The Nigeria -Canada Exodus.
Moving to Canada may look attractive on the surface, but underneath the red carnation and bright lights is a lot of toil, sweat, and uncertainty, writes Yomi Owope
It’s no longer a secret that Nigerians are moving to Canada in huge numbers every month. In the immediate aftermath of the #endsars protests of 2020, Canadian immigration became the top Twitter trend in Nigeria – for days. Every week since then, a variation of that phrase is sure to trend. What for years had been a growing movement among professionals and Nigerian middle-class families has made its way to mainstream, everyday conversations as people speak openly about leaving the country for good.
While it is easy to explain why a struggling middle-class family might want to leave Nigeria for better opportunities abroad, it’s a little more puzzling when professionals at the top of their industry, including bankers, oil workers and IT professionals, elect to sell everything they own and leave Nigeria for a foreign country – without ever looking back. These high-level executives are often over-qualified for the jobs they find in Canada and must settle for lesser roles for a time. Now Canada offers no guarantees but the lure of a higher standard of living and what many people call “peace of mind’. And that alone makes leaving Nigeria worth it, they say – no matter the cost. Indeed, Canada’s constitutional motto promotes “peace, order and good government,” and many Nigerians will tell you they want to live in a country where everything works, where their children get free education, where there is a social safety net, and where there is world-class medical care. Who can argue with that?
Deji Adepoju received an MBA from the University of Warwick in 2004. On his return to Nigeria from the UK in 2005, he secured a job with a leading bank and rose through the ranks, becoming a senior manager in 2012. Deji and his wife Titilayo, a doctor, began exploring the idea of relocating to another country in 2011. When two of his colleagues immigrated to Toronto in 2013, he officially set the ball rolling the same year. He reached out to an immigration consultant and drew up a checklist for what he would require to complete the process. Fast forward three years later, after English exams and certificate verifications, providing proof of means of subsistence and stowing away around $43,000, Adepoju and his family were nominated as Canadian permanent residents. They sold everything they owned and moved to Canada in October 2018. During the spring of 2019, Adepoju, then an Uber driver, said the family was settling in just fine. “Titilayo and I have a few certifications to write over the next two to three years, and then we can both get proper career jobs. On the whole, it’s been worth it,” he said. “We are doing it for the kids, and I believe God that all things will work out in the end.”
Like Adepoju, thousands of other Nigerian professionals leave for Canada hoping for the best. Indeed, things do work out for many, particularly IT experts, who secure jobs with Google, IBM and other global tech firms. When the jobs are not available, they are willing to take whatever they can find to earn an income and pay bills. Emeka formerly worked as a group head in a leading telecommunications corporation in Nigeria – one of Africa’s largest. He had to deliberately attenuate his resume, removing some higher qualifications to be able to secure a job as a customer care representative with Freedom Mobile in Ontario. The last time Emeka held a position in customer care was 16 years prior, in Nigeria, but after five years of trying to relocate his family and another three months of trying to get a good job, he was advised to reduce his expectations.
An entire market worth tens of millions of dollars has been built around legal and illegal immigration from Nigeria to Canada. From the cab drivers in upstate New York who are on standby to drive you to Ruxon Road at the US-Canada border for $150 to the faceless individuals and “immigration lawyers” who claim to provide a variety of “services” to help you process your documents for Canada. Bodies like the British Council are doing brisk business with their English tests at 83,000 naira per exam to prove you can speak a language you learned in kindergarten. While credential verification firms charge 200 dollars to verify you actually went to the university. Adding to that, a whole hospital is situated on three floors in Victoria Island, fully equipped but dedicated solely to running medical tests for the thousands of Nigerians leaving the country, at around 200,000 naira for a family of four. It’s an entire industry that continues to expand as people become more aware and desperate to leave Nigeria. An immigration lawyer will typically bill you $1,000 to commence his “services”. A Nigerian family that’s already settled in Manitoba will ask you for $5,000 to claim that they’re your blood relations; this ostensibly will avail you more points and get you nominated faster by the province. Consultants will charge $2,000 to help process bogus high school admissions with accompanying parents. It’s an international racket gaining new dimensions with every passing year. People are desperate to leave the country, and every single step of the process has been meticulously monetized.
According to a leading immigration website, immigration.ca, the number of Nigerians becoming new permanent residents in Canada more than tripled in three years, from 4,090 to as high as 12,600 just before the pandemic. That number will probably double this year due to the recent two years’ pent-up demand and slow intakes. They may not look like high numbers on the surface until you examine the data and find that most of them are made up of highly trained, very educated, and experienced professionals from different fields: medicine, engineering, accounting, IT, social sciences, digital media and more. It is the case of the steady drip that will, in a single generation, create a gully, nearly impossible to close.
Young professionals abandoning their country for presumed greener pastures is not a good trend for economic development. Still, Nigeria does not seem to be able to create a conducive environment for them to stay. People are genuinely afraid for their security and livelihoods; this is why young men and women go through unspeakable horrors to make their way to Europe and other countries in the West. They would rather risk death on the Mediterranean crossing into Spain and Italy than being stuck in the cycle of multidimensional poverty and uncertainty back home. Today, Canada is daily welcoming the best of our best, systematically depleting the numbers of our brightest and most talented, while our government watches helplessly, offering weak platitudes like, “our young people need to be more patriotic.” Japa is the name of the game; thousands have gone this year already, and thousands more are praying, waiting for their time to come.