Nigerian economy: Why citizens are migrating in droves and the way forward

Nigeria accounts for approximately half of West Africa’s population with approximately 206 million people (2020). It has a very youthful population of about age 30 and below, which forms about 70 percent of its population (United Nations in 2020 projected that approximately 43% of the Nigerian population comprises children 0-14 years, 19% aged 15-24 years and about 62% are below age 25 years).

It has one of the largest populations of youth in the world with several abundant natural resources such as petroleum, natural gas, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc, and arable land. It is Africa’s largest economy and oil exporter (with the largest number of natural gas reserves in the continent).

However, with the advantage of these resources to the nation, an increase in economic and security challenges has continued.

Nigeria is currently experiencing high unemployment and poverty, as of 2021 the total unemployed population in Nigeria was estimated at a peak of around 6.3million.

It was estimated that the unemployment rate for 2021 was 9.79%, a 0.07% increase from 2020. Nigeria unemployment rate for 2020 was 9.71%, a 1.18% increase from 2019. This is the reason some experts projected that in 2021, the unemployment rate in Nigeria will rise to 32.5% – with further increase in 2022.

While the national poverty rate is projected to jump from 40.1% in 2019 to 45.2% in 2022, it implies that almost 100million Nigerians will be living in poverty by 2022, if urgent steps are not taken to stop it. In addition to the above, the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Lagos (Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre) as the second most stressful city to live in globally.

This was measured using factors including security, safety, socio-political stability, population density, air, light, and noise pollution levels, and the amount of traffic congestion, unemployment rates, governance, and mental health. Mumbai in India was ranked as the most stressful city in the world.

Some of the challenges facing Nigeria, range from mismanagement of the economy to poor leadership issues, lack of well-tailored policy to manage current challenges such as high poor education system, healthcare system, inefficient power supply system, corruption, fall in crude oil price, overreliance on crude oil, lack of diversification of the economy, insecurity, kidnapping, nepotism, marginalization, among other major challenges.

While it is important for government at all levels to remodel their strategy of cushioning the effects of these challenges, it is important we find ways of closing these gaps. For example, the government need to prioritise education as it remains top priority for parents. Unfortunately, decades of underfunding of the sector have negatively affected the quality of teachers, lecturers, as well as poor learning infrastructure in the sector. The country has also recorded the highest number of out-of-school children, estimated by UNICEF to be more than 18.5million.

All these are responsible for decline in the sector in addition to regular strikes by the nation’s university lecturers who have long been protesting low wages, poor educational infrastructure, and inadequate benefits. For instance, the nation’s university lecturers have been on strike for more than seven months without any headway to calling off the strike.

Interestingly, most politicians and top government official children school overseas in nations such Britain, Canada, USA, Canada, Dubai, etc. and so one might begin to wonder why the strike has been lingering.

Lack of proper investment in public educational institutions contributed to fueling the rise in expensive private schools and universities for middle and high-income families seeking higher standards. These schools are also considered pale when compared with the quality of education obtained in developed nations.

Also, while it is important to mention that education and training of our workforce can play a major role in determining how well our economy performs, reports have it that there has been consistent increase in the number of Nigerian skilled workforce migrating or planning to migrate out of Nigeria due to the current economic situation. These set of middle-class population in Nigeria are desirous of experiencing better quality of life, security of life and property and most of all social security safeguards.

Another reason why Nigerians are migrating is the poor public healthcare system that leaves citizens with no alternative than going for a private healthcare system, which is more expensive compared with the quality of public healthcare system available overseas. Maybe this is the reason why top government officials who are supposed to be concerned to do the needful, also themselves seek better healthcare services overseas.

Interestingly, reports also had it that before the dawn of Covid-19 almost 5,000 people left the country monthly for various forms of treatment abroad, and according to the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), about N576 billion ($1.2bn) is lost to medical tourism yearly. This amount can be invested in developing the country’s healthcare system. This is about N100 billion less than the N632.7 billion allocated to the health sector in the 2021 budget (also before Covid-19 approximately 80m Nigerians lived on less than the equivalent of $1.90 a day, and the World Bank projected that this figure might increase to almost 100m by 2023, if urgent steps are not taken to manage it)

Also, a PriceWaterhouseCoopers (2016) report states that Nigerians spend $1 billion annually on medical tourism with 60 percent of it on four key specialties namely: oncology, orthopaedics, nephrology, and cardiology.

This is nearly 20 percent of the total government spending on public health including salaries of all public sector doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers as well as other health programmes like malaria, tuberculosis, polio, and Human Immune-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) prevention.

While the major challenge of the sector can be traced to brain drain syndrome, underfunding, dilapidated structures and obsolete equipment, industrial strikes, culture of Nigerians preferring anything foreign and negative attitude of health professionals are the major challenges facing the sector (amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, 33,000 of the 75,000 Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) registered doctors left the country, leaving 42,000 to man all health institutions in the country with a population of over 200million people. With this, Nigeria’s doctor-patient ratio became 1:3,500 as opposed to the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) standard ratio of one doctor to 600 patients.

Worthy of mention is the April 2021 survey carried out by Deutsche Welle (DW) where it reported that 88% of doctors in Nigeria are considering migrating and that Nigeria currently experiences massive migration of its medical professionals to developed nations.

Also, in May 2021, it was reported that general inflation in Nigeria was running at 18%, while for food it was 23%, the highest in two decades and currently more than half of Nigerians are underemployed or unemployed.

Generally, majority of Nigerians are dissatisfied with the present state of the nation and this has continued to propel mass emigration of young Nigerians for greener pastures abroad with fear that the situation would continue to affect the socio-economic wellbeing of the citizens. This is caused by increase in insecurity, unemployment, infrastructural deficit, hunger and failure of the various levels of government to provide opportunities for the youths to live their desired life and achieve their dreams.

With this, it is important to understand the plights of skilled young Nigerians seeking greener pastures because of the inability of the government to manage socio-economic, security and other challenges affecting its citizens that has resulted in a mass exodus of a larger proportion of young skilled Nigerians migrating to Canada, Australia, UK, and USA. Interestingly, this rise in migration has been on the increase in the last five years and keeps increasing.

In 2015, Canada implemented a system for taking in skilled immigrants, using a points-based calculation in which applicants are scored based on their age, work experience, education level and language skills. Australia as well adopted the same strategy to boost its economy.

The current level of poverty and hardship is alarming and so it is important government at all levels work together to nip it in the bud and provide better solutions that can help alleviate the suffering of Nigerians.

It is also important to mention that Nigerians have not experienced it like this before post-civil war of 1967, and some of the solutions I would suggest to the government is restructuring the current political and economic system as well as the constitution to reflect true federalism that would help reduce marginalization, insecurity in addition to promoting diversity and inclusion of all.

Also, measures such as introduction of state police, creation of massive job opportunities, and decentralisation of the system of governance to help improve service delivery, particularly at the grassroots, will help reduce poverty.

Finally, curbing migration of citizens can be reduced by the government prioritizing funding for the education sector to empower citizens with free education and professional degrees, as well as provide the necessary infrastructure and funding for the healthcare sector. Also to be provided should be regular power supply to boost small businesses and production.

Improving security intelligence, infrastructure and recruitment of more security personnel will also add value as well as basic amenities such as provision of good drinking water, food supply to the citizens, etc. will also help.

Most importantly, training Nigerians, especially the youths on modern agriculture strategies and use of technology, will help increase efficiency and open up more business and employment opportunities.

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