By John Ikani
The recent depreciation of the naira is driving a significant number of Benin Republic citizens back to their homeland, according to reliable information gathered by local news outlet Saturday Times.
Nigeria, once a favoured destination for West African nationals who used the CFA as their currency, has lost its appeal due to the sharp drop in the value of the naira against major world currencies.
The devaluation has diminished the allure of the naira, which was once a symbol of regional pride for businesspeople.
A visit to neighbourhoods in Lagos where Benin Republic nationals resided and conducted their trade, such as Agege, Iyana Ipaja, Badagry, and Ojodu Berger, unveiled the straw that broke the camel’s back – the recent devaluation which resulted in N1250 exchanging for one US dollar.
As of November 3, 2023, the CFA was worth twice the value of the naira, a far cry from the situation in 2015 when it was economically advantageous for West African citizens to work in Nigeria, earning naira that could be converted into CFA at a handsome profit.
The trend attracted citizens from Togo, Benin, Niger, Mali, and others to Nigeria, taking on modest jobs like cobbling and tailoring with the hope of benefiting from favourable exchange rates. However, this is no longer the case.
Dayo, a Beninese working as an okada (motorcycle taxi) rider in the Ojodu Berger area of Lagos, disclosed that his business is no longer as lucrative as it used to be.
He noted that many of his colleagues have returned to Benin Republic in the past few months, and he is contemplating doing the same. The income he earned in Nigeria now has a much smaller impact when converted to his hometown.
“Life in Nigeria has taken a different turn. In the past, we were content with earning one naira because we could quickly gauge its value in Cotonou. Now, making money here feels like a loss. Many of my fellow riders have left, and I’m considering the same move. Besides the exchange rate, life in Nigeria has become more challenging. Food prices are still more affordable in Cotonou, so it’s not surprising that people are heading back. Even Nigerians are seeking opportunities elsewhere, so why should we stay?”
Saturday Times, however, discovered that those less inclined to return to their homeland are predominantly engaged in building and construction, particularly tiling and plumbing.
Bolu, who works in this sector, explained that a substantial portion of his work comes from clients in the Southeast of Nigeria, which is why he is less inclined to depart.
“It’s true that the naira has lost value, discouraging some of us from Benin who work here. But I prefer working here because my job is stable, especially in Anambra, where I have consistent contracts. The money may have lost value, but the consistent work makes it appealing to me. I wouldn’t have the same job security in Benin as I do in Onitsha and Awka. I’m considering relocating my family back in 2024 if this trend continues, so I can visit them regularly.”
Despite the Central Bank of Nigeria’s efforts to bolster the naira’s value, progress has been modest at best. Just a month ago, the World Bank classified the naira as one of the poorest-performing currencies in Africa, along with the kwacha used by Angolans.