We are a people bathing inside a stream but hurt by the foam from the soap used. In every corner of the world, we have competent professionals striding gallantly in virtually every aspect of human endeavour. From law to languages to medicine to engineering, we have Nigerian men and women of stature whose highly impactful contributions are ‘statements’ in the countries where they reside. Ironically, there appears to be a scarcity of men of value and courage in our land from where either themselves or parents migrated to those countries. We lack these men and women in our hospitals, government institutions, schools and businesses. That is one of the major let-downs of migrations. Of course, emigrations come with numerous advantages including the much-needed diaspora remittances. At the rural level, the massive movement of young people to urban centres has also orchestrated large-scale abandonment of farming and other rural crafts that provided both employment and food for the country. Equally, there is massively declining populations of pupils in schools that are in rural areas as one of the consequences. This shrinkage of children’s numbers in many rural schools also incentivises many of our ‘clueless’ state governments to abandon the improvements of school infrastructures in many of such communities. The city centre, in turn, becomes unnecessarily overcrowded and spikes the cost of the limited shelter that is available. And, with burgeoning and minimal employment opportunities, most of these immigrants become social liabilities rather than assets.
Over history, humankind has always migrated from one point to another for various reasons. Economic factors such as arable land, proximity to water as well as weather have underscored locational mobility. Wars, famine, earthquakes and other disaster-types such as the drying up of the Lake Chad also dislodged many and forced them out from where they used to live. Migrations, however, have not always been induced by economic factors. Marriages, spiritual bonding, as well as other social factors, have brought people together from different locations. Population growth and the challenge of shared resources also forced some people to migrate to areas where access to those resources would be better. The search for a good education, jobs and the pressure of insecurity appear to underscore the recent migration patterns in Nigeria. This evolving pattern has consequences for the development of the country and needs urgent attention.
There are external and internal migrations. External migrations gained momentum in Nigeria from the mid-1980s following the structural adjustment programme (SAP). The associated austerity measures made the economic conditions of that time more complicated than what it used to be. Before that era, the Nigerian naira exchanged at the same value as the American dollar. Migration for greener pastures outside the country commenced in droves. Many rode on the back of obtaining foreign education and acceptable certificates for secure employment offshore. It was only in the early 90s that many more Nigerians who were not necessarily pursuing education in foreign countries joined the migration train. These were persons prepared to do menial and artisanal tasks to earn dollars which by then has started appreciating against the naira. With lots of Nigerians now settled overseas, migration has become increasingly more convenient and much more expanded. However, with a consistent drop in the quality of university education and healthcare in Nigeria, relocation for education and health reasons burgeoned.
Internally, after independence, notable migrations have been from the South East and South-South Nigeria to Lagos in the south-west and Kano, and Kaduna states in the northern parts of the country. Minimal reverse relocations existed along the Aba and Port Harcourt trade routes. However, the movement from the south-east to Lagos and some key commercial centres some essential northern parts of Nigeria exploded immediately after the Civil War. The urgency to survive pressured more people of south-eastern extraction to migrate to the then capital city of Nigeria Lagos, as well as other commercial towns such as Kano and Kaduna. Migration to Port Harcourt grew with the discovery of oil and the citation of many offices of oil companies in the city. The pattern appears to be changing now. Abuja, as the seat of government and Lagos as the commercial capital of Nigeria, continues to witness a deluge of human beings from across the country. As a fact, almost 10% of the youth in virtually all the states in the country migrate to either Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt upon graduating from higher school. Like the migrations from various states of the country to these cities is the movement of up to 60% of the youth in each of the rural communities to the city centres of their states. Rural-urban migration spiked considerably from the early 90s and has been worse since then.
The search for a job appears to be the biggest driver of migration of young people in rural areas to their closest city centres as well as the movement from various states to Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abuja. The absence of white-collar jobs, as well as other self-help entrepreneurial opportunities in rural areas, is worsened by countrywide herdsmen incursions. These daredevil intimidations, harassments and murder of people, particularly those living further away from formalised policing network orchestrate massive movements away from such communities. There is consequently a complex web of insecurity-induced migration through two channels. The first is the apparent danger associated with the prowling herdsmen who kill and maim in their trail. The second is the nasty impacts on traditional economic activities such as farming and trading. Distortions of economic life damages employment prospects. With more people increasingly unemployed as a result of the activities of these herdsmen, the population pressure on city centres increase. But the city centres themselves have very little to offer in terms of employment. Most states rely on handouts from the federal government, and unlike Lagos and Anambra states do not have significant private sector entrepreneurial activities.
Every four years, a different horde of politicians migrate to Abuja. So, the migration to Abuja is understandable as the seat of government. But Lagos states, on the other hand, is continuously pressured by the ever-increasing rate of new entrants into the city. While there are several advantages to this, it is also not particularly beneficial over the medium-to-long term for the states from where these emigrations occur. One would ask what the political leadership in other states of the country are doing in other to retain some of its bests that migrate to Lagos and Abuja and Port Harcourt. Lagos state has adequately conditioned its environment to attract fantastic entrepreneurs and the best of all the professionals in the country. Virtually every other state in the country is governance-crippled and purblind to see and learn from what the Lagos state government has been doing to promote the best entrepreneurial opportunities in the country. Why would a young graduate with excellent grade remain in any of these states, earning a monthly income of N25,000.00, while his colleagues in Lagos and almost six times that wage? We are always blinded by our fixation on what the federal government is doing or not doing well while some of these ‘overlord’ governors are completely veering off the tracks. From my angle, it is difficult to accept the level of entrepreneurial backwardness that define the economies of most of our states. Prosperity is rooted in entrepreneurship as well as in the programs and policies that consciously promote it. Only Lagos state appears to have its eyes fully set on the continuous development of programs and policies that enable the creation of thousands of micro, small, medium and big-sized corporate entrepreneurs. It also explains why virtually every Nigerian wants to be there regardless of the attendant stress.
Lagos might have had the advantage of being federal capital territory at some point, but that is not the primary reason why it is millions of years ahead of many other states in the country. The primary reason for this is the state’s creation and sustenance of a business-friendly environment for migrating entrepreneurs. Lagos state is perhaps the only state in the country that does not openly discriminate against people of other tribes. It is genuinely more cosmopolitan than the federal capital territory in Abuja. With that diversion and destruction settled, the managers of the state, therefore, focus on the creation of value by tapping into the expertise of persons who migrate from other states of the country. Prosperity begets prosperity. Many state governments for several decades have demonstrated lack of foresight and have therefore lost to either Lagos, Abuja or overseas, many of the expert hands and heads that will have contributed to their development. Unlike in Lagos state where the government taps into the brains of many of the private sector operators, many states in the country have no such opportunity, and they rarely make efforts to create it. The governor and his political associates’ primary interests are mostly selfish, yet they appear to be the models in some of those states. They are revered and considered the spring of all knowledge and exemplary. As such, they do not record much progress there. Even when the governors invite experts, they rarely allow them to objectively and independently support them. Criticising the government in power is often considered taboo. Similarly, because the motivation is self-centred, significant focus is on what each of the people around the governor and the governor himself can get. Often, therefore, constructive ideas are consciously destroyed when they do not align with these self-serving objectives.
On the final note, while migrations are justified and often for good reasons, it can be leveraged for balanced development. Many state and local governments in Nigeria can do well to put in place programs and policies for the creation of the right kind of environment for enterprise progress. And like Lagos, they can halt the spread of migrations, attract good hands, heads and investments. They might be able also possibly to ignite a reverse migration from those that are overseas. The Lagos state remains a good model that other states in the country should copy.