On Monday, I had a conversation with a lady who calls me daddy and whom I am proud to regard as a daughter. She is a manager in a bank. Her husband is a medical doctor. They are both in their 40s. Ordinarily, the likes of these two, should be the backbone of any society. They should be the archetypal middle class with a home in the better part of town and kids in posh schools. They should qualify to be members of the top social and sporting clubs in their area. That was what it was in my time. That is what still obtains in many other countries. But the reality of their time is that they are struggling financially and socially to earn the status that their professional training and position should have entitled them to. They feel, quite rightly, that they can have a better life elsewhere. It is an option they are being pushed to explore.
An acquaintance of mine is in his late 60s. He is a medical doctor. He had been the head of two hospitals in the last two decades. His children are all educated and married. He is at that age when he should be thinking of retirement and enjoying the fruits of his years of labour. His grandchildren should be around him tucking at his grey beard and preparing him for his second childhood. His expertise, backed by years of experience, should be sought after. He should not be ‘on call’ any more. Yet last year, he resigned so he could have time to study for the professional examination of the country he is emigrating to—you wonder how reading up would be easy for him at close to 70. I have talked to the three of them and the reasons they gave range from professional satisfaction, to better education for their children, to good Medicare and to a better quality of life generally. My argument that what constitutes ‘a better quality of life’ is subjective and should include ties to family, friends and homestead including socio/cultural ties fell on deaf ears. I had also said that the jobs they could get in their new homes, might not reflect their ages and years of experience. But they have chosen to look at only one side of the coin, the bright side. Alas, people sometimes believe, even when they should know better, that the grass is always greener on the other side of the river.
Last Sunday, I had a late breakfast with some ‘aburos’ who are mainly in their late 40s. All of them are products of foreign education in diverse disciplines. They all chose to come back after their university education and are doing reasonably well. We all agreed during a lively discussion, that the quality of life in Nigeria is heading downwards in almost all areas. The majority at the table, believed that the wise thing is to leave the country now when it is still possible while a few believed Nigeria can still be salvaged. No one at the table is willing to see Nigeria in each one of us and that we are complicit to what the country has become in one form or the other. All of us, especially those still in their 40s and below, should therefore be part of the solution.
So if people with jobs, good jobs at that, and properties—are willing to drop all to start afresh in a foreign land even in the autumn of life, then consider the young unemployed; the hordes of graduates who are minted every year by our universities with little hope of being gainfully employed. Consider their desperation; their willingness to try anything while in their spring of life in order to escape an uncertain future. Also consider the uneducated and unskilled, the number of which is increasing everyday, who seemed destined for a life of crime unless they can somehow, change their destiny.
Now, if people from such a diverse spread in age, education and income feel such a compelling need to emigrate, then you can imagine the message that is being sent to the visa officials across countries. The old profiling template has become useless. Now, you can have a good job and still want to emigrate; you can have properties and still want to emigrate; you can be married with children and still want to emigrate; you can be advanced in years and still want to emigrate. The result is a desperate and general tightening of visa noose. The new conditions can be tedious and even humiliating to genuine travellers. A couple of weeks ago, the US announced that it was suspending the ‘drop box’ system. This is a system that facilitates the renewal of visas for regular travellers. The news of the suspension went viral among the elites because of its implication and the likelihood that it might be replaced with cumbersome new conditions. Nigerians should also brace up for stringent conditions from other countries. They will come unless we change the course of governance. I wrote about this barely six months ago after my experience in trying to get group visas to Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China late last year. Some of the conditions were humiliating and designed to frustrate. Especially when one saw how seamless it was for those among us who had British and American passports! Because of my job and the generosity of a liberal boss, I started travelling more than forty years ago. I am thus in a position to observe how visa requirements have changed over the years for Nigerians. The change is almost in tandem with deteriorating governance in the country. The last five years have been stringent. We should know why!
I have been to all the continents in the world and if I don’t get to travel again, so be it. There is a limit at my age, to the humiliation I am willing to accept for any country’s visa. But what about the young ones who are being denied the experiences and opportunities some of us have had? Who are being made inferior because of the colour of their passports? The solution is simple yet complex. These countries will relax the noose when they realise that an average Nigerian wants to come back home. Otherwise, it will get tighter and tighter until the leaders themselves begin to feel the noose. And an average Nigerian would want to come back if we made Nigeria home to them in every sense. Very few people in the final analysis, really wish to sever their roots. Let our leaders look in the mirror. Let our elites look in the mirror. Let the rank and file look in the mirror. Enough of tokenism. Enough of buck passing.