The year was 1984. Nigeria, under the weight of military rule and economic hardship, witnessed a mass exodus of its brightest minds. The phrase ‘Checking Out’ became a chilling euphemism for the wave of brain drain that swept through the nation. Fast forward four decades, and the term has evolved into ‘Japa’, a Yoruba word meaning “to run swiftly out of a place.” The phenomenon, however, remains tragically unchanged.

The ’80s ‘Checking Out’ wave saw doctors, engineers, academics, and skilled professionals of all stripes abandon their homeland in droves. Driven by dwindling opportunities, political instability, and a deteriorating quality of life, they sought greener pastures abroad, primarily in the West. Many were never to return.

While eerily similar, today’s ‘Japa’ wave is more widespread and multifaceted. It’s no longer confined to the elite or the highly skilled. It cuts across socioeconomic classes, capturing the ambitions and frustrations of a broader cross-section of Nigerians.

A middle-aged Lagos teacher who wished to remain anonymous laments, “I have spent years serving this country, but what do I have to show for it? A meagre salary, a crumbling education system, and an uncertain future. Japa is my only hope for a better life.” A recent graduate from the University of Ibadan, echoing this sentiment, says, “I have excellent grades, but there are no jobs. The ones that exist are poorly paid and offer no prospects for growth. Why should I stay and suffer? Japa is the way forward.”

This is the story of average Nigerians, the unsung heroes of the ‘Japa’ narrative; they are the teachers, nurses, engineers, entrepreneurs, and countless others who form the backbone of Nigerian society. Their reasons for leaving are as diverse as their backgrounds, but a common thread runs through them all: a deep-seated desire for a better life, one that their homeland seems unable to provide.

The economic factors driving ‘Japa’ are undeniable. 

Despite its vast potential due to natural resources and a youthful population, the Nigerian economy has been plagued by volatile, corruption, and mismanagement cycles. This instability manifests in several ways:

Currency Devaluation and Inflation: The naira’s value has consistently dropped over the years, leading to rampant inflation. This erosion of purchasing power makes essential goods and services like food, housing, healthcare, and education increasingly unaffordable for the average Nigerian. Many families are forced to make difficult choices about which basic necessities they can afford, significantly impacting their quality of life.

Unemployment Crisis: Nigeria’s unemployment rate, particularly among young graduates, has reached alarming levels. This lack of job opportunities, coupled with underemployment and low wages for those who do find work, leaves many feeling hopeless and disillusioned. Many Nigerians’ dream of upward mobility and financial security seems out of reach, forcing them to seek better prospects abroad.

Poor Infrastructure: Nigeria struggles with a significant infrastructure deficit despite Africa’s largest economy. Power outages are a frequent occurrence, crippling businesses, disrupting education, and straining essential services like hospitals. Road networks are in disrepair, making transportation slow and dangerous. The healthcare system needs to be more funded and staffed, leading to better access to quality care. This infrastructure needs to be improved for businesses to thrive, limiting the economy’s overall productivity. 

A young doctor from the northern city of Kano, who recently relocated to the UK, shares his harrowing experience, “I was working in a government hospital where we lacked basic supplies like gloves and syringes. We were constantly threatened by armed groups, and our salaries were delayed for months. Japa was the only way to save my life and career.”

A Culture of Corruption: Corruption is pervasive at all levels of Nigerian society, from petty bribery to embezzlement of public funds. This discourages investment and diverts resources away from essential services and infrastructure development. It creates a system where connections and wealth hold more power than merit and hard work, further dampening the optimism of those seeking a better future in Nigeria. 

The lack of basic amenities and infrastructure further exacerbates the situation. Power outages are daily, roads are disrepair, and the healthcare system is woefully inadequate. Insecurity, fueled by terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping, adds another layer of complexity to the ‘Japa’ equation.

Like every other person, the average Nigerian just want a better life.

A universal human desire for a better life drives the ‘Japa’ phenomenon. Nigerians want to offer their families a secure and comfortable future like people everywhere. Parents dream of affording their children a quality education that equips them with the skills to compete in a globalised world. They want their children to have access to healthcare that is not only affordable but also effective. They yearn for a society that fosters creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, where hard work is rewarded and individual potential can be fully realised.

Parents, in particular, are deeply motivated to provide their children with opportunities they may not have had. In Nigeria, the education system is plagued by strikes, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure, which compromise the quality of education. Many parents see ‘Japa’ as a means to give their children a chance at a better education and, consequently, a brighter future. They want their children to learn in environments where they have access to modern facilities and teaching methods, where their potential is nurtured and developed to its fullest. Similarly, healthcare is a critical factor. 

The Nigerian healthcare system is underfunded and often unable to meet the needs of its population. Parents fear for their children’s health and well-being in an environment where medical facilities are inadequate and essential drugs are often in short supply. They dream of moving to countries where healthcare is reliable and accessible, where their children can receive timely and effective medical treatment. Young professionals are also driven by the desire for a better life. In Nigeria, high unemployment rates, limited career advancement opportunities, and a lack of professional recognition push many to seek opportunities abroad. 

