JAPA: Nigeria Will Limit Youth Migration by Improving Education

Reforms that improve the quality and job relevance of education will strengthen the economy and limit emigration


With a population of 1.3 billion, Africa accounts for 16% of the world’s population. By 2050 Africans will make up 25% of the global population. Nigeria is a significant driver of Africa’s population growth; there will be 400 million Nigerians in 28 years’ time when Nigeria will replace the United States as the world’s third-largest country. Usually, countries benefit from having so many young people as they constitute an army of productive workers, dynamic entrepreneurs, and consumers.  But, Nigeria’s youth bulge story is not unfolding happily. Lacking economic opportunities at home, young Nigerians resort to immigration, popularly referred to as “Japa“.

“Education funding in Nigeria is currently too concentrated on providing poor quality training to too many students in too many university courses that the economy does not require too many graduates in.”

BIG READ: Immigration & History: Where Remittances Come From

The Statistics Driving Japa, the new Wave of Immigration

According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data released in December 2020, 40% of young people are unemployed. These young people have two options – stay in Nigeria and have their dreams fade away amidst ever-dwindling economic opportunities. Or immigrate to places where they could almost instantly enjoy better living standards and where they have the opportunity to chase big dreams.

The term that most symbolises Nigeria’s latest wave of immigration is  Japa, a Yoruba word that means “run away”. Countless times every week, you see the popular screenshotted image from King of Boys, “Cheers to a New Dispensation,” on Twitter and WhatsApp statuses. That is how many Nigerian Gen Zs and Millenials announce that they have japa i.e joined the wave of immigration to Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States of America etc. They do so with the glee of someone escaping some sort of peril.

Also Read: ASUU and the Federal Government: A Perfect Couple

Perhaps, half of those joining the japa train are the smartest young Nigerians – qualified accountants, lawyers, programmers, doctors, etc., whose skills have been honed in banks, consultancies, multinational companies, etc. For these relatively well-off Nigerians,immigration or japa is a preemptive decision: they are leaving before they become a victim of Nigeria’s many dysfunctions.

President Muhammadu Buhari lamented the mass immigration of African youth to Europe at the 6th EU-AFRICA summit in Brussels, Belgium, correctly pointing out that the loss of young and talented Africans is depriving the continent of the critical resource to drive the continent’s economic development.

What the president failed to note is that Nigerian youths are resorting to immigration.

because they see the same economic policies and political practices that have created poverty, insecurity, and misery that are plaguing Nigeria. Many young Nigerians would decide to stay in the country when they see bold policies that start to address some of the nation’s many problems. So, education and how the labour market functions are particularly important for young people.

Education Policy, the Economy, and Immigration

Education is one of the biggest and most critical sectors of the global economy; countries spend 5% of their GDP or 20% of their national budget on education. A good education policy is essential to raising the levels of productivity as well as creativity in an economy and to stimulating entrepreneurship and technological progress. It is not something you have because you have a big economy or because you are a rich country. An education policy that mobilises and deploys resources efficiently to create appropriately and highly skilled, innovative, and adaptive young people is one of the most important tools to attain economic success. It has the potential to reduce japa, the immigration of Nigerian youths which is significantly driven by the poverty of economic opportunities.

Also Read: Japa: Rising dropout creates room for Nigerians at Big Four auditing firms in the West

By restructuring post-secondary education, the next Nigerian president will help millions of young Nigerians acquire skills that will dramatically improve their job relevance and entrepreneurial skills. The reform would equip them with competitive skills to do jobs or deliver services for which there is very strong demand in the Nigerian and global economy. This would make many sectors of the Nigerian economy more productive and more competitive by redirecting funds to developing requisite skills. It would hence contribute to boosting economic growth and slowing down the japa or immigration trend.

Higher education in Nigeria has a quantity as well as a quality problem. Too many students are studying subjects that the economy does not require too many graduates in. The lecturers are abysmally paid and the infrastructure is overburdened and worn. The Nigerian government should face the facts on the ground and start making policies as well as engaging stakeholders based on the rather obvious facts.

