• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Brain drain: Nigerians are fleeing despair as insecurity cripples those behind

Ever growing japa

Being a Nigerian is, for most citizens of this country, an unbearable burden, a dehumanising experience. While citizens of most other countries enjoy and take for granted basic amenities and reasonable levels of security and welfare, Nigerians have absolutely no expectation of such things. They are denied critical services in education, health and basic infrastructure, not to mention the protection of lives and property.

Yet, constitutionally and philosophically, this should not be so. Nigeria’s Constitution explicitly states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Thomas Jefferson, a former US president, famously said: “The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government.” What’s more, in 2011, the United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution urging member-countries to make their people’s happiness and social progress the focus of public policy.

But these constitutional and philosophical principles and UN resolutions play no role in how Nigeria treats its citizens. Instead of the people’s safety and welfare being the primary goal of public policy, their happiness and progress are impaired by government neglect and failure, so bad that, as Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State recently put it, “living in Nigeria is hell.”

Surely, whatever its so-called benefits, the indisputable truth is that large-scale emigration of talented Nigerians has far more damaging impact on Nigeria and sectors of its economy

This sorry state of affairs has two consequences. One is the large emigration of Nigerians; compelled by utter despair, they’re leaving Nigeria in droves. The other is the Hobbesian conditions under which most of those remaining are forced to live, gripped daily by the fear of terrorists, bandits and kidnappers.

These consequences of state neglect are symptoms of a fragile or failing state, and partly explain why Nigeria is near the bottom of the World Happiness Index (2022), ranked 118th out of 146 countries, and near the bottom of the Social Progress Index (2021), ranked 138th out of 168 countries. Put simply, Nigeria is a fragile or failing state.

Now, let’s consider the two consequences in turn, starting with emigration, the large and growing exodus of Nigerians from their own country.

Recently, Sunday Times, a major British newspaper, published a story titled “The Nigerian new wave.” In the story, the newspaper said “soaring numbers of Nigerians are landing in the UK,” adding that Nigeria “is facing its largest exodus in a generation, perhaps ever.”

But who are those leaving? Well, they are people who “are abandoning businesses in Nigeria and trying their luck in Britain instead”; they are professionals, such as doctors, academics and technology experts, who are taking advantage of the UK’s “skilled work visas”; and they are young people who are entering the UK with study visas. In 2019, just over 19,000 skilled work and study visas were issued to Nigerians, but the number rose to 59,000 in 2021, making Nigerian migrants the fastest growing among the top five nationalities granted such visas.

To be sure, the fact that Western countries are welcoming large numbers of Nigerians as skilled workers attests to the enormous richness of Nigeria’s human resources. But the circumstances and consequences of the huge exodus of talented Nigerians are alarming.

According to a World Bank survey, published last year, half of young Nigerians want to leave the country, and about 56,000 more Nigerians are leaving than arriving per year. Well, we know why, don’t we? Nigerians are fleeing a comatose economy, decrepit education and health systems and, of course, terrorism and kidnapping.

But, think about the impact. If technology experts are leaving Nigerian banks to boost technology industries overseas, if bright and promising lecturers are fleeing Nigeria to join foreign universities and if Nigerian doctors are emigrating to prop up the health services of Western countries, in what ways does such massive brain drain benefit Nigeria?

Well, some would point to remittances, with the money that the emigrants send home supporting the economy. There’s also the international experience that the emigrants are likely to gain. But this would only directly benefit Nigeria if the emigrants return home to put their experiences to the service of the country. But would they ever return home? Rarely, certainly not when the circumstances that triggered their emigration remain extant!

Surely, whatever its so-called benefits, the indisputable truth is that large-scale emigration of talented Nigerians has a far more damaging impact on Nigeria and sectors of its economy.

Take education. One of the legitimate complaints of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, on strike for over six months now, is that Nigeria’s public universities are being hollowed out by the exodus of Nigerian academics, while foreign lecturers and students are not coming to Nigeria.

Basically, Nigeria’s public universities are not attractive to local and foreign teachers and students. Given that universities are judged by the quality of their faculties and students, Nigerian universities will continue to languish at the bottom of world league tables unless they can attract and retain the best and brightest from home and abroad.

Read also: Global demand shift, brain drain and Nigeria’s employability problem

What about the health sector? Well, consider this. The World Health Organisation recommends doctors-to-patients ratio of 1 to 600, but Nigeria has 1 to 6,000! How would the exodus of Nigerian doctors improve that appalling situation? Of course, it would make it worse!

Last week, the health minister, Dr Osagie Ehanire, took a holiday from reality. He said the Federal Government would immediately replace every doctor that left the country, quoted as saying that “there are enough medical doctors in Nigeria.” Really? If so, why is the doctors-to-patients ratio so abysmally low? Truth is, Nigeria cannot afford to haemorrhage medical doctors and nurses. But sadly, it’s recklessly losing them to foreign countries.

So much for those fleeing Nigeria, what about those in the country? Well, pity them because most Nigerians at home are condemned to a nasty and brutish life conditioned by insecurity and terrorism, as well as the pains of a collapsing economy.

Here’s a personal anecdote. Recently, I announced the passing of my father-in-law. First, I’m grateful to those who sent me their condolences. But I was shocked when the family refused an offer to publish the obituary and details of the funeral arrangements in the newspapers for fear of kidnappers, for fear that kidnappers sometimes followed funeral events, from newspapers, to wreak havoc. I was literally begged: “We appreciate the gesture, but please don’t do it!”

Really? I was nonplussed. But the fact that educated and enlightened people genuinely entertained such fear and refused to honour their departed loved one in such a memorable way shows how the spread and impunity of bandits and kidnappers have crippled daily life in Nigeria.

In a country with several large ungoverned spaces, where the government fails to act on intelligence warnings, where bandits run parallel governments, as the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, recently alerted the country, how can the citizens feel safe?

Insecurity aside, there’s also the pain of a comatose economy. Inflation at nearly 20 percent and food scarcity are sharply eroding the meagre disposable incomes and living standards of most Nigerians.

The government is blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine instead of unaffordable inputs, such as diesel and fertilisers, instead of distorted markets caused by protectionist import bans and instead of widespread insecurity. As a major oil and gas producer, Nigeria should, in fact, be benefitting from the Ukraine war as it has led to skyrocketing oil and gas prices.

But thanks to oil theft, pipeline vandalism and exodus of foreign investors, Nigeria is failing to meet its oil quota or exploit its gas reserves.

So, let’s be clear. Government neglect and failure are forcing Nigerians to emigrate in droves, fuelling a devastating brain drain, while those at home are left at the mercy of marauding bandits and kidnappers. Why is being a Nigerian such an unbearable burden, a dehumanising experience? Terribly sad!