But none of these past campaigns and periods of emigration have been as significant or as documented as what is happening now. It’s 2022 and Nigerians are coming out in droves. Now that this nicely coincides with an era where mass information is dumped on the internet, it makes sense that emigration stories are shared in real time, go viral and become more of a spectacle than they ever were. for previous generations.
The implication of this is that everyone knows it, everyone follows it, and everyone seems to have some idea of how it’s going.
But while emigration remains an age-old reality and a pervasive aspiration for many Nigerians, no word has been more closely tied to the idea than ‘japa’, the recent social media discourse that has permeated pop culture and all other facets of Nigerian life. All conversations surrounding travel and emigration out of Nigeria are now intertwined with the word.
But how and when did emigration from Nigeria cause this fancy new word to be coined?
Simply put, it’s a Yoruba word meaning “to run away”. The etymology of the word implies “ja” which means to detach and “pa”, which in this context refers to the intensity or gravity of an action.
Essentially you can say ‘japa’ means ‘run hard’, or even better and more preferably just say ‘run away’.
How Japa Became Synonymous with Nigerian Emigration
The exact period in which this change occurred cannot be precisely determined; but the first popularized use of the word in pop culture dates back to Naira Marley’s 2018 song “Japa”.
In the song, the singer tells a story of weaving and spinning at high speed, in an effort to evade the police officers who are giving chase. The most instrumental part of the song in 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 these lines he sings about japa’ing [fleeing] in London, Canada, Chicago and Africa.
This song did not do badly; just like most other Naira Marley songs of the time. Mind you, this was after ‘Issa Goal’, and Naira was already well known and somewhat adored. The British-Nigerian rapper was even approaching his beast mode where all of his songs were monster hits propelled by his constant troubles with the Nigerian authorities.
So the song “Japa” was well received and somehow the slang it carried slowly bled into social media conversations, especially when it came to leaking the Muhammadu Buhari’s deteriorating conditions in Nigeria.
Maybe the song had nothing to do with it, but japa in this context wasn’t really a thing, if at all, before this song.
It was in 2018, remember, when the Naira was 361 to the dollar. Of course things are waaaay worse now that Buhari is preparing to leave Aso Rock but back then there was no hardship to compare and of course there was an exodus. The release of this period slowly imbibed the nickname “Japa”.
In 2019, it was already an established thing on social media to label emigration as “japa-ing” out of the country.
Today, not only is it established, but it has become hugely popular that almost all conversations about emigration – not just on social media – are now centered around the word.
The future of japa in Nigeria
To think that a lot of things are going to change, from all indications, seems like a pipe dream. As the country is rapidly deteriorating in key areas like economy and security, emigration looks set to continue to be an aspiration, a dream, a prayer point in churches and other religious bodies to which Nigerians turn. foreboding. In fact, one in three Nigerians have considered leaving the country for good.
Only if wishes were horses…