They dream of working in environments where their skills are valued, where they can build successful careers, and where they can contribute meaningfully to their fields. In many developed countries, they find opportunities for career growth and professional development that are unavailable at home. They can work on cutting-edge projects, collaborate with industry leaders, and continuously improve their skills and knowledge. For many, this professional fulfilment and recognition are worth the sacrifice of leaving their home country. Tunde, an IT specialist who moved to Germany, explains his decision: “In Nigeria, I felt like my career was stagnating. Despite my qualifications and hard work, opportunities for growth were limited. In Germany, I found a job that not only values my expertise but also offers continuous professional development. I can now work on cutting-edge projects and collaborate with industry leaders. It’s a fulfilling experience that I couldn’t find back home.”

The entrepreneurial spirit in Nigeria is vibrant, but systemic challenges often stifle innovation and business growth. Entrepreneurs face numerous hurdles, including bureaucratic red tape, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to capital. Chika, an entrepreneur who moved to the United States, shares her journey: “Starting a business in Nigeria was incredibly challenging. The lack of reliable power, difficulty in accessing funding, and bureaucratic delays made it nearly impossible to sustain my startup. Moving to the U.S. has opened up so many opportunities. I now have access to a network of investors, mentors, and a market that values innovation. It’s been a game-changer for my business.” 

Many see ‘Japa’ as a way to realise their business ambitions in environments that support and nurture entrepreneurship. In countries with supportive business ecosystems, they can access funding, mentorship, and markets that allow their startups to thrive. This not only benefits them personally but also contributes to the economies of their new countries.  

The consequences of Japa for the economy

While a personal choice for many, the’ Japa’ phenomenon has far-reaching consequences for Nigeria. The country is losing its most valuable asset: its human capital. The brain drain deprives the nation of the skills, expertise, and innovation it desperately needs to develop and prosper. 

The statistics surrounding Nigeria’s brain drain are stark and revealing. According to the World Bank, over 17 million Nigerians live in the diaspora, contributing significantly to their host countries’ economies through their skills and labour. This figure represents a substantial portion of the country’s educated and skilled workforce.

The loss of doctors, engineers, academics, and other professionals creates a vacuum that is hard to fill. The education and healthcare sectors are particularly affected. Universities struggle with a shortage of qualified lecturers, leading to a decline in the quality of education. Hospitals face a critical shortage of medical personnel, compromising patient care and contributing to poor health outcomes.  

Nigeria’s doctor-to-patient ratio is alarmingly low. With about 4,000 Nigerian doctors practising in the United States alone, the country has a ratio of 1:5,000, far below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended ratio of 1:600. This shortage means that patients often have to wait for extended periods to receive medical attention. The quality of care they receive is usually subpar due to overworked and stressed medical staff.

Moreover, the economic impact is significant. The loss of skilled labour hampers industrial growth and innovation. Businesses struggle to find the expertise needed to expand and compete in the global market. While remittances from the diaspora contribute to the economy, they are not a substitute for the skills and knowledge that are lost. 

But when people Japa, They send money Home
Yes, according to the World Bank, Remittances from the Nigerian diaspora provide a significant financial inflow, contributing approximately $23 billion annually. These remittances play a crucial role in supporting families and communities in Nigeria. They help alleviate poverty, fund education, and provide for healthcare needs. 

For many families, remittances mean the difference between sending children to school or having them stay at home, accessing medical care or preceding treatment due to cost, and accessing medical care or preceding treatment due to cost. These financial inflows can also stimulate local economies by increasing consumption and investment. Remittances are often used to start small businesses, repair homes, or buy essential goods, generating economic activity and employment at the grassroots level.

However, remittances are not a substitute for the skills and knowledge lost through brain drain. The economic benefits they provide are significant but limited in scope. Remittances do not address the structural issues caused by the departure of skilled professionals. The money sent home cannot replace the lost human capital needed for economic growth and development. For instance, while remittances might pay for the construction of a new clinic, they do not address the shortage of doctors and nurses required to staff it. Similarly, they can fund school fees but cannot replace the absence of qualified teachers needed to deliver quality education.

Moreover, remittances can sometimes create a dependency that discourages local entrepreneurship and innovation. Families receiving regular remittances may be less motivated to pursue local economic opportunities or push for systemic changes to create a more favourable business environment. This dependency can stifle the entrepreneurial spirit crucial for sustainable economic development. While remittances provide short-term relief and a safety net for many families, they do not contribute to the long-term solution needed to address the root causes of brain drain. They are a band-aid on a deeper wound that requires systemic and structural reforms.

The Emotional Toll of ‘Japa’

The ‘Japa’ decision is often heart-wrenching, as it involves leaving behind loved ones and a familiar culture. But for many Nigerians, the hope of a better life for themselves and their families outweighs the pain of separation. They are willing to leap of faith and build a new life in a country that offers their children greater stability, security, opportunity, and a brighter future.

