What ‘Oloture: The Journey’ says about the real cost of illegal japa

The new Netflix show serves as a useful window into the world of irregular migration. The story of Oloture: The Journey, a sequel to the 2020 film, is not new — thousands of Nigerians try every year to leave the country for greener pastures abroad through irregular routes from the desert to the sea.

These risky journeys last months, or years, depending on unforeseen factors like being trapped in prison, or, worse, ending up in a slave market.

Success stories exist: many go on to make it to Europe and work their way up to the greener pastures, eventually. But horror stories also exist, and that’s the spot Oloture sits.

In the 2020 film, a young journalist embarks on a daring undercover investigation to expose a network of prominent individuals involved in the sex trafficking of Nigerian women to Europe. Posing as a sex worker named Ehi, Oloture (Sharon Ooja) worms her way through the network. She experiences first-hand the horrific exploitation of sex workers that happens in this world, and the structures that uphold them that she seeks to crush with the might of her pen.

The film ends with Oloture on her way to Europe where her adversaries plan to further exploit her and others like her — they just have to make the trip to Italy first. Oloture: The Journey, a limited series which started streaming on Netflix on June 28, 2024, is a new phase of her story.

Shorn of old allies, and no longer backed by her news publication, Oloture continues the journey towards Europe. The character’s decision is strikingly confusing: she’s achieved her main objective of identifying the shadowy figures behind the curtains, and she had tried, unsuccessfully, to escape back to familiar surroundings at the end of the film.

But when the new show’s plot offers her a fresh opportunity to return home after a sickening tragedy, she uncharacteristically opts to continue the journey with unclear objectives. The show increasingly treats Oloture less like a character of substance and more like a walking plot device. The only useful result of this gaping hole is she serves as a window into the fate of people who make these dangerous irregular journeys out of the country.

Oloture encounters all manners of bad actors on the road: untrustworthy strangers, kidnappers, rapists, double-dealing smugglers, and corrupt security operatives eager to exploit the situation. There are friends along the way too, but the show’s message is clear: this journey is not worth the trouble; go back home and migrate legally.

Every other week, news headlines report dozens of Nigerians being repatriated home from Libya, burdened with the horrors of their unsuccessful journeys. As unspeakably bad as their experiences turn out to be, they remain some of the lucky ones.

Oloture: The Journey ends with Oloture and her group of new friends finally making it onto a boat headed for Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, one of the world’s deadliest migration routes. Just before they get on the boat, her concerned friend, Peju (Beverly Osu), tells her, “I don’t know how to swim. But we have to do it.”

Last year, Statista’s estimates show over 3,000 migrants from all over the world drowned in the sea while trying to make that journey, running from something, running to something. The Netflix show ends without a clear conclusion of the travellers’ fate, but viewers have seen enough about the dangers of their journey.

Should Oloture’s story be enough for anyone to reconsider taking a similar route to escape Nigeria’s peculiar troubles? The horrors onscreen suggest so. But real life is more complicated.