Urbanization Gone Wrong!

Urbanization in Nigeria and its influence on emigration to Canada

By Busola Akin-Olawore 

Two hundred per cent – this is the figure to remember!

In 2019 alone, 12,595 Canadian Permanent Residency Permits were issued to Nigerians, in comparison to the 4,090 issued in 2015[1]. This translates to a 200% increase in the number of Canadian Permanent Residency Permits issued to Nigerians.

Nigerians are officially the fourth nationality (after Indians, Chinese and Filipinos) with the most Canadian Permanent Residency Permits issued per year.

Why this Massive Increase in Nigerian Immigrants?

Migration and immigration trends in Nigeria date back to the early 60s during the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War), picking up again in the late 70s and through the 80s during the country’s economic collapse. There are three main subsets of migration and immigration discussed below: migration within the country, emigration out of the country, and the claiming of refugee status in foreign countries.

[Photos below of diaspora Nigerians in urban Canada and Nigerians in urban Nigeria]

Migration within Nigeria

In 2010, the National Population Commission’s Internal Migration Survey showed that 23% of Nigerians are migrants, having changed their state of residence in the past ten years[2]. The Nigerian states located in the North Central and South are of particular interest for migrants as they are home to the country’s natural resources, administrative and commercial cities.  Sixty per cent of these migrants move to urban areas for better socio-economic opportunities and infrastructure[3].

Between 2007 and 2017, it is estimated that 50%  of the Nigerian population are urban dwellers[4] living within an estimated 13 urban states. The challenge with Nigerian urban states is that they do not effectively provide socio-economic opportunities nor do they have adequate infrastructure for their residents and those migrating there. According to a report by the World Bank, one of the most pressing issues is that the urban states lack formal housing close to jobs and these states also lack adequate transportation systems. As such, people are forced to live in densely packed quarters with no services and amenities; for example, in Lagos, about 2 out of every 3 people live in these quarters and less than 10% of the state’s residents are connected to the public water supply systems[5].

Immigration Outside Nigeria

Between 1990 and 2013, over 1 million  Nigerians were living outside of Nigeria and about 61%  of them were residing in more developed regions in the world with countries such as United Kingdom, United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, Ireland and now Canada as their top destinations[6]. Similar to those migrating within Nigeria, immigration out of Nigeria is out of a desire for better socio-economic opportunities and the supporting infrastructure. Unlike migration within Nigeria, immigration outside of Nigeria grants them these better opportunities.

In  Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is the highest remittance receiver of funds transferred from overseas.  Globally, it ranks 5th[7]. This suggests that the Nigerians outside of Nigeria are doing well enough economically to provide for their needs and send funds back home to help out their loved ones.

[Snapshots below of rural Nigeria]

Refugee Status

Nigerians are claiming refugee status in countries around the world due to economic crises and/or conflict. As of 2018, there were an estimated 280,000 refugees of Nigerian origin living around the world[8]. Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and the United States host the largest number of refugees. 

Returns on MigrationUrbanization at Home versus Western Urbanization?

These migration and immigrations trends are nothing new but what is new is the higher number of Nigerians leaving their homeland each year.

This mass exodus is mainly because the opportunity to migrate has now been opened up to all skilled workers, whereas previously reserved for specific professions that were in scarce supply but high in demand; such as labourers, technicians and health care professionals.  Now countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have opened up immigration to most (if not all) skilled workers.  This they did for many reasons, but a major reason is evident when we analyze the demographics of these Western countries to which Nigerians migrate. These countries have a large ageing population and declining fertility rates which means when the ageing retire there will be fewer pension contributions but more pension payouts to beneficiaries – higher payouts with no one to fund the payments.  Hence, they are relying on lateral foreign-skilled workers to contribute to their society.

The out-flux or exodus of Nigerians from their country can also be attributed to the increased urbanization in Nigeria.  Urbanization refers to an increase in the number of people living in towns and cities, driven both by increased birth rates and an influx of people leaving rural areas for urban areas. Around the world, Africa and Asia have the highest rates of urbanization.

Urbanization is great because it modernizes society, increases commercialization and trade, improves employment opportunities, and provides access to better educational, health, water and sanitation facilities.

These positives of urbanization become nullified, or enjoyed only by a select few, in a situation where there is no available government planning or funding. A flood of people leaving their rural homes for urban areas increases the strain on resources in these urban areas.  This leads to a rapid population growth that quickly erodes the lifespan of existing infrastructure. Coupled with a lack of maintenance and restoration, this urban exodus results in degraded, depleted and generally inadequate infrastructure in the cities.

