There are about 15m Nigerians in diaspora according to the United Nations Population Division’s estimates, 2017;Pew Research Centre also reported in 2018 that 60m Nigerians (or half of the adult population) presently resident in country are planning to leave Nigeria by 2023, if they have their way. The report said 74% of Nigerians surveyed desired to relocate and start a new life in another country within the next five years, if given the chance. A similar study by Afrobarometer 2018, revealed that one out of every three Nigerian has seriously wished to leave Nigeria to start a new life in another country.
Former Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and former President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi was quoted in 2017 as stating that 602,000 Nigerians migrated to European countries in 2016 through theill famous Sahara desert/Mediterranean sea route, of which 27,000 died on the sea, and 68 per cent of the dead immigrants were university and polytechnic graduates. While this figure may seem exaggerated, it could be true as the Ambassador, oncePermanent Secretary of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had privileged information. As a matter of fact, official figures released in 2017 by the Italian Interior ministry reported an average daily arrival of 109 Nigerians to Italy, about a total 36,000 Nigerians for year 2016.
The long visa appointment waiting times and long early morning queues at passport issuing immigration offices as well as embassies of United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and European countries corroborate these reports. The fact that hundreds of Nigerians continue to apply for immigration and non-immigration visas despite constraints like high visa fees (typically above fifty thousand naira), indignities in embassies, and the low possibility of visa issuance, all indicates a desperate search for greener pastures by many Nigerians. The green passport booklet seems to be the most prized possession of Nigerians, perhaps, outside the Holy books, as the immigration statistics released by the Nigerian Bureau of statistics shows 1,011,158 Nigerians applied for international passports across the country in 2018, a 40% increase over the previous year.
Relocation abroad is the Nigerian dream. This had materialised for millions. Everywhere in the world, you find Nigerians eking out a living. Nigerians have emigrated to practically all countries in the world. The top country destinations are United States, United Kingdom, Cameroun, Niger, Ghana, Italy, and Benin, followed by Northern Ireland, Europe, Dubai, South Africa, according to an analysis by PwC, a consulting firm. On the contrary, statistics by reliefweb.net show most Nigerians in diaspora are living in Sudan which has 24%, rather than the United States (14%) or the United Kingdom (9%), confirming the widely held belief that the exact number of Nigerians in diaspora is not known.
UK’s Office for National Statistics estimates there are about 196,000 Nigerians in UK as of 2016, out of which 114,718 are resident in London . 7% of the population of Peckham, a district in South London, are Nigerians, mostly Yoruba speaking according to a 2001 Census. Nigerians are the highest migrants to US, with Houston, Texas,having a huge Nigerian population. Germany’s Federal Bureau of Statistics reported in March 2017, that more than 56,000 Nigerians live in Germany. APewresearch.org report shows 390,000 documented Nigerian migrants are in Europe, Norway, and Switzerland as of 2017. Nigerians made up the largest migrant populations entering Italy and Greece (Ikeke, 2017), and the largest cohort of migrants trapped in Libya (Eurostat, 2015).
To achieve the Nigerian dream of travelling abroad, all means fair and foul are employed. The distinction between immigration and non-immigration visas, legal or illegal routes is lost to most greener pasture seekers. Nigerians emigrate through a mix of avenues and opportunities including legal means such as family or work visas, international students, Canadian and Australian skilled worker programmes; and unconventional options such as asylum and refugee claims, US-Canada border crossing, over staying visitor’s visa, or crossing to Europe by ships/boats through the three risky Mediterranean sea routes- Central route from Libya to Italy or Malta, Eastern route from North Africa to Greece or Turkey, or Western route from Morocco and Algeria to Spain which is just 14 kilometres wide at its narrowest point- the strait.
Thousands of Nigerians are asylum seekers and refugees all over the world, particularly in United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Germany, Austria, Greece,Norway, Malta Switzerland, Slovenia, Poland, South Korea, Portugal, Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, and Czech Republic.In Europe and developed countries, Nigerians are ranked No 3 asylum seekers after Iraq and Somali, andfourth largest group of asylum seekers in the European Union, according to global statistics of asylum seekers released yearly by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, (UNHCR).
Italy and Ireland are favourite destination of asylum seekers. “In Italy last year alone, there were 5,333 new asylum seekers from Nigeria and 1,008 in Ireland. Italy was also the country with the highest number of Nigerians seeking asylum last year alone,” said the UNHCR report for 2018.The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 18,158 Nigerians reached Italian shores in 2017, but arrivals to Europe dropped to 1250 in 2018,with several dying en route. More than 38,000 Nigerians applied for asylum in Germany between January 2016 and August 2019; 12,000 asylum applications have been rejected and 20,000 cases are pending according to official figures published online by Deutsche Welle. Any country outside Africa is a better option, for many Nigerians who derogatively label their country of birth a ‘Zoo’. The UNHCR report indicated that five Nigerians sought asylum even in the extremely cold country of Iceland in 2018.The new tactic of some US based Nigerians with non-immigrant visas, fleeing from the recent clamp down on undocumented immigrants in United States is to walk across the US-Canada border and seek asylum in Canada. 9,898 Nigerians illegally walked into Canada, without going through a designated port of entry, between February 2017 and June 2018, and there are 11,629 pending asylum applications of Nigerians as of 2018, according to an Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
Why do people emigrate? Reasons are varied, some genuine, others trumped up and opportunistic. The influencing factors aresearch of new employment opportunities and better livelihood options, high unemployment rates, relatively low wage rates, desire to improve personal economic prospects, ppolitical instability and conflict, lack of career fulfilling and professional satisfaction due to poor wages, poor working conditions, poor infrastructures, Boko Haram insurgency, victimisation due to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) sexual orientation, gender persecution, domestic violence, genital mutilation,family ties abroad, schooling, political victimisation, and general insecurity. Afrobarometer 2018 survey reported the most common reasons cited for considering moving abroad are to find work (35%), to escape economic hardship/poverty (31%), and to pursue better business prospects (10%). Only a few cited pursuing an education (6%) or tourism (5%) as their main reason to consider emigration.
Many Nigerians are also being forced or tricked to emigrate through child or women Trafficking under the false promise of false marriage or lucrative jobs, or for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
Babalobi is a Doctorate researcher, Department of Health, University of Bath, UK