Sunken Ships is a Zikoko series that explores the how and why of the end of all relationships — familial, romantic or just good old friendships.
The subject of this week’s Sunken Ships is a woman who’s tired of losing her friends to the japa wave. After having four of her friends leave, Yinka* (28) feels she has no friends left in Nigeria, but she still doesn’t want to leave.
Let’s start from the beginning
Yinka: In 2015, Adeola, my friend from church, was my first friend to leave Nigeria. We’d been friends since we were children. Our mothers were both in the choir, so we often saw each other during practices and church programmes.
I’m not a very outgoing person, so making friends was difficult for me. She was about my only friend in the church even after I’d been going there for a decade. But she had a few other friends outside of me. She never for once made me feel like I wasn’t as important as her other friends. She even introduced me to them. We barely argued, and everything seemed really great.
She never indicated that she planned on leaving the country, or I just didn’t know because she didn’t consider us close enough. Either way, I didn’t find out until a day before she left. We were eating sugar cane when she told me her flight out of the country was the next day. I didn’t know what to do except be happy for her, so I was.
What do you mean by you didn’t know what to do?
Yinka: Well, the babe and I weren’t close enough for it to have caused me to break down into tears. However, we were close enough that I could feel her departure. For the first couple of Sundays, I unconsciously kept looking for her in church.
Did you think the japa situation was going to become a problem later?
Yinka: No, I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have many friends, but at that time, people barely spoke about leaving the country. A lot of us were just leaving school or starting new jobs, and the phrase on our lips was, “The country will get better.” There was still a lot of patriotism in the air at the time.
When did you realise it might be a problem?
Yinka: 2017, when another friend left Nigeria. Betty* and I met each other during NYSC in 2015. We were bunkmates and got along great.
Unlike my church friend, Betty always made it clear that her Nigeria situation was not permanent. For her, NYSC was a way to waste her time while she waited for word from the schools she’d applied to.
Honestly, I admired her for knowing what she wanted out of life and fighting really hard for it. However, it didn’t hurt any less when she left. I’d been carried along through the entire process, but her farewell dinner was the first time I cried. Seeing everyone talk about how much they’d miss her, I almost lost my mind. When it was my turn to say a few things about her, I just cried and hugged her. I was going to miss her so much.
Was keeping in touch with these people not an option?
Yinka: It was, but how long could we keep in touch? Maybe it’s because I’m a very out of sight person, but I find it very difficult to keep in touch with people I don’t see often. Adeola and I weren’t close enough for weekly calls, but we did try to have them once every two weeks. With time, it dwindled to just liking each other’s posts on Instagram.
Betty and I tried to do weekly calls, but her classes got too demanding, my job got too stressful, and with a seven-hour time difference, there was only so much we could do. We still occasionally text, but it wasn’t the same as when she could enter a cab to my office because she wanted me to buy her amala from the woman who sold it near my office.
Okay, I see your point
Yinka: I’m not saying no one can maintain a healthy long-distance friendship, but I’m not one of those people who can. My distance has to be driveable.
How many more times did you have a friend leave the country?
Yinka: Twice. The next was in 2019, and I think it caused a major problem for me. Even though it was someone I’d known for roughly a year, I’m still trying to recover from no longer being able to see her.
Chidera* and I were coworkers. Our company hired her almost immediately after they hired me in 2018, and we spent a lot of time together, trying to solve the problems our bosses created for us. I wasn’t expecting us to build a strong friendship, but it happened.
It was a couple of months after she was hired. We met at a party one of my cousins had invited me to. Since she was the only person I knew outside of my cousin, we sat together. We talked about work and life outside of work. I think that’s when we realised we had a lot in common. We exchanged social media accounts and kept in touch. It started with tweets about shows we were watching, then it progressed to texts then calls.
Whenever we sat together to work, we barely got anything done. Even our co-workers knew how close we were. They said arguing with one of us was like arguing with both of us. Why? Because we always had each other’s back.
That’s so cute
Yinka: She was my confidant and best friend, and I knew I was hers too. We had sleepovers at each other’s houses, talked about the men in our lives and discussed plans to live a better life.
During one of such discussions, she mentioned applying for new jobs. At first, I thought her search was limited to Abuja, but she mentioned jobs in Lagos and Canada.
I sent her every link I could find to every job opening related to what she wanted to do. At a point, if you opened my phone, all you saw were job applications. I helped her fill her forms, and when she got the job, I took her out to dinner and we drank, cried and drank some more.
We found buyers for her property together. I bought the ticket she used to leave the country. And because her parents are late, I was the only person who followed her to the airport. Her only sibling was waiting to receive her in Canada.
How did it feel watching her leave?
Yinka: I didn’t leave the airport premises until she sent me a message that she’d boarded her flight. I refused to drive to the airport because my chest was too tight for me to think straight. And I cried so much, my Uber driver had to ask me if someone died.
I took a week off work and even left our former company three months after. I couldn’t work there anymore. It wasn’t the same without her. Chidera and I still speak, at least more than I do with Adeola or Betty. We had to schedule each other into our lives. We speak on the phone every Sunday afternoon and try to get up to date with what’s going on. I still miss her so much. I was supposed to travel to see her in 2020, but with COVID-19 and the lockdown, that didn’t happen. I’m planning another trip for later in 2023, so let’s hope nothing spoils that one.
So watching a friend leave for the fourth time…
Yinka: It was my cousin and she left in 2022. She’d gotten married during the pandemic in 2020, and her husband left for the USA in 2021. In 2022, they finally worked all their papers and she went to join him. I didn’t follow her to the airport or even attend her farewell party. I told her congratulations, sent her some money and prayed for her. Anything more was not in my power to do. I was numb to it all by this point.
Yinka: I’m exhausted. Maybe it’s japa fatigue, but I don’t know how to process watching someone leave again. Sure, it’s not like they’re dying, but what’s the point?
The whole situation has made it even harder for me to make friends. Almost everyone you meet now is talking about leaving the country or asking you when you plan to leave. What’s the point of making a new friend who’ll leave you in a couple of months for greener pastures? I don’t blame them because Nigeria is hard. But it’s getting harder because I have no friends to lean on. I’m extremely lonely, and there’s not much I can do about it.
Do you want to leave Nigeria?
Yinka: It seems like the sensible choice, but my answer is no. I don’t want to go. I’m my parents’ only child; I don’t want to leave them alone. I also don’t like the idea of starting over. Learning a new language? A new set of customs and behaviours? I can’t do it. I just hope things change in Nigeria so moving countries doesn’t become a prayer point for me in the future.