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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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[OPINION] Dear young Nigerians, you can’t ‘japa’ without a passport – Olukorede Yishau

On Tuesday, I came across a trending hashtag #GoodbyeNigeria while scouring the internet. It was about young Nigerians who had emigrated from Nigeria and were sharing airport selfies taken on their way out as well as selfies of them landing in their new location. Scrolling through goofy pictures with even goofier captions was funny to me. However, there was a residue of sadness because, despite the air of frivolity, there was something deeper, an acute sense of loss. After all, the other name for emigration is brain drain.

News reports from a week or so ago informed us that 353 Nigerian doctors moved over to the NHS this year, enriching Britain’s health care industry. The story is the same in other sectors, especially ICT and Fintech. Nigeria is constantly losing its best and brightest and now young too, to other countries who place a much higher premium on human life and dignity of labour.

But it is not all gloom and doom. While we may lose our young and able physically they are not completely lost to us. Many are still contributing to Nigeria’s economy via remittances. According to the World Bank, diaspora remittances for the past three years came to $24.31 billion in 2018; they dropped to $23.81 billion in 2019 before falling to $17.21 billion in 2020. To put it in context, remittance inflow made up four per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020. That is huge because this year, oil, Nigeria’s mainstay, has contributed 9 per cent of GDP. In Africa, Nigeria is only second to Egypt in terms of diaspora remittances. Egypt notched up $30bn in 2020.

A recent article in Vanguard noted that “there is an estimated population of 1.24 million Nigerians living abroad, many of them highly skilled professionals. It is a well-known fact that Nigerians are the single most educated emigrant group in the United States. They have a median income of $68,658, which is well above the national median of $61,937.”

So, we may laugh and make fun of Nigeria while we look at those who have made the transition from the Global South to the Global North but like the flautist who must pause to blow his nose, we must pause to reflect on why young people are leaving and what the future holds.

Young people are leaving because they are disenchanted with the country where they are not guaranteed jobs after graduation and where if they get jobs, they will earn a pittance. They are frustrated by a country where insecurity is the order of the day and life has become brutish, short, and cheap. They have lost hope in a country where the youth leader is 65 years old and those in leadership have been recycled since 1966. The young are tired of living in a country where a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operative can stop you, arrest you, and throw you in jail just because you look a certain way. They have abandoned all hope in a country where Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) operatives can barge into your hotel room and drag you away in the nude because they are “looking for yahoo boys”.

But as you, Dear Young Nigerian, begin to plan your escape, thorns and hurdles are sprouting in your path. The government, it seems, does not want you to japa. The government does not want you to take selfies in Canada. They want you to stay here with us and deal with SARS and EFCC as well as bandits and kidnappers.

How do they plan to do this? Well, let us look at a recent article by online journalist an online journalist who published what he called an expose on the reasons behind the acute scarcity of international passports.

Some of the reasons he adduces should be cause for concern for every young Nigerian with aspirations to seek the Golden Fleece abroad. The government, according to him, may be averse to all the migration going on.

“Several factors were blamed for the baffling inability of Africa’s most populous country to provide passports for its citizens. Chronic corruption at the NIS; disputes between the NIS and a private contractor responsible for printing booklets; scarcity of forex to pay for security printing materials; even an alleged unofficial government policy to stem brain drain by making passports hard to access – all these have variously been blamed for this state of affairs.”

Is there a deliberate government policy to stop Nigerian youths from migrating abroad? No one is sure but sometimes by adding two and two one can sometimes arrive at something more than four.

In the article, it is established that the CBN does not allocate forex to Iris Smart Technology Limited (ISTL), the company entrusted with printing Nigerian passports and has revolutionised Nigerian passports through innovative technologies like biometrics as well as polycarbonate technologies and have won commendation from International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Through ISTL’s proactive approach, Nigeria became the first African country to issue a smart e-passport.

In denying the printing company access to forex, is the CBN acting out a script that is intended to ensure that in seeking alternative sources for forex, ISTL will encounter delays which ultimately impacts delivery times?

But there is another poser: Does the CBN’s reason for withholding forex from ISTL have any historical angle? The Mint, Nigeria’s security printing company, had always printed the Nigerian passport but that changed during Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure when on a visit to Malaysia, he stumbled on their passport and directed that Nigeria upgrades from Machine Readable Passports to Biometric and chip-enabled passports. ISTL emerged winner in a competitive bid that featured Nigerian and foreign companies akin to what just transpired with the eNaira bid which threw up Bitt Inc. winner.

The Mint is incapable of printing these enhanced e-passports and frustrating ISTL could lead to a two-year wait for new passports. So far, ISTL has discharged its duties diligently but its inability to get forex from the apex bank is capable of leading to a return to the status quo, and ISTL may relinquish its subsisting contract and walk away.

Dear young Nigerian, they say when two elephants duel it is the grass that suffers. If the debacle goes for arbitration, all your plans to seek better education and other opportunities abroad will remain in abeyance for the next two years or more. And with the dollar nudging N600 like a tongue teasing a rotten tooth, only God knows how impoverished you will all be in two years

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