•May return home as dollar, pound hit N1,451/$1, £1,806 at parallel markets

By Chinwendu Obienyi

With the continuous tumbling of the naira, the rapid appreciation of the US dollar, the British pound and the Euro, as well as soaring inflation rate, Nigerian students and workers who desire to study, live and work overseas this year, may be forced to abandon those aspirations.

Also terribly hit are ailing Nigerians who travelled overseas to seek medical help as they are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for their medicals

This is coming after the naira, which gained 1.02 per cent to close at N891.90/$1 at the NAFEM at the weekend, closed flat at the parallel market.

The naira slumped to N1,451 on Monday, while the pound sterling closed at N1,806/£1 at the parallel market.

In recent years, Nigeria has witnessed an exodus of talent and companies which has so far led to the dearth of skilled workers in many sectors, as well as low foreign direct investments (FDIs) in the economy.

Data obtained from a foreign report revealed that 486,000 student visas were issued to applicants – up from 269,000 in 2019 to December 2022. Last year, the number of student visas issued to dependants stood at 136,000 – an eight-fold increase from 2019, when 16,000 visas were provided. The provisional annual total for the year, 29,437, is 36 per cent lower than the record 45,774 crossings for the whole of 2022. However, it is higher than the total figure for 2021 (28,526).

This led to the UK government issuing new rules preventing most international students from bringing family to the UK are now in effect. Hence, both challenges have actually dented hopes of Nigerians who had plans to leave the country and the likelihood of universities recording a high turnout this year could be negative.

For example, Ejiro Ohekale, who had completed her National Youth Service Corp in October 2023, said, “I have had that desire to leave the country during my service year and I started making plans for it to leave at least by December. But the unstable rates in the market just led to me canceling it because I cannot steal. I am not even sure if I want to venture to do that because as at this time last year, a dollar was at least N300-500 but now, I am hearing that it’s N1400/$1  and so definitely in the coming months, it might hit N2000/$1”.

Philips Ulasi, whilst attributing the “japa” syndrome to the hardship faced by Nigerians, stated that the soaring inflation has led to higher cost of goods and services. “My girlfriend who is presently studying at Teesside University, paid £13,500 for a course, and she recently told me that it has now gone up astronomically to £17,000.

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You are not even talking of flights which cost N3.5 million or more via British Airways to the U.K and so tell me how people who want to leave should leave. Even if they sell their assets, it would not still be enough”.

Madueke Henry, a student studying Public Health at Teesside University lamented that the  situation has been very terrible because “at first I thought once you cross the hurdle of Nigerian wahala, you are good to go. I never knew that this FX thing will become an issue. “For instance, I am meant to pay the remaining installment of my school fee which is 1,300 pounds and I have N1 million in my Nigerian bank account. With a pound standing at N1,806 at Lemfi rate today, the value of N1 million has depreciated. If I change that money, it will just be 539 pounds. I now have to run around and borrow money to pay the fee. Honestly, pulling out of school is not an option because if you do, what would you be doing then? If you are caught, what would be your response?

Francis Deborah, another student studying International Business and Management at UCLAN said: “I cannot describe the pain as it is very unbearable. Before I left Nigeria, a pound was about N900 but now it is at N1,800 plus. This is sad and a big burden for us. The country has issues and it is just following us everywhere we go. Yesterday I was crying and regretting why I made the journey to U.K but then again with what I have been hearing about the state of the Nigerian economy today, I made the best decision to leave but the rising rates are really telling on us who are foreign students here in the UK The government has to act fast if indeed they can keep to their promise of not putting this unbearable pain on us. At this point I cannot leave school, I have come too far as to pull out. I just have to look for money to complete the installments.

Daily Sun had reported that Nigerian banks are indeed struggling to meet the needs of individuals seeking to study abroad through the Form A process, hence leaving them patronizing operators at the parallel market. Although the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has assured that it would clear the existing FX backlogs, there are fears that this may increase owing to the rising number of requests forthcoming for the March, June and September 2024 sessions.

The CBN Governor, Olayemi Cardoso, while speaking during the recent launch of the NESG 2024 Macroeconomic outlook report themed: “Economic Transformation Roadmap: Medium Term Policy Priorities”, said the CBN is working on stabilising the local currency through genuine price discovery.

“We believe that the naira is currently undervalued and coupled with coordinated measures on the fiscal side, we will expedite genuine price discovery in the near term, this coordinated approach will contribute to a more balanced and stable exchange rate”, Cardoso said.

Reacting to the developments in the economy, analysts at Afrinvest, highlighted their concerns about the premature assessment of the government’s position on the progress of fiscal and monetary policy reforms, challenges in key sectors and doubts about the inflation rate projection for the year.