Why Nigerians ‘Japa’, what you must know

Why Nigerians 'Japa', what you must know

One word that recently gained entry into Nigeria’s unceasing lexicon is Japa. A group of people could be talking, and one or more persons will just suddenly say: “I want to Japa“. Depending on understanding the context, people’s reaction to that statement could be that of celebration, wailing, or outright dejection.

So, what is Japa? What spurs the Japa mode? Why do many Nigerians, especially the youth, want to Japa at all costs? What is the process of Japa? All these and more will be discussed in this piece.

What is Japa?

Japa is the Nigerian slang for emigration. Simply put, it is the act of individuals moving abroad; leaving their own country. This entails a migrant leaving his or her country and relocating or settling permanently in another country for various purposes. It is the point of view of the departure of an individual or people out of a place.

A person who is leaving or has relocated from his or her country is called an emigrant. With regards to Nigeria, Japa has been happening on a massive scale since the 1970s following the end of the civil war and due to the ensuing military coups and interventions.

Why do people Japa?

As mentioned earlier, there are several reasons why people Japa or leave their country and resettle in another. These reasons could either be a result of the incentives offered, perceived opportunities as deemed by the emigrants, or enforced grounds.

The reasons for Japa are:

Employment/economic opportunities

Seeking or pursuing employment opportunities is one of the major reasons why people emigrate. Some people get frustrated due to the lack of proper job employment and seek to and employ all means to escape to seek their country for better economic opportunities abroad. Others also see their chances of increasing their opportunities to get a job, get better pay, or boost their career in another country.

In Nigeria’s context, the country’s unemployment rate rose from 27.1 percent to 33 percent as of December 2020, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Furthermore, the NBS stated that the unemployment rate among young people from 15-34 years, considered to be the working population, rose from 34.9 percent to 42.5 percent. Considering these numbers, it is no surprise why people of the age mentioned above leave the country to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

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This is also another key reason why people Japa. Learning is a continuous process, and individuals survey their options concerning education. Some persons who emigrate do so because they believe they will get a quality education elsewhere, others move abroad because they want to experience a new perspective on teaching and research methods, while others relocate to schools abroad due to the disruption of the school system in their schools at home.

The first and third reasons mentioned are Nigerians’ main drivers of education tourism. For instance, members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the body of lecturers, are currently on strike, and students have not been in the classroom for over five months. The incessant strikes by workers in higher institutions only reinforce the belief of Nigerians who believe that the country’s education system is not top-notch and have the resources to relocate abroad to get educated.


Over the years, various countries have been plagued by one form of crisis or the other. This has forced numerous people to flee their homes for safety reasons; after all, only the living can tell the tales of what they went through.

This is not different in Nigeria. Many Nigerians of South-East extraction fled the country during the Civil War from 1967 to 1970. Some found their way to neighbouring or distant African countries, individuals in groups were lucky to be evacuated abroad, while others who had the resources landed themselves in what their fellow citizens describe as the choicest or dream countries. Since then, Nigerians have been using the excuse of crisis or conflict to flee the country and apply for:

Asylum/Persecution reasons

People who feel persecuted in their country because of race, religion, political opposition, gender, or sexual orientation flee and apply for asylum in another. This has been a norm for ages, even though the formation and sophistication of the modern political system, which brought about travel processes such as passport and visa application, only kickstarted with the Westphalia treaty of 1848.

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Nigerians, as earlier mentioned, went into exile in the 1960s for political reasons after successive military governments hounded those who advocated for the return of democracy, and this continued for decades until the return of democracy in 1999. Even with democracy in practice, some prominent persons have still fled the country, citing harassment by security agencies over their opposition to the government of the day or their general political views.

People have also japa to other countries due to religious differences, especially those who were luckily spared from violent death. The new reason Nigerians are leaving the country is because of sexual orientation, particularly those who identify themselves as LGBT and do not want to be victims of the country’s strict anti-homosexual law.

Family reunification

Some people who have had the opportunity to relocate abroad desire to have their family members, especially their nuclear family, around them or are constantly pestered by both nuclear and extended family members to get them out of the country. This has also sparked the need for some people to Japa.

