Irregular emigration of Nigeria youths: An exploration of core drivers from the perspective and experiences of returnee migrants

Samuel Kehinde Okunade


Globally, the phenomenon of youth out migration has gained much attention due to the increase in the movement of young people across continents most especially from the Global South into the Global North. There is a wealth of literature on the phenomenon of youth out migration and its core drivers in Africa and in Nigeria precisely (Usher, 2005; Akinyemi and Ikuteyijo, 2009; Hammond, 2015; Ikuteyijo, 2020). These scholarly works have suggested that the drivers of this migration include war/persecution and economic hardship, search for quality education, better infrastructure, social amenities and so on. In West Africa, Nigerians constitute the highest percentage of irregular migrants from the sub-region who attempt to migrate to the Global North (Nwalutu, 2016; Ojeme, 2016; Ikuteyijo, 2020). A study by Ikuteyijo (2020) suggests that many Nigerian youths engaged in irregular migration because they thought that it was the only option through which they could access better life opportunities in other countries in the Global North. This study noted that many of such migrants were not always successful and hence the increase in the number of returnees in Nigeria. Literature has also shown that many migrants die in the Sahara Desert on their way to North Africa en route to Europe or drowned in the Mediterranean Sea (International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2017 and 2020). In many North African countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, many migrants amongst which were Nigerian youths received ill-treatment and lived in slave-like conditions (De Haas, 2008: Hammond, 2015).

InfoMigrants,1 an online platform which is accessible via different social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, etc., provides information to migrants and intending migrants on the dangers and hassle involved in the various stages of irregular migration. So far, the platform consistently shares personal interviews on the experiences of various voluntary returnees from Europe as well as the plight of migrants in Europe. The stories of Issa who returned to Senegal in 20142 and Seny who returned in 20163 expressed their regret of leaving the abundance of their home country in search for a life that according to them does not exist in Europe for migrants. Again,

Irregular emigration of Nigeria youths 51 the experiences of some Nigerian returnees from Libya have been shared on the Internet and on various social media platforms.4 These stories reveal the horror and hardship migrants are subjected to en route the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean into Europe. Howbeit, these stories and the increase in the number of returnees do not seem to change the perception and resolve of many would-be young irregular Nigerian migrants. As noted by Ikuteyijo (2020), if irregular migration is seen by these youths as the only means of survival and with the information available on the difficulties and hopeless situation that migrants face in the Sahara Desert, in Libya, on the Mediterranean and even in Europe, could it still be said that truly it has proven to be a means of survival as averred by the migrant returnees and intending migrants in Nigeria especially, when compared with the situation of the country?

This therefore raises the question of what factors were exactly responsible for this drive when it was public knowledge that irregular migration to Europe was largely unsuccessful and/or dangerous. It is in this light that this study aims to revisit the “push” factors and the experiences of the migrant returnees in relation to the current situation in Nigeria in a bid to understanding and identifying the underlying drivers for irregular migration among the Nigerian youths. Not until when the core factors are identified that pragmatic and workable ways of dissuading this emerging culture among the Nigerian youths can be proffered.

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