Acts Of Privation

Feeling stuck and unheeded, young Nigerians are increasingly resorting to all manner of desperate measures.

One unmistakable effect of Nigeria’s deepening socioeconomic crisis is acute despair at the country’s long-term prospects and attendant pressure on citizens to come up with alternatives. For proof that members of the younger generation feel this more than most, one need look no further than two recent incidents which received a lot of attention in the local media.

The first concerns Alvin Ilenre, a History and International Studies graduate of the Ajayi Crowther University in Oyo State. Back in December, Ilenre had posted a video of himself deliberately burning his university, primary school leaving, and National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) diplomas. Pressed by a reporter as to why he had taken the unusual step, Ilenre, who instructively spared his Christian pastoral training diploma, explained: “The reason why I burnt the certificates is not far-fetched from the kind of society we are in and a lot of people in the country can relate to these things that we are talking about here. It is frustrating being in a country where your certificate is not regarded. We’re in a country where a certificate has been bastardised. You know, we behave like we don’t know what’s happening whereas the country is decaying.”

He continued: “Private businesses are running out of the country. Even when you want to do business, you’re not even sure because there is no light, no road, no basic infrastructure. So that’s the thing. And I’m not the only one on this table, we have a lot of young people on this table who can attest to what I’m talking about. So, that’s part of the reason.”

The second incident, a far more tragic one as it happens, is that of 32-year-old Amarachi Ugochukwu who took her own life within the premises of the Ikorodu, Lagos, financial institution where she had been an employee. The suicide note she left behind speaks for itself: “Nothing is working in my life. My figures are low. My brain is clogged up. The economy is getting harder. My decisions are wrong. My mind is messed up. The future doesn’t seem bright at all. I see extreme hardship. I can’t bear the pain anymore.” Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that more than 17,000 Nigerians commit suicide annually, the highest among African countries. Various studies have linked suicidal behavior to economic uncertainty and depression.

The feeling of hopelessness among young Nigerians is certainly not recent, though there is no doubt that economic hardship under the current administration, referenced in the foregoing examples, has aggravated it.

The relevant data capture something of the economic turmoil: according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s annual inflation rose to 28.92 percent in December 2023. Although in July last year the then new administration declared a State of Emergency on food, ordering that “all matters pertaining to food and water availability and affordability, as essential items, be included within the purview of the National Security Council,” prices of utilities and essential times, including electricity, gas, water, food, and transportation have continued to spike. The grim economic situation has forced several multinational firms to head for the exit. In 2023 alone, Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Plc, French pharmaceutical and healthcare company Sanofi-Aventis, Bolt Food, Jumia Food, Equinor, and Procter& Gamble (P&G) were among those who decided to sell assets to local players or shut down manufacturing in the country. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) estimates the number of jobs lost to the exodus at “over 6,000.” In the eight years between 2014 and 2022, overall investments in Nigeria’s manufacturing dropped by almost N368bn.

Foreign multinationals are not the only ones voting with their feet. Indeed, the emigration of highly skilled Nigerian students and professionals to countries (including other African countries) with relative political stability and brighter economic prospects has been one of the most remarkable social phenomena over the past two decades. The situation in the medical sector offers the starkest illustration. According to the International College of Surgeons, Nigerian Section (ICS-NS), “the country has lost no fewer than 6, 221 doctors to the UK in the last six years.” Of the estimated 100,000 doctors that the country has trained as of May 2022, 70 percent has migrated to the United States, United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia alone. According to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), about fifty doctors leave the country every week.

According to the Washington, DC-based Center for Global Development (CDG) the number of migrants from Nigeria grew 60 percent between 2010 and 2020. One measure of young Nigerians’ desperation is the commensurate rise in the number of stowaways on cargo ships and wheel wells of aircraft, not to mention others who put their faith in the hands of “coyotes” who guide them across the Sahara to various North African destinations from where they hope to make the crossing to Europe.

When young Nigerians are not emigrating for educational and professional enhancement, they are forced by the worsening insecurity across the country to weigh their options. The leading sources of danger to personal and community safety in Nigeria are the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency which, according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) data had claimed an estimated 350,000 lives in the country’s North-East region alone as at the end of 2020; kidnappings; casual and persistent attacks on civilians by the military, police, and various uniformed agencies; and armed robberies. In the eight years up till June 2023, the number of Nigerians reportedly killed by various non-state actors stood at 63,111. Behind the otherwise laudable spectacle of crowdfunding for ransom to secure the release of the five sisters kidnapped in Abuja (FCT) last week is the sober realization that the security establishment, repeated assurances notwithstanding, may not be up to the challenge of guaranteeing public safety.            

If Nigeria merits attention because, for all its malaise, the country remains Africa’s most politically important and, according to some, its economic and cultural bellwether, the plight of young Nigerians deserves much more. Since all development policy permutations about the country rest on the assumption of continued availability a pool of young, highly skilled, and energetic Nigerians, continued exodus of the same puts such policy initiatives in jeopardy. 

Reina Patel contributed to the research for this article.

This story was originally sourced from Council on Foreign Relations

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