It is common in Nigeria to see either a man or a woman in a family leave the country to relocate abroad and then “waters the ground” for other family members, including children, to join them in the host country.

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Famine/drought/grazing purposes

Many people also relocate because of the issue of famine, drought, or search for favourable pastures for their animals.

Famine occurs when a widespread scarcity of food is caused by several factors, including war, natural disasters, crop failure, population imbalance, widespread poverty, and economic catastrophe. On the other hand, drought is a prolonged period in which there is a shortage in the water supply. Both famine and drought majorly affect low-income or subsidiary farmers, and they are forced alongside other members of the population to Japa to, most times, a neighbouring country to seek refuge.

Another group of farmers who also relocate are pastoralists, commonly known as herders/herdsmen in Nigeria. These are nomadic people because they raise livestock, and their herd of livestock needs a habitable place to graze. These farmers, therefore, search for pastures that they deem favourable for the animals they cater to. For instance, a good number of the herdsmen in Nigeria currently, from media reports, are mainly from Chad and Niger, whose countries’ climates are largely hot and dry, with most of the country as desert regions. It is only in the south of Chad in which the Lake Chad is situated is deemed a wetland in the Central African country, but even the lake is turning into dry land as the majority of the water has shrunk due to climate change.

Therefore, this is why many herdsmen from those countries move to Nigeria, which has a blend of deserts, plains, swamps, rivers, mountains, and jungles, to feed their animals.


Many learned Nigerians are, by now, probably familiar with the term “medical tourism”. This is majorly described as when people from less-developed countries travel to highly developed countries to get treatment unavailable at home. Due to the poor state of the Nigerian health sector, many citizens who can either afford treatment or those who are sponsored have travelled out of the country to seek medical care. Some persons ultimately use this reason to make their relocation permanent.

A prominent example of a prolonged relocation is the late Chinua Achebe. a renowned professor of English. The author of Things Fall Apart left the country in 1990 to seek medical treatment in the United States after a car accident in Nigeria left him partially paralysed. He stayed in the US for nine years before returning to the country in August 1999. However, his return to the country was not permanent as he returned to the US and made it more of a permanent home and travelled back to the country of his birth only on rare occasions until his death.

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Permanent relocation

This is perhaps the summation of all the reasons mentioned above. Some people do feel that due to the socio-economic challenges in their country (which have already been highlighted in this piece) and other issues such as security and safety, political, religious, and/or cultural antagonism, it is best for them to permanently resettle abroad.

This is one of, if not the major reasons Nigerians leave their country. Some believe they can pursue their dreams elsewhere; others imagine many countries as being their safe heaven where they can explore new opportunities.

How to Japa to the country of your dream

Well, for Nigerians who are desirous of leaving the country permanently, they must adhere to the following:

  • Ensure you have a valid passport as that is one of the major requirements needed for international travel
  • Plan your journey months ahead by getting all the necessary documents that will facilitate your travel
  • Make sure you have enough money to fund your visa application, flight, bus, ship ticket, and the early periods of stay in your host country. Ensure that you have proof of money to fund your travel in your account.
  • Make proper enquires regarding the countries of your choice and know the various categories of visas available.
  • Properly fill out the documents for your visa application, preferably with the guidance of a lawyer or travel agent. Do not fill in fake or wrong information, as it may hurt your chances during your visa application interview.
  • Be smart and intelligent during your visa application interview. But do not do anything in excess or exaggerate your responses to questions asked.
  • If possible, secure the scholarship (for a student visa), employment (for a work visa), or reference/guarantor letter (for a family visa) before you attend your visa application interview.
  • If you are successful in getting a visa, ensure that you (especially those relocating permanently) conclude all transactions concerning your properties before leaving. This will help you get more money to cater to yourself when you finally arrive in your host country.
  • It is best to be in or have the contact of someone who can be your “go-to person” and help you settle down in the first days of your arrival in your host country.

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Gabriel is a trained political scientist, and a qualified and versatile communications professional who has worked as a journalist and Public Relations executive. He has a knack for content creation and development and is a keen digital native interested in all things good.
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