Separation from Loved Ones

The emotional cost of ‘Japa’ is significant. Families are often split, with parents moving ahead while children and spouses remain behind until they can be reunited. This separation can strain relationships and create feelings of loneliness and isolation. Bukola, a nurse in the United States, describes her experience: “Leaving Nigeria was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I left my husband and two young children behind. Every day without them is a struggle, but I keep reminding myself why I made this decision. I want to give them a life where they can thrive, and I believe this is how to do it. We’re working on bringing them over soon, but the wait is excruciating.”

Cultural Adjustment

Adjusting to a new culture and environment can also be challenging. Nigerians who ‘Japa’ often navigate cultural differences, language barriers, and the challenge of integrating into new communities. While the promise of a better life is a strong motivator, the transition can be difficult.

Olumide, who moved to Australia, reflects on his adjustment period: “The first year was tough. Everything was different – the food, the weather, the way people interacted. I missed home terribly, but I knew I had to persevere. Gradually, I found my footing. I connected with other Nigerians and slowly started to build a community here. It’s not the same as being at home, but it’s a new kind of home.”

Government Efforts and Shortcomings

Government efforts to address the issue of brain drain in Nigeria have been met with mixed results. Over the years, various administrations have acknowledged the problem and promised to tackle it. Initiatives such as the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) in the early 2000s aimed to create jobs and improve infrastructure. More recently, the Buhari administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) focused on diversifying the economy and improving the business environment. While these efforts represent steps in the right direction, they have often fallen short of creating the conditions necessary to retain skilled professionals.

One of the major challenges facing government efforts to curb brain drain is the lack of political will and continuity. Successive administrations have often abandoned the policies and programs of their predecessors, leading to a lack of sustained progress. This lack of consistency undermines the effectiveness of initiatives aimed at retaining talent and fostering economic growth. Without long-term planning and commitment, making meaningful progress in addressing the root causes of brain drain is difficult.

Corruption remains pervasive in Nigeria, posing a significant barrier to development efforts. The diversion of public funds through graft and embezzlement deprives the country of resources that could otherwise be used to improve infrastructure, healthcare, and education. Corruption erodes trust in government institutions and contributes to a sense of disillusionment among the populace. It also discourages investment and innovation, further exacerbating the conditions that drive brain drain.

In addition to corruption, systemic issues within the education and healthcare sectors contribute to the problem of brain drain. The education system in Nigeria is chronically underfunded, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, outdated facilities, and a shortage of qualified teachers. Similarly, the public healthcare system is in disrepair, with inadequate infrastructure, equipment, and personnel. These systemic deficiencies make it difficult for professionals to perform their jobs effectively and provide quality services to the population. As a result, many skilled professionals feel compelled to seek opportunities abroad to work in environments that support their professional development and offer better prospects for themselves and their families.

Addressing the persistent challenges that drive the brain drain in Nigeria requires a concerted effort from the government, civil society, and the private sector. This includes implementing anti-corruption measures to root out graft and ensure transparency and accountability in governance. It also involves increasing investment in education and healthcare to improve the quality of services and create an environment where professionals can thrive. Additionally, there is a need for policies that promote economic diversification, job creation, and entrepreneurship to provide alternative opportunities for skilled individuals within the country.

Planning Your Japa Journey with Risevest

While the ‘Japa’ wave is often driven by adversity, it is essential to approach it with a well-thought-out plan. Financial preparation is a crucial aspect of this journey. Platforms like Risevest can help you create goal-based plans that cater to your specific travel needs. Whether it’s saving for visa application fees, flight tickets, or initial living expenses in your new country, Risevest’s diverse investment options can help you grow your savings while mitigating risks. This way, even amidst the challenges and uncertainty, you can ensure that your “Japa” journey is built on a foundation of financial security and a well-defined path towards a brighter future.


The 40-year saga of Nigeria’s brain drain, from the ‘Checking Out’ era to the current ‘Japa’ wave, highlights the nation’s persistent challenges. The stories of Emeka, Ayo, Chinwe, Tolu, and Ngozi underscore the complex interplay of personal aspirations, professional opportunities, and systemic failures that drive the exodus of talent.

Despite the challenges and the heartache, the ‘Japa’ wave shows no signs of abating. In fact, it seems to be gaining momentum, fueled by social media platforms where Nigerians share their success stories and encourage others to follow suit.

For its part, the government has been slow to respond to the crisis. There have been promises of reforms and initiatives to stem the tide of brain drain, but these have largely been ineffective. The underlying issues driving ‘Japa’ remain unaddressed, and the lure of a better life abroad continues to be irresistible for many Nigerians. It’s a story of dreams deferred, of hopes shattered, and of a people yearning for a better future.

The stories of those who ‘Japa’ are filled with hope and resilience. They are narratives of individuals who, despite the odds, are determined to build better lives. They are stories of parents who dream of a brighter future for their children, young professionals who seek to maximise their potential, and entrepreneurs who strive to turn their visions into reality.

In the end, the ‘Japa’ wave is a testament to the enduring human spirit and the universal quest for a better life. It reflects Nigerians’ deep-seated aspirations to overcome adversity and build futures filled with promise and possibility. By understanding and addressing the factors that drive ‘Japa,’ Nigeria can work towards creating an environment where its citizens do not feel compelled to leave but can find the opportunities and support they need at home.