Japa Syndrome As Opportunity For Worker Welfare In Nigeria

As daunting economic challenges and allied matters escalate in Nigeria, many citizens see the “japa” option an as escape route to prosperity. Aside a few identified positives resulting from the “japa” syndrome, attempts to discuss the phenomenon seem to focus more on its negative aspects as a way of emphasizing the urgency of the situation. Consequently, this article is of the view that the “japa” syndrome could present an opportunity for solving the problems that created it. Accordingly, it believes that a declining worker population occasioned by “japa” could be leveraged by government to improve worker welfare in Nigeria, with a view to discouraging potential migrant workers from embarking on the search for greener pastures outside the shores of the Country. 

“Japa” is a Yoruba slang used to depict a situation in which people are running away from a bad situation, usually in a hasty manner. The slang gained global prominence owing to its reference to the maddening emigration situation in Nigeria which portended a disaster for all facets of the Nigerian economy. According to Professor Toyin Falola, “Japa is a Yoruba word that means to flee, and once achieved, a celebration comes with it as it feels more like gaining freedom at last.” Generally, the desire to “japa” from Nigeria arises from citizens’ increasing lack of confidence in government’s ability to effectively tackle the mounting economic challenges in Nigeria. This explains the inverse relationship between the number of emigrating Nigerians and the state of the economy. In other words, as the economy goes south, the number of emigrating Nigerians goes north, and vice versa. The purpose of this article is to highlight the window of opportunity which the “japa” syndrome presents through a declining worker population to improve the welfare of existing workers and employ new ones thus, attempting to solve the problem with the situation that created it. This analysis is centered on the worker given the belief that it is the worker that transforms society either directly with his hands or through the machines he has created.

Consequently, we adopt the Venom Doctrine to enhance our understanding of the nature of this discourse. The Venom Doctrine as propounded by this author is a derivative of the pharmaceutical principle utilized in the production of antivenoms. In the production of anti-snake venoms for instance, a controlled amount of the venomous substance is injected into an animal which produces antibodies that bind to the venomous particles in an effort to fight off the effects of the venom. These antibodies are then harnessed from the animal and purified for use in the production of anti-snake venoms which are applied to curb the effects of dangerous snake bites. In other words, the preparation of antivenoms incorporates the venoms that cause the problem. Therefore, the Venom Doctrine assumes that every problem either embodies its solution, or is critical to the formulation of its solution.

Scholars and commentators attribute the “japa” syndrome to many reasons which range from bad governance, economic hardship, dysfunctional educational system to insecurity. According to Falaiye (2023), “the poor state of the economy; high cost of living; human rights violations; among other reasons have also been cited as other reasons young Nigerians seek greener pastures in developed countries.” As we have noted earlier, debates around the “japa” syndrome appear to focus understandably on the negative effects of the phenomenon, given the near ubiquity of such effects on virtually all facets of the Nigerian economy. We say “understandably” in view of our observation of the tendency of people to talk more about the things they see. These notwithstanding, the usually overemphasized negative effects of the “japa” syndrome include brain drain which leads to the loss or shortage of valuable human resources mainly in the form of skilled or professional workers, diminished productivity and innovation, loss of investor confidence, global derogatory perception of the losing country, etc., while often downplayed positives include huge diaspora remittances, global exposure and experience, improved technical knowhow etc. According to Afunugo (2023), “japa” syndrome “poses grave threats … as the country is left “brain drained” with few prospective skilled workers and professionals to fill the vacuum left in various governmental parastatals and other fields of endeavour.” Similarly, Falaiye (2023) reveals that “there are concerns that human capital export has created a manpower gap in different sectors of the Nigerian economy.” Unfortunately, the primary purpose of this paper is not to highlight the negative effects of the syndrome which are already well known. Rather, it seeks to establish that the solutions to the “japa” syndrome are embodied in the syndrome much like the antivenoms to venoms are embodied in venoms.

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Accordingly, we submit that the reduced worker population occasioned by “japa” could become a blessing in disguise for Nigeria if government leverages the opportunity of a reduced worker population to improve the plight of existing workers while employing new ones, thus, discouraging potential migrant workers from leaving the Country. For instance, according to the International labour Organization (ILO), in spite of the benefits of an increasing working age population to a country’s economy, it creates “challenges for job creation and integration of new labour entrants.” This means that the phenomenon of a declining youthful workforce courtesy of “japa” may not be as inimical as often portrayed. Rather, what should be worrisome is government’s inability to make the best out of the situation. In other words, the government could make the best out of the situation by opening up opportunities for employment to a large pool of potential workers currently in the Country as replacement for those who have left. Furthermore, once this large pool of workers has been absorbed, government could then regulate future recruitments to ensure that the system does not become bloated, while ensuring periodic upward review of the national minimum wage as prescribed by law. The idea is that constant upward reviews of the national minimum wage would attempt to counterbalance the effects of surging inflation on workers’ salaries so that the marginal impact of enhanced workers’ salaries on Nigerian families would be bolstered by diaspora remittances already trickling into the Country courtesy of the migrated Nigerian workers. It is expected that if the Country continues on this part for some time, its work environment could become satisfying enough to discourage mass worker migration due to “japa.” Finally, once the average Nigerian family has been stabilized, efforts to aggressively tackle other japa-inducing factors could commence. Accordingly, government could begin the construction of state-of-the-art health and educational facilities, while leveraging the proposed partnership with Siemens to improve power supply. Once there is adequate power, the informal sector could pick up because more of the diaspora remittances it gets would likely be channeled to productive activities rather than consumptive ones. These things could happen within 10-20 years as low-hanging fruits along the path to Nigeria’s restoration. It is necessary to highlight that our emphasis on government as the key employer of labour in this instance is not borne out of a denial of the ability of the private sector to significantly employ labour. Rather, it is based on our perception of the state in post-colonial Africa as the greatest dispenser of material rewards, and therefore, the most important employer of African labour.


The ‘Alternative Viewpoint,’ penned by Flight Lieutenant Christopher Uchenna Obasi (Retired), is a sophisticated weekly column that delves into the complex dimensions of socio-political issues. While it concentrates primarily on the African context, the column also casts a wider analytical net to encompass global affairs. Through incisive commentary and in-depth analysis, it aims to offer alternative perspectives that challenge mainstream narratives and provoke thoughtful discourse on critical matters.

Africa Today News, New York

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