‘I get this rush of sadness’: is a wave of youth migration threatening the Nigerian way of life? - THE GUARDIAN UK
NOVEMBER 29, 2022
Lack of opportunities, corruption and insecurity are driving younger people abroad – and is tearing the very fabric of the country’s culture
Global development is supported by BY Olayide Oluwafunmilayo Soaga, in Lagos
On the day Nigeria celebrated the anniversary of its independence from British rule, Chisom Chuba said farewell to her family and her home country. Her mother accompanied the industrial chemistry graduate to the airport but Chuba’s father stayed away.
“My father refused to come with me to the airport and I think it was because he was afraid of crying. I could see his hands shaking when he was giving me some advice,” she says.
It was a tearful parting with her mother at the departure gate. “I was so distraught that I was heading in the wrong direction because my vision was blurred by tears,” says Chuba, who now lives in Ireland.
That was 1 October 2020; she has not seen her family since.. She is not unusual: just like Chuba, many Nigerians are leaving jobs, families and friends behind in search of better opportunities.
According to a report by the African Polling Institute last year, seven in 10 Nigerians would be willing to go abroad if they had the resources. yearlyAnd the number of skilled work and study visas issued by the UK to Nigerians increased by 210% between 2019 and 2021, from 19,000 to 59,000.
Their aspirations are fuelled by Nigeria’s continued lack of career opportunities and the failure of the country’s institutions to provide functioning systems.
Nigeria is dealing with a number of problems, including insecurity, corruption and inflation. In August, inflation reached its highest rate since 2005 at 20.52%. With no corresponding increase in wages, families face constantly increasing prices of goods and services with little support from their government.
Unemployment is also high at 33.3%. The erratic power supply regularly disrupts the activities of firms, industries and even hospitals, and the country is experiencing its worst insecurity since 1999.
For Chuba, the last straw was the sexual abuse she was expected to endure while earning 30,000 Naira (£57) a month working for a quality-assurance firm. Chuba saw only one way out and began working on her plan to emigrate.
“There was nothing for me in Nigeria,” she says. “I knew that if I remained there, I would not amount to much as a career woman. I tried searching for other jobs but if they were not paying peanuts, they were making the working environment unbearable.”
There was nothing for me in Nigeria. I knew that if I remained there, I would not amount to much as a career woman
Unlike during the early days after Nigeria became independent in 1960, when those who travelled abroad for work or study were eager to return home to their newly thriving economy, corruption has eaten deep into the institutional framework of the country, putting many off doing the same.
As migration has gained momentum, families are being torn apart. People have had to come to terms with not seeing their loved ones for a long while – or perhaps not at all. Parents are facing old age without their children close by, and siblings are scattered across the world.
Five years after Osazua Iredo’s twin sister left for the US in 2012, her brother left for the UK. Neither has returned. Iredo is waiting for Germany to give her a study visa and the rest of her siblings are also making plans. Her mother is supportive, but Iredo worries about her being all alone in Nigeria.
“Every parent wants their children to be successful. So even if being separated from their children hurts them, they will encourage you to go where it can be better,” she says.
When Adewale Oluwagbenga left for Canada in 2012, his wife was pregnant with their third child. He has not been back since, thwarted by the cost of flights and limited time off granted in the North American labour market, but he is determined to secure citizenship so that he can bring his family to visit.
Chuba faces a similar problem: “Twenty days of annual leave is barely enough time for me to spend with my family in a year.
“By the time you get to the festive season, how many days of leave do you have left? Some companies are kind enough to give you an extension but without pay,” she says.
Nigeria’s rich family traditions make such separations difficult. Christmas, weddings, birthdays, and even funerals are much anticipated because they serve as bonding periods for extended families. The increasing wave of migration is tearing the fabric of Nigeria’s culture.
“I miss my parents and siblings. When I hear my colleagues casually say they are driving down to see their parents, I get this rush of sadness. How lucky they are to be just hours away from their parents,” says Chuba.
Philip Dimka, a psychologist and trauma counsellor, says migration can affect children and parents in many ways. For children, the separation can exert negative family pressure and cause depression, sadness, mood changes and frustration.
“In relation to emotional consequences, you are likely to see attachment problems, especially if the migration happens when these children are younger. They can become indifferent and may show no excitement, even if they see them [family members] after a long time,” says Dimka.
Meanwhile, adults can struggle to fit in and adapt to their new environment without the support of family. “There is a tendency for you to adjust more to a new environment when you are with your family, but when you are separated, you are likely to develop stress and anxiety.”
Chuba says she feels as though a sticking plaster is being ripped from her skin whenever a video call with her family ends.
“I don’t know if it is the sound of the call dropping or just watching the screen go blank with their image gone. But it is all I can get for now.”