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Nigeria, like Singapore, can curb brain drain

Five out of 10 Nigerian registered doctors abandoned Africa’s most populous country in 2020, in search of countries willing to offer more for their services.

The trend is the same with other professions, a threat to the future development of a country projected by the United Nations (UN) to become the world’s third most populous nation by 2050.

Nigeria is not the only country that has had to struggle with losing its best brains to more developed countries, Singapore’s strategy holds some lessons on how Nigeria can reverse its brain drain syndrome.

Human capital is one of the greatest resources of African countries, particularly Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, but when they leave and don’t return the future of the continent is at risk, according to Jean-Michel Paul, CEO of Acheron Capital, who spoke at the BusinessDay CEO Forum, Thursday.

“When an engineer goes abroad and doesn’t return, we don’t just lose one but a thousand and same for other professions,” he said.

According to Paul, who is also an award-winning author, Africa is blessed with the right people but if they leave, it will be very difficult to build the future.

“Taking out the best brains is taking a mortgage on the future because this is a real resource,” Paul said.

According to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), about 2,000 medical workers leave the country annually to developed countries with the majority leaving as a result of low wages and difficult working and living conditions.

Read also: Currency printing signals breakdown of financial system- Acheron Capital CEO

The NMA also reported in 2020 that out of 75,000 doctors officially registered in Nigeria, over 33,000 left the country leaving just above 50 percent of that number to man the health institutions in the country.

According to the US government census data, the Nigerian diaspora is overall the best-educated and its members are more than twice as likely to have secured an advanced degree. Nigerians are also more likely than the general American population to work in professional or managerial occupations.

Brain drain refers to the large-scale emigration of educated and high-skilled individuals from their birth country.

Singapore’s brain drain

Less than a decade ago, six in 10 Singaporean employees were willing to leave the country for a better job. Data by Randstad Workmonitor research, a survey company that covers local and global trends in mobility, job satisfaction and motivation in 34 markets around the globe, showed that Singapore’s brain drain rate was higher than the global average.

The Lion City’s brain drain rate, according to the Workmonitor, was higher than the global average of 50 percent.

Also, 42 percent of young Singaporeans polled by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in 2010 said emigration was often on their minds, and 26 percent was also actively exploring avenues to emigrate.

Those that went to school abroad did not want to return as they earned more in foreign countries than back at home. The social class and title that came with working and earning in foreign currency was another incentive for the brain drain.

The government of the once poor country began to implement strategies to reverse the brain drain.

“The leadership at the time clearly understood that education was key to the future and development, so they came up with a bright idea to let a lot of young people go get some extra level of education abroad that will be sponsored by the government, but the abroad trained Singaporean would have to come back and work for a certain number of years.”

Explaining further, Paul said the government told them it’ll pay, for example, a one-year master’s programme in the UK or some other country but would have to come work in the government for four years or eight years in the private sector.

“What we have seen afterwards is the singular economic miracle of a very poor island that is now doing very well, thanks to the educated elite that returned to the country,” Paul said.

What Nigeria can learn

Nigeria can draw a cue from Singapore by following in the same footsteps or come up with its own strategy that can help retain its best minds.

Taiwan’s strategy of creating job opportunities with adequate remuneration, providing subsidised training for citizens to improve their employability and also improving the overall quality of life of its citizens is another idea that holds lessons for Nigeria.

There is an argument about diaspora remittances into Nigeria resulting from its brain drain.

The inflow of diaspora remittances is one of the perks of brain drain from which Nigeria benefits. It represents household income from foreign economies arising mainly from the temporary or permanent movement of people to developed economies.

Responding to the diaspora remittance and brain drain, Andrew Nelvin, chief economist at PwC, said Nigeria needed to export brains and not people.

“We can have educated Nigerians earning foreign exchange for the country without leaving the country, companies like Google and Facebook are setting up more developments in Nigeria because they recognise how talented Nigerians are,” Nevin said.

It is no surprise Singapore has the highest human capital index in the world at 0.9 while Nigeria has one of the lowest human capital index in the world, at (0.36) its ranks 168th out of the 174 countries surveyed, only better than Liberia (0.32), Mali (0.32), South Sudan (0.31), Chad (0.30) and Niger (0.29).

The human capital index measures which countries are best in mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Human capital is majorly measured by the health and education of the people.

In 2020, the Bloomberg Health-Efficiency Index, which tracks life expectancy and medical spending, ranked Singapore first in the world for the most efficient healthcare.

However, in Nigeria, 20 percent of the children do not live till their fifth birthday due to the lack of basic facilities. Nigerians also have one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world at 54.81 years.

Nigeria can draw a cue from Singapore by investing in the health and education of its citizens and offering incentives to keep its professionals.

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