Four Nigerians tell us how the #EndSARS protests influenced their japa plans

"The love, and the belief of a better Nigeria died in me. I checked out of Nigeria."

Three years ago, today, soldiers of the Nigerian army shot live bullets into a throng of unarmed civilians protesting against state-backed police brutality. In real time, many Nigerians saw how little valued their lives are, in relation to the unbending status quo that is the Nigerian system. Those shots pierced skins, took human lives and broke many hearts particularly that of young Nigerians. They also reinforced the notion that the Nigerian dream is to live far, far away in a country with better working systems.

Since the mid-2010s, the Japa phenomenon has been growing in popularity amongst young Nigerians, and the halting end to the End SARS protests in October 2020 definitely heightened those feelings of exodus. Anecdotally, most of us know at least one young person who’ve permanently relocated out of Nigeria in the last three, to the point where people have shared stories on social media of losing entire friendship groups. The End SARS protests have played a huge role in the decisions of many to leave the country and never look back.

Below, four people share the effects of the protests and the Lekki tollgate massacre on their eventual exit from Nigeria.

I already had plans to relocate for my masters in the UK, but was delaying for unknown reasons. It became imperative for me to leave after the #EndSARS massacre of October 20, 2020.  While I watched DJ Switch’s livestream, I saw people shot down for no reason, but for protesting to thrive, and not just exist. I imagined what if I was the one, or maybe my beloved brother, that night, I started my plans to leave Nigeria. It was difficult finally making the decision to leave Nigeria, because I have always believed that Nigeria would be better, but that night, something broke in me. The love, and the belief of a better Nigeria died in me. I checked out of Nigeria.

The days that went by didn’t help matters. The state, and the federal government denied the massacre ever happened, and it clocked on me that Nigeria doesn’t value my life. It was so sad to see. I shed tears while I was leaving, because the EndSARS movement was special to me in many ways. While I haven’t been harassed by the police, it was important to stand and speak up for young Nigerians who have been harassed, dehumanised, and killed by these monsters in uniform. The 2023 elections was another opportunity for us to rewrite the history of Nigeria for better, but the establishment thwarted that effort. I strongly believe that Nigeria would be better, but sadly, I’m better off in that belief faraway.

– Obiozo, 27

The decision to leave Nigeria wasn’t primarily mine, to be honest. Everything was in disarray during that period, like federal unis were on strike and I had gotten admission into Unilag at the time, but we couldn’t resume because schools were shut down. Plus covid, plus existing students had a pending session to finish, so my dad just came and said we should work towards me studying abroad and relocating permanently. I joined the 2020 protests with my sister, for a few days, and the way things ended definitely shook me. It just made me start hating Nigeria and just how your life is under this cloud of uncertainty. So, yeah, thanks to my dad for getting me and my sister out of Nigeria, and fuck those killers who are part of the government.

– Olaide, 22

I actually didn’t think about leaving Nigeria immediately after the protests and it’s not because of any patriotism reason. But honestly, the whole judicial panel thing and the government not taking any real steps forward was part of what pushed me to take leaving Nigeria seriously. I actually heard those gunshots, I lived in Victoria Island with my elder brother, so we heard them shooting. I never really wanted to leave Nigeria but the opportunity presented itself, and it was during that time that the panels happened. It’s just crazy that people can die in that manner and no one has still been held accountable.

– T*, 30

Honestly, after that president’s address, I just thought that I needed to get my family out of Nigeria. I’d wanted to leave for a while, but a few things were delaying me. As soon as I saw the address on TV and the japa jokes on Twitter, I was just so damn sure that my two children are not growing up in a country where they would be treated like second-class citizens. At least, if they are abroad, they might face some issues, but the system actually works on a basic level. Also, what will happen to them if one random police officer stops me and kills me just because he can? We left in August of the following year and it’s the best decision we’ve made. Plus my two siblings came along soon after, so there’s family around us, and that was the only thing we missed for a while.

– C*, 34