The Mass Exodus

Wandoh Timothy was assaulted by a mob in Bangalore in July, 2013, he is photographed with his family. [Elizabeth Soumya/Al Jazeera]

From America, to the UK, Australia, China, Finland, even to countries in South America like Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador, the mass exodus of emigration out of Nigeria to countries outside of Africa has been recorded as early as the 1940s.

The same symptoms have sparked the flu: lack of infrastructure, little access to sound education past primary school, abysmal healthcare services, and little to no elements of social welfare as seen in more “developed” nations.

When asking Nigerians who made the exodus or intend on it, the biggest resolve they have to leave, is knowing that their education or skill level will not allow them to inch up the socioeconomic ladder in real terms; as the cronyism and colloquialism in the country from north to south or east to west, rages on, it really is the definition of a “who you know” type of society.

If not who you know, it is “how you are perceived”, as many returnees from the UK and the United States, predominately those coined millennials are perhaps unjustifiably snatching up lucrative job opportunities, in media, print, and with business conglomerates. Why?, because they have been trained in outside universities, gained access to European and or American business training, and their accents allow for the degree of sounding more “polished” and “appealing” to a wider audience.

But where does that leave the Nigerian native that does not have access to those things?

Not only did Nigerians make the exodus to the aforementioned countries, in the 1970s and 80s they also made their way to Saudi Arabia, as Charles A. Imokhai writes in his book The People’s Choice Nigerians were attracted to Saudi Arabia because the pay was better, as foreigners in Saudi Arabia they were paid in United States dollars, the Saudi government established recruiting centers in many parts of Nigeria. The Nigerians who emigrated enjoyed an economic boom. They were instant millionaires when they returned to Nigeria at the end of their pilgrimages.”

The exodus point for many Nigerians is now India, although the country’s caste system and rampant xenophobia bears heavily on the living standards expected, “many Nigerians who make the pilgrimage to India are those that are sick and seek medical treatment” despite the cost of treatment being high, Imokhai continues.

Nigerians in India form one of the largest African communities in the country. As of November 2013, there are about 50,000 Nigerians living and working in India. They live in cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Goa and Jaipur.

Unfortunately, Nigerians have a negative public image in Indian society and beyond. This is because many Nigerians are said to be involved in illegal activities such as drug trafficking and the production of fraudulent passports.

Dissimilar to the mass exodus of Nigerians to Saudi Arabia, the illegal activities Nigerians are involved in, as well as stray incidences of violence, have led to widespread prejudice. This is exacerbated by, as a report in the India Daily sited in 2011, in New Delhi, more than half the Nigerian population is suspected to have stayed on after their visas expired.

Many foreign travelers of India find themselves in potential situations of overstaying a visa. The reasons range from improper planning with plane tickets and new love interests regardless of the reason, all tourists who come into the country must leave at some point.

The consequences of overstaying a visa can be a nightmare, and many Nigerians faced with economic struggles, elect hiding out rather than trying to face heavy fines and penalties they cannot pay much less jail time. When the alternative is returning to the struggles of life in Nigeria, many would rather languish in obscurity.

In all, it would seem that Nigeria and Nigerians are faced with a dire situation, what are the steps that need to be taken so that mass exodus is not a choice between life or death, the economic dream vs economic in-access for the masses? When will citizens be able to freely move about the country in peace and safety and when will travel to other countries become a choice that is elected only to soon return to the homeland.