Nigerians who left their country, planning to return in old age, are rethinking: NPR News-thread


Growing insecurity and economic uncertainty in Nigeria are having an increasing impact on the decisions of retirees not to return home to live out their last years in the country of origin.


Japa, which in Yoruba means to run away or escape, has become a major topic of conversation in Nigeria. Large numbers of people are fleeing that country in search of a better life abroad. This wave of japa is fueled by a sharp increase in kidnappings, a lack of security, and a battered economy. And for the same reasons, many Nigerians who left their country decades ago and planned to return to Nigeria to retire are now thinking better of it. Emmanuel Akinwotu reports from Lagos. But first, we start in London.



EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hello mom, I’m Emmanuel.


AKINWOTU: Thank you mom.

This is the story of a woman who left home 40 years ago in search of a better life. But she didn’t plan on staying away forever.

SUSANNAH AREMO: What is this coat like?


AREMO: When people come from Nigeria…

AKINWOTU: Susannah Aremo is 66 years old and lives in a housing estate in South London. When she arrived in 1983 from Lagos, her dream was that one day she would return to Nigeria and retire there.

(Speaking Yoruba).

But now that dream has been dashed. As we speak, she switches between English and Yoruba and recalls how she spent years struggling to support her three children and saving to build a house in Nigeria. She sometimes had three jobs at once, working all night. What is the fight worth? – I ask him. Yes, she tells me, leaning forward, because I wanted to go home.

AREMO: Two, three years ago…

AKINWOTU: After several years, he built a house, but then decided he couldn’t go back.

AREMO: There is no security. Some people build their house and finish everything. They can’t live there.


AKINWOTU: This is the house that Susannah Aremo built. It is in a quiet corner of a busy district called Iyana Ipaja. There are four bright yellow apartments in a large compound, protected by high walls, covered with thick threads of lilac flowers. The grounds are large and beautiful, but all the narrow roads that surround it are battered. And when I talk to close people, they are fed up.

DAMILOLA POPOOLA: There is no development. Everything is just bad, poor.

AKINWOTU: Twenty-four-year-old Damilola Popoola is a student and part-time security guard on the street.

POPOOLA: Power is really bad. We didn’t use, like, about 3 hours.

AKINWOTU: Three hours a day?

POPOOLA: Three hours a day.

AKINWOTU: And the security here?

POPOOLA: That’s zero.

AKINWOTU: Idayat Hassan is the director of the Center for Democracy and Development, a think tank in the capital, Abuja. She tells me that the fear of insecurity is affecting Nigerians both inside and outside the country.

IDAYAT HASSAN: It is this fear that is driving people to leave the country and, at the same time, not to return.

AKINWOTU: He says that stories like Susannah’s are not unique.

HASSAN: Everyone is selling their property. In fact, the easiest way to buy cheap property is to buy it from people who are leaving the country or people who have finally decided that this place is no longer livable.

AKINWOTU: Ajibike Ogunowo is selling roasted plantain on the side of the road. When I tell her that people like Susannah wish they could come back, she’s painfully direct.

AJIBIKE OGUNOWO: (Speaking Yoruba).

AKINWOTU: “You should stay where you are,” he says. Tell him not to bother coming back. Susannah Aremo sold her house last year and decided to stay in the UK. When I ask her how she felt, she refers to a Yoruba proverb.

AREMO: (Speaking Yoruba). You no longer have a home. You stay on the farm.

AKINWOTU: You feel like you’ve spent the last 40 years working in the UK as if you were on a farm, but it’s not home. She is happy to be closer to her children and grandchildren, but the decision to stay is still a painful one.

AREMO: This place is so lonely, dear. But in Nigeria, you see people stop by to say hello. This country is so lonely.

AKINWOTU: Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Lagos.


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