The craze to relocate outside the country must be thoroughly weighed by visa-pursuing Nigerians, suggests Monday Philips Ekpe

A recent headline in Vanguard caught my attention: “Japa: Residents Live in Cemetery, Streets as Rents Soar in Canada.” Curiosity moved me to share it with a couple of Nigerian friends living there. The response from one of them sent me into more contemplation and questions. “That’s heart-breaking if indigenous people live on the streets and in cemeteries”, she began. “It affects mostly immigrants that failed to plan. How does one ‘japa’ without plans? Homeless people are my clients and there’s a crisis right now because all the shelters are filled up and the government has inflation to deal with. They can’t house people in hotels anymore.

“I work in a hotel programme and we’ve had to double the room occupancy to accommodate more people. They (authorities) feed and give them allowances. They also take care of their medical needs. Coming from ‘Naija’, it’s strange to see such privileges, especially when they’re being abused by our people. The general idea is to help people to get them on their feet, so they can move on and become productive, so others can utilise the facilities. They go the extra mile to pay rent for immigrants in the shelters for some years until they start contributing their quotas to the society. Unfortunately, some people work and pocket the money without paying taxes. It’s a mess.” Huge shambles indeed! The comment about the shady deals of some Nigerians there, of course, hasn’t helped the image of their fatherland and the fortunes of their visa-seeking compatriots, putting it mildly.

The fact that Canada hosts this disturbing picture, however, is concerning for a number of reasons. The country has remained a dream destination for students, immigrants and tourists from various parts of the globe. As a member of the elite comity of organised, developed and progressive nations, it’s a beautiful bride of the wealthy, seekers of tranquillity, order, atmosphere for long-term fulfilment of goals and the proverbial greener pastures, and also escapees from harsh socio-economic and political climates around the world. Official estimates put the number of people admitted as permanent residents (PRs) last year alone at close to half a million, certainly an unusually large figure by the standard of advanced countries. No ready statistics to back up this assertion but my fillers and hunch tell me that most Nigerians who desire to reside outside the country, especially the younger generation, would choose Canada any day. And on very good grounds.

But that newspaper publication, even if dismissed as exaggerated, is truly troubling. It’s doubtful if the sobering images projected by it can withstand the force of the drive for visas to the North American country. According to the report, tens of thousands of people live on the streets, as if to further validate the status of Canada as one of the topmost choices of immigrants and refugees worldwide. Government data put the population of the homeless at more than 235,000, a figure that doesn’t even capture the people outside designated shelters. Experts believe that the tally could actually be racing towards one million.

Quebec, where one quarter of those thrown out of regular housing facilities and makeshift accommodation and who end up in the cold, is said to be particularly overburdened with the menace of destitution. Between 2018 and 2022 alone, the volume of unsheltered persons is said to have increased by 44 percent, amounting to 10,000 last year. The real shocker is that indigenous Canadians are mainly affected by this social disequilibrium. It must be stated here, though, that this phenomenon is not peculiar to Canada. Australia, United States of America and elsewhere share in the accusation of unfairly treating the original inhabitants of the countries. In the midst of the worsening challenge of adequately catering for its own citizens, it’s to the credit of Canada that it is not even considering shutting its borders on the millions of people who flock there for refuge and self-actualisation, and those who aspire to do so soon. How much longer its present favourable immigration policies can service and accommodate the mushrooming demands is subject to conjectures.   

That brings us to the palpable desire and quest of many Nigerians to relocate to Canada and other places especially in the western world viewed, rightly or wrongly, as safe haven. No rigorous exercise is required to come to terms with the growing hostile environment prevalent in Nigeria today. Sadly, a sense of patriotism and nationalism alone won’t be enough for one to ignore Nigeria’s gnawing vicissitudes which test the very will of men to its limits. There must be higher ideals, whether voluntary, forced or metaphysical, that could influence those who are compelled to urgently choose between staying put and jumping ship.

One question begging for answers is, where exactly is the nation headed this moment? I made the point severally on this page before the last presidential election that whoever would win wouldn’t walk into exotic, scented flowers. The country had already been serially brutalised and under-managed by successive administrations and was approaching the cliff’s edge inexorably. So it was that President Bola Tinubu walked into a perfect, predicted storm on May 29 this year. And as if to announce his readiness for what was clearly a ‘roforofo’ job, Tinubu dropped a blast on inauguration day: “The fuel subsidy is gone!” Pronto! Standard of living in Nigeria which was taking a rapid slide began a new descent into vacuity. Virtually all the actions of his government so far are yet to elicit from the citizenry the desperately-needed expectancy for a brighter tomorrow.  

Where we are as a nation now is people hoping against hope. Tinubu’s regular assurances of his awareness of the people’s predicaments and the inevitability of triumph over the present anguish can only mean something, if at all, to very few Nigerians. Reason being that the country had never had it this bad in the critical areas that regulate and secure the good life. The juncture where existential matters breathe down menacingly on helpless people has arrived. And, for many individuals and families, the moment of truth is also here.

There’s one Bible story that captures this situation excellently. A great starvation had broken out in Israel and Syria also camped against it in preparation for invasion. At that time, four lepers whose disability forbade them from entering the city stayed at the gate. They suddenly experienced illumination and self-rediscovery, conditions that eventually altered their own destinies and saved their nation from a certain doom. Their reasoning: “What are we doing sitting here at death’s door? If we enter the famine-struck city, we’ll die. If we stay here, we’ll die. So, let’s take our chances in the camp of Aram and throw ourselves on their mercy. If they receive us, we’ll live. If they kill us, we’ll die. We’ve got nothing to lose.” And they boldly moved forward right into abundance and corporate preservation.

The overwhelming mood particularly among the energetic Nigerian populace now is to cling to something, just anything, that can fly or ferry them to safety – away from the madding, frustrated and traumatised crowd. For many, it’s too late to convince them about the adage that says, “All that glitters are not gold.” They’re ready to respond with another African proverb: “No matter how thin a cow becomes, it would still be bigger than a goat.” Meaning, opportunities will always be better assured in the developed world than here. This mindset needs to be promptly and properly engaged at different levels before our national psyche and productivity are undermined irretrievably.

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board 


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