Monday 30 August 2021

Nigeria: The exodus of 'I have only one life' Nigerians

Our early privilege

Around the time we left secondary school, we were children of middle-class and upwardly mobile parents who were at or approaching the pinnacle of their careers. Many of them, our parents were educated abroad where they had us, children, typically in their mid-20s.

At that time, there was no particular desire amongst us to leave Nigeria, tertiary education was of the standard that was quite competitive and engaging. That we had NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) teachers who had studied abroad did not necessarily make us yearn for an exit, Nigerian seemed to present opportunity and prospect, some of our colleagues spent the summer holidays abroad and still returned to finish their school.

The dream that died

Somehow, has the democracy of the second republic transitioned into military rule, that apparent Nigerian dream was becoming a nightmare. Obviously, the connections we had through the networks of our parents gave us access, be it nepotism or favoritism, a helping hand, and good word here or there, hurdles were smoothed away, but the incumbency of the middle-classes was beginning to shift for even more egregious corruption.

At a point, not even merit coupled with any level of preferential treatment to get you anywhere in Nigeria, the system was gummed up by bureaucracy, corruption, and rent-seekers. In the space of a decade, our accents and apparent privilege got us nowhere. Nigeria was no more working for us and there began the exodus, the exit to where at least we believed more than when our parents were abroad that we could not only thrive, but a semblance of meritocracy gave us a fighting chance.

The first mass exodus

Some of us armed with first degrees or just citizenship by birth knew that the promised land that our parents returned to was not the promised land where we could with grit, talent, and daring begin to live our best lives. Besides, the strictures of tradition, culture and control that stifled our freedom of expression in Nigeria was to be broken out of when we escaped.

From the mid-1980s into the early 1990s, we left Nigeria disillusioned young people to begin new lives abroad just as the government was running a losing battle about losing us to a world that appeared to need us, or so we believed. I would suppose many of us who were born abroad in the 1960s and the 1970s left Nigeria and probably never returned.

The new brain drain

There is a new exodus in play, just as the one we can remember that those in government today were the same faces that could not convince us of the Nigerian dream then. They might not be like those of us of the other exodus, but I would suggest they are the “I have only one life” cohort. They have decided that in the scheme of things the possibility of a different Nigeria is probably remote or impossible and they need to act to provide opportunity and dreams for themselves and their children.

Many of them are highly qualified Nigerians in a Nigeria that is not working for them as they realise there is a global talent market yearning for them and the diversity in expertise they can bring to environments that allows for competition and is rarely gamed by overreach or the abuse of power, where the rule of law, at least in the letter of it appears to be respected and the powerful or influential cannot mess you up on the whim of megalomania.

It still works for some

You still have to give it to those who still believe in the Nigerian dream and seem to thrive in Nigeria despite the lack of ease of doing business, a rotten and intemperate regulatory system that thwarts rather than encourages initiative and innovation, corruption, crumbling infrastructure and the security challenges.

Many Nigerians are thinking, I have only one life and I doubt I want to waste the best part of my productive years daydreaming about a different Nigeria when there could be any other place where my achievements and abilities can find the scope to thrive. For some, even from Nigeria, the world has been their oyster, but for others, they have jumped at the opportunity to emigrate with the feeling that when pit against obstacles abroad they have a more probable chance of coming out on top than struggling in Nigeria.

Use the opportunities that come

This is not to celebrate the exodus from Nigeria of talent and brains, but I left Nigeria over 30 years ago and I know what that had given me in life and experience. It might well be that on balance Nigeria does not deserve many of its youth because the system gives little credence to what they have to contribute.

The world however needs amazing brains and Nigerians constitute a pool of talent the world cannot do without. Maybe after making it abroad, some might return to be honoured at home.

You have one life, take it to the world and make history, that is my treatise to every young Nigerian.

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