Nigerians have been relocating and abandoning their country en-masse for the longest time. The checking out and exodus of the 80s aren’t to be quickly forgotten, nor are the visa lottery schemes of the 90s. So, what seems like a coordinated escape from the country in recent years is not entirely new to our national consciousness.
Meaning of 'Japa' and how it became a popular slang for relocating out of Nigeria
Nigeria's relocation slang, japa, is now a pop-culture fixture. Here's how it happened.
But none of these past emigration campaigns has been as significant, or as documented as what is ongoing right now. It’s 2023 and Nigerians are getting out in droves.
Because it coincides nicely with the Internet age and mass information, it only makes sense that emigration stories are now being shared in real-time, going viral and becoming more of a spectacle than it ever was for previous generations. The implication is that these days, everyone knows about it, everyone follows it and everyone seems to have an idea of how Nigeria's epic relocation wave is shaping up.
While permanent relocation has remained a reality and ever-present aspiration for Nigerians across different generations, no word has been more interwoven with the idea than ‘japa,’ the recent social media speak that has permeated pop culture and other facets of Nigerian life. All conversations surrounding travel out of Nigeria are now twined with the word.
But how and when did emigrating from Nigeria get the word, japa, coined for it? Let's get into the details.
Meaning of the Nigerian word: Japa
Essentially, you can say ‘japa’ means to ‘run hard,’ or more preferably, ‘run away.’
The etymology of the word involves ‘ja’ which means to break loose and ‘pa,’ which, in this context, refers to the intensity or severity of an action.
Simply put, it is a Yoruba word that means ‘flee.’
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How the Japa wave became synonymous with Nigerian emigration
The exact period when this switch occurred cannot be ascertained with bull’s eye accuracy; but the first popularized, pop-culture use of the word can be traced to Naira Marley’s 2018 song, “Japa.”
In the song, the singer narrates a story of weaving and turning at high speed, in a bid to evade the policemen giving chase. The part of the song most instrumental to this piece is where he sings:
Japa japa, japa lo London // Japa japa ja wo Canada // Japa japa, ja wo Chicago // Japa japa, ja lo si Africa.
In those lines, he’s singing about japa’ing [fleeing] to London, Canada, Chicago and Africa.
Mind you, this was after ‘Issa Goal’, and Naira was already well-known and somewhat adored. The British-Nigerian rapper was even nearing his beast mode where all his songs were propelled to monster hit status as a result of his constant issues with Nigerian authorities.
So the song ‘Japa’ was well-received and somehow, the 'slang' it carried slowly bled into social media conversations, and before long it became the lingo associated with every effort to escape the deteriorating conditions of Muhammadu Buhari’s Nigeria.
This was 2018, remember, when the Naira was 361 to the Dollar. Sure, things are waaaay worse now as Buhari readies to check out of Aso Rock but at that time, no hardship was comparable and of course, it precipitated an exodus. The exit of that period slowly imbibed the moniker ‘Japa.’
By 2019, it was already an established thing on social media to refer to one's relocation plans as ‘japa-ing’ out of the country.
Now, it is not only established but has become wildly popular that almost all conversations on emigration – not just on social media – now revolve around the word.
The future of relocation amongst Nigerians
To think that [young] Nigerians will stop aspiring to life outside the country, from all indications, seems like a pipe dream.
With the country deteriorating quickly in key areas like economy and security, emigration seems primed to continue being an aspiration, a dream, and even a prayer point at the churches and other places of religious worship that Nigerians throng to.
As a matter of fact, one out of three Nigerians has considered travelling out of the country for good.
If only wishes were horses though...
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