young people with generous scholarships to reputable universities in Europe and America. Many of them were enrolled in science and technology courses. The local government of each student was involved in the system of rewarding the returnees with large bonuses from their home unit.

Universities and research centres competing for breakthroughs drew up a programme of juicy incentives for the returnees who, in turn, were quite happy to dedicate the rest of their lives to the intellectual pursuit for which their institution, and by extension the nation, was compensating them so handsomely.
Another ‘developing’ country, India, has also done well for itself in this regard. Actually, India can be said to have pioneered the reverse brain drain trend. Indian immigrants to the West used to be prepared to be culturally assimilated by their host country. Tens of thousands of them held highly valued information technology and engineering jobs in Silicon Valley.

It all looked so attractive until the dot-com bubble torpedoed the prices of stocks in the technology industry. Many high-skilled Indian workers were forced to return to their country especially because of security concerns after the 9/11 attacks when Indians were often discriminated against because they looked like Arabs. The Seattle Times estimates that there are more than two million Indians in Software Development who are now permanent residents of the US.

Pakistan and Mexico also have their own success stories in terms of return migration. Of particular significance is the media boom in Pakistan which prompted many overseas Pakistani journalism professionals to return to the country. Today, there are over 47,000 British nationals in Pakistan, many of whom are of Pakistani origin, who have returned to contribute to the economic development of the country.

In Africa,”There is a disconnect between Africans in the diaspora and on the continent”, says Ade Olufeko, a technologist, speaking about reverse brain drain challenges in 2017.

Nidcom’s Role
In order to prevent the permanent loss of the experts, Africa must design its own home-grown incentives to encourage those who have japa-ed to Japada. It is gratifying that the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) has mapped out some programmes that have the potential of encouraging immigrants to cast a favourable glance back home. One of such is the National Housing Programme (NHP) which NIDCOM has keyed into. Currently, the NHP has housing schemes comprising 1 to 3-bedroom bungalows and blocks of flats in 34 states in Nigeria. The application process is facilitated through an online Expression of Interest Form (EOI).

NIDCOM also assists Nigerians in the Diaspora with data capturing and registration under the National Identity Management Scheme, pension matters, medical and educational missions, establishment of businesses and link with the Bank of Industry and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN). Nigerians who are stranded abroad have also benefited from NIDCOM’s intervention.

Considering how invaluable the contributions of our returnees will be across various professions and businesses, every government department ought to have its own package of incentives in partnership with NIDCOM to attract immigrants who may want to return to help uplift the country. You never know, the package of incentives you dangle may be the difference between a Nigerian spending the rest of his years abroad or returning home to give back to society.

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