Why They Are Leaving Nigeria — To Create Hope

From my immediate University clique, another person is leaving Nigeria for America at the end of this month, with her family of three. Virtually every month for the last two years, I’ve gone to visit one person or the other who was making a similar move. In fact, one of them did this spreadsheet to show justify with numbers why he was moving his family to UK while remaining here to work until he made up his mind whether he would up and leave to join them as well.

Screenshot of my friend’s spreadsheet

When I asked most of them (who had decent jobs/businesses and were not doing badly) why they were leaving especially now that they had started families here, almost everyone had a similar answer. They were leaving mainly because of the lack of opportunity or the limited opportunities Nigeria presented for their children. They simply had lost hope that Nigeria had any plans for the future of their children even if they did their best educating those children here. Here’s two illustrations to buttress the point.

My daughter is 18months old and has only just started repeating words she hears us say, she’s really not talking yet. But she can count from 1 to 10, can operate every phone/tab in the house and had started finding her way around my laptop all because of cartoons, games and the likes she watches/plays on our smartphones. Close to my house is my estate gateman’s house. He also has an 18month old. The boy has never held a smartphone or accessed the internet, and has never been exposed to any of the learning my daughter has. There is already a huge chasm between this boy and my daughter at 18months, which will only get wider as they grow older. Here’s the thing — as much as we will like not to admit it, a similar chasm exists between my kid and her cousins who are growing up in the UK who came visiting recently. Not because they are smarter than my daughter or have a different genetic makeup. It’s simply the fact that they are growing up in a society where what and how they are learning, the ideas they will be exposed to are radically different from what my daughter will be exposed to in all but the most expensive schools here in Nigeria. Even if I can afford those really expensive schools, the larger Nigerian society she will come back into nko? I mean, her cousins, one 5 and the other 7 have visited manufacturing plants and actually seen machines most graduates who have never traveled have never seen or imagined. The 7 year old has used a 3D printer before. Uncle Tunde has never actually been in the same room with one. You get the drift.

And then, let’s look at the opportunities that our society presents if I try to get that really expensive education but we remain here. The other illustration I was going to give comes in here. Two children going to average universities, one in Nigeria, one in the UK or America. The one in the UK has the opportunity to intern with some of the best firms in the world and will probably have traveled and interacted with many global cultures and be exposed to the most brilliant ideas by the time she is graduating. She has a wide and varied field of interests which will pay her a viable income to chose from and any knowledge she discovers will quickly be applied to improve the system with real financial rewards for her.

The one here will be battling with lecturers and the Industrial Training fund people. She won’t even get to see what works in Kenya, not to talk of South Africa, except for the very top expensive schools. If she innovates, she will be failed and there are very few viable fields she can go into to get viable work. How can that Nigerian kid compete on the global scale? There is no significant difference in smarts. In fact, this illustration is from a Nigerian friend who did not finish her school in Nigeria and was call a dunce and then went to restart in the UK and has now interned with and traveled to some of the biggest firms in the world. She has jobs lined up for her once she graduates.

I have a friend who used to sing when we were in school. But her voice was very unconventional, cartoonish. She kept at it, but there were no real opportunities for her in music here. So, resigned, she took up a job in some firm here, unhappy and unfulfilled even though she was earning quite decent money. Thankfully, she took the risk and relocated and now does voiceovers for animation abroad. I’m sure I’ll be hearing her singing soundtrack for some cartoons at some point in future. Truth is, that opportunity simply doesn’t exist here. If she had stayed here, her options would have been closed and limited to “pressing computer” in a firm. She had to leave to achieve her potential. This is the story of Nigeria, made even more vivid as more and more people have lost hope in the future in the last two years.

So brings me back to the conversation I’m having with my friend who leaves June 30th. She’s saying,

look Tunde, my own skill will pay me decently in America. And I’ll have a much better life. But the real reason I’m leaving is for these two (she points at her children). I need to make sure that all these their brains don’t go to waste. (She calls her first child’s name, he’s 9) can never be all I can see he has the potential to be here. I’m doing this more for them than for me. I don’t see things changing in the next 20years in this country, so why am I waiting here rather than giving my children a chance at a much better life?

I sigh, and wonder how much longer before its me people are coming to bid farewell. I’m here for now, but until when?

A Beautiful Mind