Mfonobong Inyang: Fight or Flight – Is Japa The Only Escape From Poor Governance?
Whether you attended a bourgeois nursery school or one of those ‘international’ schools in the trenches, there is a high chance you learned about the famous rhyme: “Two little dicky birds sitting on a wall, one named Peter, one named Paul…” This popular rhyme has since been Africanised to read, “…two blackbirds” hence serving its purpose of being used as a most apposite metaphor. However, as melodious as this rhyme is, it doesn’t give us a lot to work with. For example, we don’t know the exact reason why the two birds who initially sat comfortably on the wall felt compelled to fly away.
As I tried to conjure up a wild hypothesis, Newton’s Law of Motion popped up in my mind: a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it. To a very large degree, abominable governance is the “outside force” responsible for this displacement. Beyond the nomenclatures of the two birds – I drew parallels between birds and the aviation sector, “fly away” and aeroplanes, the wall and borders. This speaks to immigration and emigration, and the rampancy of japa. For everyone else, Peter and Paul are just two birds sitting on a wall. For me, these two birds represent the future of Nigeria mostly represented by her extremely talented youth population ready to make a critical decision at such a time like this. As a bonus, Twitter is the internet’s biggest bird and also the platform tweeps use when venting their anger at the state of play and for announcing their japa experience with that popular welcome-to-a-new-dispensation meme.
Travelling abroad for Nigerians isn’t in any way a new phenomenon. The reason japa seems to have become a buzzword in recent years is simply owing to the quality, quantity and reasons Nigerians are doing so. In other words, more Nigerians are increasingly voting with their feet; effectively passing a vote of no confidence in the direction of the country as managed by its political leadership. In one of Chinua Achebe’s classics, No Longer At Ease, he wrote about how the fictional village of Umuofia crowdfunded to send one of their sons to study in the United Kingdom. In fact, the hullaballoo was really that in comparison to their neighbours who had sent numerous indigenes abroad, it was their first ever ‘export’. It’s no longer the case. It’s interesting that in the mid-1980s, there was a campaign for Andrew not to ‘check out’ with a promise that Nigeria go survive and in 2023, the same plea is still being made under familiar circumstances.
This is not an attempt to aspire-to-maguire my way out of the fact that many people have had to leave for their sanity, some for education and others for reasons such as health, economy or even security. I am not trying to finesse you into forgetting how some of you were crudely disenfranchised especially as first-time voters by anti-democratic elements neither I am trying to legislate patriotism by telling you to shelve your japa plans but, in the words of Warsan Shire, no one leaves home except home is the mouth of a shark.
I do not write as a high priest who isn’t touched by the feelings of sapa wey choke guys for neck. I know how it feels to be able to afford only one cousin instead of all four. I know what it’s like to buy your own hard-earned money or how terrible traffic gridlock makes you and your significant other seem to be in a long-distance relationship even when you both reside in the same city. What I am saying is that Nigeria is still worth salvaging. By ‘Nigeria,’ I mean the country not necessarily the government because Nigeria is first a people before it is a place. So which instinct will you manifest: fight or flight?
As bad as things are now, the scary truth is that it can get really worse. Right now, it seems we are at the gates of hell and our indifference can plunge whatever is left of this country into eternal perdition. I know this feeling that seemed to have enveloped the country since that rude morning on the first day of March 2023; it’s similar to the days following the night of 20th October 2020. A lot of people were emotionally downcast and so confused about life. However, a movement that was labelled a failure and seemed to have come to a screeching halt that unfortunate night three years ago became one of the biggest factors in the 2023 elections. Just like the four lepers asked: “Why do we sit here until we die?” I think those four people tweeting in a room should also ask themselves, “Why sit here until Nigeria worsens?” This is a very important question because, at that stage, it matters little whether you are living in the motherland or in the diaspora, you will be affected one way or another.
The mid-term elections are usually terrible for sitting US presidents. Even Barack Obama, who many political pollsters and pundits consider one of the most popular leaders in modern history, suffered, what he described in his own words as “shellacking” during his time in office. However, something snapped in the 2022 mid-terms – despite having a Democrat as president, there was nothing like the much-touted “Red Wave”. Voters knew that the midterms were the dress rehearsal for the 2024 presidential elections: they remembered January 6th, Roe vs Wade and the bigotry of white supremacists as they cast their ballots. They chose to defend democracy over high taxes, and inflation, which is usually a big deal, suddenly became a small price to pay for salvation. Even the Gen Zs showed up because school shootings have been on the rise.
So here is my point: if Nigeria, unfortunately, goes the way of Venezuela and gets slammed with international sanctions and declared a pariah state, your nit-picking over religion, ethnicity or partisan affiliation won’t matter anymore. All these identity politics ends at the borders, once you are out there – you are a Nigerian, period.
You don’t have to be partisan but you must be political. Stop saying you are not interested in politics because politics is very interested in you. The lesson from the lepers isn’t about ability but availability. A new Nigeria is not an event; it’s a process. It doesn’t start and end with elections. This is a marathon, not a sprint. At every inflexion point, an elite consensus is needed to move the needle. By elite, I don’t mean the wealthy or those in political leadership. I mean the enlightened ones. Those responsible for this skulduggery are less than 1% of the population; we easily outnumber them.
One of Mzansi’s finest entrepreneurs, Vusi Thembekwayo, gives a brilliant narration of what he considers the true cost of corruption: “I don’t think the most expensive line item is what it (corruption) does to the economy, I think it’s what it has done to sentiment and what it does to talent. In order words, when you corrupt a system, those less deserving get opportunities to which they are not deserving. The problem is that those who are deserving pick up a little green document called a passport, get on a plane and go elsewhere. What talent does – when you distort this thing about efforts versus reward – is that it goes where it would be rewarded. It doesn’t have to put up with the nonsense, it gets on a plane and it leaves.”
I must add that it’s a shame that one of the most powerful immigrant communities in the world that sends home over $20 billion yearly isn’t even allowed to vote. Our redemption will not come from those who suggest we should “move on” – for there is no true peace without justice. The fox must be chased away first. After that, the hen might be warned against wandering into the bush. When we do the needful, then we can – with our full chest – complete that rhyme, “Come back Peter, come back Paul.”
Feature Image: Dreamstime