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Nigerians who left their country, planning to return in old age, are reconsidering

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Japa, which is Yoruba for to flee or escape - it's become a major talking point in Nigeria. Large numbers of people are fleeing that country in search of a better life abroad. This japa wave is fueled by the sharp rise in kidnappings, lack of security and a battered economy. And for the same reasons, many Nigerians who left their country decades ago and planned to return to Nigeria to retire - they're now having second thoughts. Emmanuel Akinwotu reports from Lagos. But first, we begin in London.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERCOM RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hello?

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hello, ma. It's Emmanuel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK, come in.

AKINWOTU: Thank you, ma.

This is the story of a woman who left home 40 years ago for a better life. But she didn't plan to stay away forever.

SUSANNAH AREMO: How is this coat?

AKINWOTU: Ah.

AREMO: When the people come from Nigeria...

AKINWOTU: Susannah Aremo is 66 and lives in a housing estate in South London. When she arrived in 1983 from Lagos, her dream was that, one day, she would return home to Nigeria and retire there.

(Speaking Yoruba).

But now, that dream has faded. As we talk, she switches between English and Yoruba and remembers how she spent years struggling to support her three children and save to build a home in Nigeria. She sometimes held three jobs at a time, working throughout the night. Was the struggle worth it? - I ask her. Yes, she tells me, leaning forward, because I wanted to return home.

AREMO: Two, three years ago...

AKINWOTU: After several years, she did build a house, but then she decided she couldn't return.

AREMO: There's no security. Some people build their house and finish everything. They can't live there.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

AKINWOTU: This is the house Susannah Aremo built. It's in a quiet pocket of a busy district called Iyana Ipaja. There are four bright yellow apartments in a large compound, guarded by high walls, covered in thick strands of lilac-colored flowers. The grounds are large and beautiful, but all the narrow roads surrounding here are battered. And when I speak to people nearby, they're fed up.

DAMILOLA POPOOLA: There's no development. Everything is just bad, poor.

AKINWOTU: Twenty-four-year-old Damilola Popoola is a student and part-time security guard on the street.

POPOOLA: The power is really bad. We don't use, like, close to 3 hours.

AKINWOTU: Three hours a day?

POPOOLA: Three hours a day.

AKINWOTU: And what about security here?

POPOOLA: That's zero.

AKINWOTU: Idayat Hassan is the director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, a think tank in the capital, Abuja. She tells me that fear of insecurity is affecting Nigerians both in and outside the country.

IDAYAT HASSAN: It's this fear that is driving people to leave the country and, at the same time, not to return back.

AKINWOTU: She says stories like Susannah's are not unique.

HASSAN: Everybody's selling off their property. In fact, the easiest way to buy cheap property is either to buy it from people who are leaving the country or people who have finally decided that this place is no longer livable.

AKINWOTU: Ajibike Ogunowo is selling roasted plantain on the side of the road. When I tell her people like Susannah wish they could return, she's painfully blunt.

AJIBIKE OGUNOWO: (Speaking Yoruba).

AKINWOTU: "She should stay where she is," she says. "Tell her not to bother coming back." Susannah Aremo sold her house last year and decided she would stay in the U.K. When I ask her how it made her feel, she refers to a Yoruba proverb.

AREMO: (Speaking Yoruba). You don't have house anymore. You stay in the farm.

AKINWOTU: She feels like she's spent the last 40 years working in the U.K. like being on a farm, but it's not home. She's happy to be closer to her children and grandchildren, but the decision to stay is still painful.

AREMO: This place is so lonely, my dear. But in Nigeria, you see people pass by to say hello. This country is so lonely.

AKINWOTU: Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Lagos.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emmanuel Akinwotu