Thumbing through Instagram yesterday, I came across a post from Instablog 9ja, a popular entertainment account known for tabloid sensationalism. The first slide of the post reads: Nigerian vlogger informs the British authorities on live TV of his compatriots’ sole intent of immigrating through the UK study visa route. The next two slides show a clip from a BBC interview with one Emdee Tiamiyu saying a lot of Nigerians come to the UK on the pretext of getting degrees. In his words: It’s not like they need the degree. They need the degree as an access to come to the country.
Tiamiyu makes YouTube content for Africans on how to migrate abroad through the study route. It’s ironic that someone like him would make a comment to throw his people under the bus. Though I didn’t think much of what he said, I instinctively knew the video would go viral and a lot of Nigerians would see him as a traitor. What I did not predict was the clip’s extent of virality and the nuclear-level reaction it would spark. Waking up this morning, Emdee Tiamiyu was the number one trend on Twitter. I skimmed through different angry tweets where he was doxxed, flayed, and called different unprintable names. They called him a hypocrite because he allegedly lives as a dependent in the UK. Some even went as far as tweeting at the BBC warning that Tiamiyu only spoke for himself.
I understand the sentiments. Tiamiyu lives in the UK. By ‘telling on’ other Nigerians who travel to the UK through the study route, he may have inadvertently inspired the UK authorities to make visa requirements more stringent for Nigerians. And with the current japa zeitgeist, the dreams of thousands of people may be hanging in the balance. Also, his comment doesn’t help the ugly reputation Nigerians already have abroad. For many people, he just validated the Nigerian Prince stereotype. Think about it. What’s more Nigerian Princely than using a degree to hustle your way to another country?
But sentiments aside, Emdee Tiamiyu is the wrong person to flay. The only thing he is guilty of is holding a mirror in front of a generation of Nigerians who are inebriated by the japa moonshine. He held the mirror in front of us and many didn’t like what they saw. They saw how unpatriotic they are. Nothing he said was false by any stretch. In popular discourse, we equate Nigeria with a giant asylum everyone needs to escape from. And the easiest way to escape it is through the study route; like Tiamiyu said. If it were not true that Nigerians want to escape their country, why then are Nigerians notorious for posting pictures of their new passports once they naturalise to countries like Canada and America? Why are Nigerians quick to add the flags of their naturalised countries to their Twitter bios and usernames? In fact, why has japa come to be used as a colloquialism for immigration (japa meaning ‘to flee’ in Yoruba)?
If Tiamiyu is wrong, why do Nigerians do everything they can to remain in the UK once they complete their study? Why are Twitter Spaces hosted almost every day on how to japa? Why do people share testimonies of successful visa applications in church? Why do Nigerians love to post pictures of themselves at the airport? About two years ago, a guy posted a picture of his arrival in Canada and wrote something along the lines of having escaped Nigeria and never coming back. A Tinubu supporter criticised him for that and that led to a trend of diasporan Nigerians posting their japa pictures too. Can we deny that we equate success with living abroad? Or what the hell am I missing?
Tiamuyi has been bullied into apologising for his comment. As I understand, he has jumped on a couple of Twitter Spaces and Instagram lives to clarify what he meant. In a 20-minute apology video he posted this morning, he said the interview lasted over an hour but only the viral clip made the BBC cut. I doubt if that would pacify Nigerians. Nigerians do not forgive or forget. It’s almost impossible to win back their affection once you lose it. He is now a villain, not because he did anything wrong; but because he spoke the truth and many didn’t like it. Sometimes, saying the truth is all it takes to become a villain.
Some have tried to be semantically pedantic by saying Tiamiyu shouldn’t have tarred everyone with the same brush. They claim they know people who are not as enthusiastic about settling down abroad. But semantic pedantry is a convenient way to deny the facts. Of course, not every Nigerian is crazy about settling down abroad. Everyone knows that one person who isn’t moved by the japa zeitgeist. But those people pale in comparison to the rest of us. So miss me with the anecdotal examples already.
Maybe Tiamiyu’s comments will lead to a more stringent visa policy for Nigerians. And if that happens, don’t blame the poor guy. Any foreigner who has a casual interest in Nigerian culture knows how much Nigerians don’t like their country and how much they want to leave. There’s so much japa content online. If Tiamiyu’s comments are enough to make the UK amend visa requirements for Nigerians, then I would argue they should have done that a long time ago based on how we regularly ‘demarket’ our country (to borrow Lai Muhammed’s favourite word).
Tiamiyu did not create the poor socioeconomic conditions we have in Nigeria. I see no reason why he is getting so much flak for a harmless comment. He is not responsible for the high rate of unemployment that is driving a lot of us abroad. He isn’t responsible for widespread insecurity and corruption. We perhaps should see his comment as a symptom of a failing country. We need to come to terms with the fact that Nigeria has failed us and we have in turn failed Nigeria by giving up on it. It’s okay to admit that. It’s okay to admit we all want better for ourselves and our families and japa is the only way for a lot of us.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.