Hugo Obi, a business owner, moved back to Nigeria in 2012. From his Lagos home, he recalls his days in the United Kingdom after finishing a degree in Economics & Finance at the University of Manchester. By then, he was working full time with General Electric (GE) and had a recruitment company on the side.
“I moved to the UK because I wanted to get a high quality education,” he says.
Each year, Nigerians pay millions of dollars to study abroad. While you can find a Nigerian studying in almost every country, the United Kingdom is by far the most popular destination.
Poor social welfare packages, unqualified lecturers and deplorable infrastructure have been the deciding factors for people like Hugo Obi who move abroad to study. Just think, only a few of Nigeria’s 150 Universities can compete with other institutions in Africa.
Education is great, but are there job opportunities in the UK?
UK universities are some of the best in the world for both teaching and research, but Nigerians are attracted by more than just higher standards—there is also the job factor.
“From my experience, they provide a lot of support to students seeking job opportunities,” Hugo says, explaining why Nigerians pay so much to school abroad.
He is right.
Almost all the higher institutions in the United Kingdom have career services. They help students plan towards whatever career path they want to pursue after university. They offer support for writing cover letters and CVs. As well as counselling and providing internships to help gain experience.
Career services also connect students and graduates to employers. It’s how Hugo landed his first job as a Finance Analyst in London. “There are career fairs in Manchester University all the time. Companies come to the campus with information on job openings,” he explains. During one of those company visits in 2009, he spoke to the head of recruitment at GE. She was so impressed that she invited him for an interview.
“I sent in my CV and did a couple of interviews before I was finally offered the job,” Hugo remembers.
But British universities don’t just expose students to job opportunities like with Hugo, they also help graduates become business owners. Dapo Thomas, who doubles as an Investment Banker, set up his first UK business through this means.
In 2013, after his Master’s Degree in Finance and Investment at Edinburgh University, he got a graduate entrepreneurship visa. The visa is for international students who have completed their degree and wish to remain in the UK to develop a business.
“I pitched my business idea to a University panel. They liked it and endorsed it,” says the 27 year old. According to him, approved business ideas are sponsored by trade institutions or universities.
Dapo’s fashion technology business, Cubey, ran for 18 months in the UK before he eventually moved it to Nigeria.
No place like home?
Since he moved back to Lagos in 2015, Dapo has worked full-time at a Financial Advisory firm. He still runs Cubey from home. “I never really planned to stay in the UK. My long-term goals were based in Nigeria,” he muses.
From afar, Dapo’s decision to move back may look peculiar, especially when the UK offered him better work opportunities, a higher standard of living and a functioning system. But Dapo is not an exception: a lot of foreign-trained graduates make their way home after working abroad for a few years.
Nneka Agbim, project coordinator for Art X Lagos, moved back in 2015 after eight years in the UK. Like Dapo, she always knew she was going to return, saying, “I never had plans to stay.”
Nneka suggests that leaving Nigeria was a no-brainer if she wanted to get the best education, but once she had fulfilled that objective and added a decent amount of work experience, there was no need to hang around abroad.
But not every return is planned; some Nigerians move back because they are lonely.
Living abroad can come with loneliness and sadness from missing out on things back home. Being away from family and friends in a different country sometimes leaves people with a sense of lost identity and even depressed.
Although Fisayo Taiwo never struggled with depression, she decided to move back so she could be closer to home. The 27 year old finance officer tells me, “My job in London was amazing, I really liked it. But I felt alone. I wanted to be close to my family and friends.”
What happens when returnees move back home?
The network effect comes to play.
While graduates in the UK have access to information about job opportunities, those in Nigeria don’t have this ‘luxury’. Half of the graduates from Nigerian universities are unable to find jobs after graduation and rely on their network to gather information on job openings.
Nneka agrees, remembering that she landed her first job in Nigeria through a friend. “It was tough getting a job when I left London. I didn’t find many openings unlike in the UK.”
According to her, she had submitted many applications without feedback and was exhausted by the entire process.
“A friend then informed me that there was an opening at Art X Lagos and recommended me,” she finishes.
For Fisayo Taiwo, her Linkedin connections helped her get most of the jobs she has had since she moved back in 2016. “I was quite active on LinkedIn, so that helped me. I got many messages from employers who had looked at my profile asking for my CV,” she tells me.
Given this difficulty, it seems incredible that more Nigerians are leaving good jobs abroad to enter Nigeria’s crazy job market.
But the most incredible thing is that these people had to leave in the first place. Nigeria has allocated ₦3.9 trillion to education in the last ten years, with little to show for it. There will be more people like Fisayo and Hugo.