Nigerians: A People and Their Migration Pattern

Aside from the old-Soviet Union, and perhaps, today’s Russia, I can think of no other country in modern times that has lived or is living far below its potential. No where on the face of the planet would one find a people as confused and flabbergasted about what to do with and about their country than Nigerians. For Nigerians, Nigeria has become a joke, a riddle, and a source of sadness and disappointment. Frankly, what to do with and what to do about Nigeria is one of the great mysteries of the modern era: a country once destined for greatness is today a brittle skeleton, a dust bowl.

Every now and then, I come across Nigerians who were men and women of substance and great intellect when Nigeria was a hopeful land. These Nigerians reminiscence about a country, a culture and a political space that once was; a land that had so much potential, so much dreams and so many possibilities. Catching up with the West, in terms of growth and development, was one of their mantras. It was not to be. The civil war put a let on their aspirations.

In the years immediately following the cessation of hostility, some of the embers and the energies returned. Nigerian universities and institutions of higher learning were home to some of the continent’s best. And so were the Civil Service and the Judiciary. Rent from oil and other resources made it possible for Nigeria to project herself continentally and globally. There was no doubt that the country’s place within the globally system was going to be secured within three decades. At the very least, the country was going to be the Mecca for the Black race. That was the thinking. The expectation.

However, a series of self-immolating factors, including but not limited to coups, poor leadership, institutional dishonesty, ancient fears and suspicious, along with external interferences, helped bring the country to her knees. The gains of the post-independence and post-civil eras all evaporated. The air was gradually knocked out of the nation’s lungs. And so it was that beginning in the late-1970s, until the present time, the country has been in a doldrums, in a rut: unable to pull itself up from three decades of morbid slumber. In the intervening years, about 1.1 million professionals, along with their kids and spouses, fled the country.

Consequently, the country’s institutions deteriorated; there was and continues to be a breakdown of social structures; mediocrity became the norm; high crimes were legalized; and foolishness and stupidity became fashionable. Not minding the costs and the inconveniences, Nigerians fled to whatever country that will host them. Nigerians fled everywhere, from Israel to Afghanistan, and from Timbuktu to Iceland; they went everywhere. Today, Nigeria has more “scattered, suffering and miserable people” around the world than any other country.

Some cannot return home; others will not return. Not now, at least. Too many have nothing to return to, nothing to aspire to. It is hard to quantify the cost of such forced-migration on the people and on the country. How do you quantify the psychological and spiritual loss; how do you quantify the economic, social and political loss to the nation? If the current trend is not inverted, Nigerians may be the first and only people — in the modern era, at least — with a country, but without a homeland.

Immigration is not new. It is to be encouraged. It is necessary. It is part of the human evolution and human experience. There have been great migrations in history. In Africa for example, there was the Bantu and the Trans-Atlantic Migrations. In Europe, there was the Serb and the Irish Migrations, including the Ostsiedlung Migration (German’s eastward expansion). In the United States of America, there was, between 1914 and 1950, the exodus of African-Americans out of the Southern belt to other regions of the country. When such large migrations take place, the effect can be seen in both the departing and the receiving territory. In the long run, it is always a net-gain for the receiving country.

The problem with the Nigerian-style immigration is the pattern, the scope and the pull-push factors that gave rise to such movements. If Nigeria had not stagnated, seventy percent of those in exile would never have left; what’s more, seventy-five percent of those who left would have returned within a decade. Ten percent or so completely forsakes the country. For the vast majority however, they return or think of returning only after they’ve spent the better and most productive years of their lives abroad. They return to die or to be buried.

Why are Nigerians not returning home in their prime and in great numbers? Well, there are five possible explanations for this trend. The first falls under economic and time factor: It is either they are waiting for their kids to grow and enter college/university; or they have mortgages to offset, or have retirement benefits to look forward to. By the time two or three of the aforementioned takes place, they must have begun to gray and in the fourth phase of their life. Secondly, there are concerns over space and acceptability. In order words, the Nigerian economic, political and social space may not be big or expansive enough to accommodate all those who wish to return.

The space is not big enough, and it is not growing at a fast enough space. Adding to this difficulty is the issue of personal security and basic needs: availability and easy access to education and health care, sustaining infrastructures, social services, and a conducive environment for one to grow and prosper. Why forgo the predictability and comfort of the West for the vagaries of an exhausting and predatory Nigeria? After fifteen, twenty or more years in the West, it is not easy to just pack ones bag and leave. There are several cultural factors one has to deal with, including reverse-assimilation and or reverse-acculturation. Such fears are not to be minimized.

And finally, there are those for whom the US, Canada, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, France or wherever they call home is now Home. They have planted their seeds and their roots; they have invested in their new country. For such people, it makes no sense and neither will they entertain the idea of uprooting and returning to Nigeria. For such group of people, Nigeria becomes a distant memory: the land of their ancestors, but not the land of their offspring. There is a subset to this group — a group that warrants further research: Nigerians who go abroad just to deliver their babies (with the intention of giving such children a better chance at life).This phenomenon says a lot about how Nigerians think about their country. For others, such moves are nothing but ego-trip and or a way to boost their social-status.

As was alluded to earlier, there have been great migrations in human history. Reverse migrations are not that common. They are rare. Still, there was the movement of South Africans back to their country after the collapse of the Apartheid system; there was the reverse migration to Israel when it became a state in 1948 and again after the collapse of Soviet Union. And in very recent years, there have been noticeable movement of people back to Ireland (a move spurred mainly by its economic growth and development). In view of the aforesaid, will there ever be a reverse migration of Nigerians to Nigeria? It is hard to tell…

Written by
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
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5 comments
  • This articles mix up things that just simple observation will reveal. Just ask yourself and others why the have immigrated. You will hear all soft of lies. One things that make migrate is ambition and senseless quest to rich. Nigerians are look down on presumed lesser well to-do countrymen. The tipical nigerian sees money as money. And as you knows what move people is their desire a.ka.a ambition.. So they are everywhere europe,america,austrialia and asia “husling” They husle ( prostittution,credit card fraud and 419).. They lie and at the end of the day thier catch handsdown. They cheat from day one and they cheat themselves out. The people need psycotherapy. Reorientation is not enough.

  • I really enjoyed this article particularly the reasons for Nigerians immigration. Until our leaders decise to be “matured” in terms of growth economically, financially, and politically, many will continue to migrate and not return permanently to Nigeria. Presently I have migrated with the intention to settle down here or else where except things change.

  • I enjoyed the article in which you gave reasons for migration, in particular Nigerians immigration. Until Nigeria has opportunities for growth economically, financially, and politically, I believe many will continue to migrate and not return permanently to Nigeria. Hopefully, one day this will change.

  • I see your point but their is a misconcerption of how we Nigerian think the world works.The Indians in the diaspora are the ones who are investing in the change that is occuring in india.140million is just a market that cannot be ignored.Bad leadership and all we will make something of that country weather the people like it or not.

  • Nice write up bros…I still dey Naija but who knows? I might become a Diasporan Naija guy anytime soon , and be referring to Naija as homeland like most og you out there…lol!