Funding an Education System that Produces Jobs and Limits Immigration

We cannot run a higher education system that supplies high-quality, innovative graduates for the national economy (that also makes us globally competitive) when professors are paid N400,000 ($615) per month and the facilities meant for 3,000 students are used by almost 20,000 students. The average wage of a cleaner in Canada is N1,740,700 ($2,678) per month.

Higher education in Nigeria should be funded with a mix of tuition fees that reflects the real cost of providing high-quality tertiary education and generous scholarships for talented but indigent students that cover tuition fees and living expenses fully.

So, if the 45,552 students of the University of Lagos pay N1 million per annum (the federal government has offered to guarantee bank loans for students whose parents cannot afford the fees), this would translate into a revenue of N45.5 billion for the university. (The federal government allocated N17 million to the University of Lagos in 2022).

This would make it possible to finance cutting-edge research and provide decent classrooms and hostels. Very importantly, the university should aim to pay each new professor at least N1.3 million per month ($2,000). Many of our most brilliant graduates would opt to become lecturers rather than go to do routine jobs in banks. The benefit to the economy is dynamic and immense.

The Nigerian university system which in the 1960s and 1970s boasted lecturers that published in the best journals in the world and that developed major vaccines can begin to contribute inventions in highly commercial fields such as biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc. Our universities would thus be in a position to make considerable income from commercialized research.

Nigeria would save the millions of dollars that students pay in fees in foreign universities; our university system would also attract foreign students who pay us in dollars. Of course, some young Nigerians would decide to avoid taking loans to study English language, Business Administration, Zoology, etc.

Probably up to 80% of graduates of these subjects never do anything that requires a university degree. Many of these graduates train to become programmers, fashion designers, carpenters, photographers, interior decorators, etc. Our universities will design short courses for young people who want to acquire job-ready skills without first acquiring a four-or-five-year degree.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is currently on strike. According to the PUNCH, the union had embarked on four strikes totaling 578 days under the Muhammadu Buhari government. The ongoing strike has surpassed 180 days — 180 days since students have last received lectures.

Acceding to all the demands of ASUU will not transform our university system or be the end of ASUU strikes. The next time ASUU goes on strike after May 2023, the next president should not negotiate how to add N60,000 or N80,000 to the salaries of our lecturers. He should initiate a root and branch reform of the tertiary education system- its purpose, organization and funding.

ASUU and the federal government should end their decades-old negotiation of magic – a university system built on N30,000 tuition fees will never deliver high-quality education. It will never work for the lecturers or the students. And it will always fail the economy. Nigeria should adopt a mix of government-guaranteed loans and generous scholarships for poor but brilliant students. This would meet the goals of adequate funding for a high-quality higher education system and equity and social justice.

In itself, an education policy that adequately funds our universities and trains young people to acquire skills for which there is a strong demand in the economy and puts an end to ASSU strikes would lessen youth despondency and hopelessness. Even before the gains to the economy manifests. It would help dim the appeal of the japa trend and slow down immigration.

It is appropriate to end with the words of Professor Tukur Sa’ad, ex-Vice Chancellor, University of Federal University of Technology, Minna, “We are losing our best staff and students to the globalized world at an unprecedented rate. Not because of the poor state of the economy but because of our archaic mode of thinking and operating”.

Yunus⁩ is a Lagos-based Finance and Investment Professional

Yunus Ibrahim

Yunus advocates for mission-driven, underrepresented founders, particularly women, first-generation entrepreneurs, and people of colour. With over 3 years of experience in Venture Capital, ESG, Corporate Finance, and Research, Yunus has gained insights into various markets in Sub-Saharan Africa and worked with diverse founders to build the prosperous African continent we all desire. He received a bachelor's degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos; and was 1 of 60 African scholars selected to study Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Design at the Nigerian University of Technology and Management (NUTM) on a full-ride scholarship.

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