And this is the sharp distinction between urbanization in Western countries and urbanization in developing countries. In Nigeria, the urban areas were not fully developed to begin with, and were wholly unprepared for the rapid population growth due to migration from rural areas as well as the increased birth rate in these urban areas. A lack of preparation coupled with lack of government funding in infrastructure resulted in quite an unpleasant picture: degradation of health care systems, poorly equipped educational institutions, an unequal employment market, deplorable living conditions and an apparent lack of urban development in the main cities.

About 25% of Nigerians are unemployed as the unbalanced labour market cannot fulfill the employment needs of the population[9]. Among those who are employed, 20% are underemployed[10]. Furthermore, there is a lack of diversification of the economy to ensure people are employed in fields relating to their skills. It is not uncommon to find a graduate with an MSc in Biochemistry working as a bank teller. For the lucky few who are gainfully employed in a relevant role and at a commensurate level, pay becomes an issue. Studies have found that new graduates in Nigeria earn less than USD $125 in their first job[11]. Low pay has been one of the reasons that has led to a brain drain among Nigerian doctors, for example, with an increasing number of doctors migrating to countries where they are valued and rewarded financially.

Additionally, the available infrastructure in Nigeria could be frustrating, to say the least.  Using the health care sector as an example: Nigeria currently has 0.9 hospital beds for every 1,000 people and 0.07 Intensive Care Units (ICUs) for every 100,000 people[12]. For every 2,500 Nigerians, there is one doctor and four nurses[13].  The strain on the health care system is immense, and is enough to send qualified Nigerians running for greener pastures.

The education sector is equally abysmal.  There are currently 150 universities (public and private) with a total capacity of 600,000 students for a population of 111 million Nigerians within the relevant student age group[14]. Studies have found that only 1 in 4 Nigerians will get accepted into universities in the country after graduating from high school, mainly because Universities have reached their capacity[15].

Even as COVID-19 is sweeping through urban states within Nigeria and across the world, now more than ever, Nigerians are looking to immigrate out of the country. Why? This global pandemic has made it very clear that in times of a public health crises, only those who can afford private health care will survive because the public health system has largely gone unfunded and is ill-equipped.  With the inter-state borders closed, it is impossible to judge the migrant patterns, however, a guesstimate can be made that people still desire to migrate to urban states because there are more socio-economic opportunities and better infrastructure and facilities in the cities.

And so urbanization in practice is great, however, it requires proper planning, funding and engagement.  Failing this, the exodus of the middle class is inevitable.  Those who have the education, skills and financial means to emigrate legally will surely do so in pursuit of a better life or indeed, simply a life where their basic human needs (employment, education, shelter, security) are met.

Busola Akin-Olawore is the Founder and CEO at Versa Research, a boutique research firm that gathers data on market, marketing, society and consumer trends, turning this data into insights to advise Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).


[1] https://www.cicnews.com/2020/02/while-the-us-blocks-immigration-visas-canada-building-strong-nigerian-community-0213706.html#gs.7lzbso

[2] https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mp_nigeria.pdf

[3] https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mp_nigeria.pdf

[4] https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mp_nigeria.pdf

[5] https://www.cfr.org/blog/home-over-half-population-nigerias-cities-continue-boom

[6] https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mp_nigeria.pdf

[7] https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mp_nigeria.pdf

[8] https://tradingeconomics.com/nigeria/refugee-population-by-country-or-territory-of-asylum-wb-data.html

[9] https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/countingthecost/2019/02/young-unemployed-nigeria-190216073358024.html

[10] https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/countingthecost/2019/02/young-unemployed-nigeria-190216073358024.html

[11] https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/countingthecost/2019/02/young-unemployed-nigeria-190216073358024.html

[12] https://www.icirnigeria.org/covid-19-nigeria-lacks-sufficient-hospital-beds-in-face-of-viral-pandemic-data/

[13] https://www.medicwestafrica.com/content/dam/Informa/medic-west-africa/english/2019/HealthcareInsights.pdf

[14] https://qz.com/africa/915618/only-one-in-four-nigerians-applying-to-university-will-get-a-spot/

[15] https://qz.com/africa/915618/only-one-in-four-nigerians-applying-to-university-will-get-a-spot/

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