Why Nigeria is losing its best brains to the developed countries

The mass movement of Nigerians in recent times has generated a lot of concerns in the media space as Nigeria continues to lose its highly skilled professionals to the developed countries notably the UK, USA, Canada, Germany, and the likes.

For most migrants, their decision to travel out is borne out of the desire to escape from the cycle of poor working conditions, low living standards, poor infrastructure, high levels of inflation, and rising insecurity. For instance, a research report by the World Bank revealed that in the Human Capital Index, Nigeria ranks 150 out of 157 countries in the year 2020. Income inequality and disparity in economic opportunities continue to remain high and have consequently affected the government’s efforts on poverty reduction.

In 2020, high inflation took a toll on welfare at the household level thereby pushing additional 7 million people into poverty. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Nigerians living below the international poverty line is expected to rise by 12 million as the Nigerian labour space continues to be threatened by gloomy economic conditions.

In the words of Sakiru Adebayo, a researcher from the University of Columbia, “people tend to leave because of their disillusionment with the Nigerian state as many Nigerians feel excluded from the country’s cartography of belonging and are unable to imagine a habitable future for themselves”.

While the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) maintained that Nigerians are moving out in droves because its educational system has continued to be marred with incessant strike actions, poor funding, and dilapidated infrastructure. In another development, a research study by the Africa Polling Institute (API) revealed that the motivating factors for the mass emigration of Nigerians are a weak economy, increased insecurity, and poor government performance.

Why Nigeria should be bothered

According to a survey carried out by “Pew Research Center Studies” based in the United States, as of the year 2016, close to six in every 10 Nigerian immigrants in the United States are graduates. The report further revealed that as of the year 2018, 45 percent of its adults expressed their intention to move out of the country by the year 2023.

Research carried out by the London School of Economics further revealed that Nigeria’s health sector crisis has further been worsened by the mass exodus of Nigerian health care providers as the Nigerian Medical Association revealed that in the year 2020, over 33,000 doctors had fled the country out of a total number of 75,000 doctors. Currently, Nigeria has a doctor-to-patient ratio of 5,000 in population in contrast with the global standard of one doctor to 600 patients. The implication of this is that there is a deficit of over 260,000 doctors in Nigeria thereby raising more concern about the growth of its health sector as the World Health Organisation further ranks Nigeria’s health care system as the fourth worst country globally.

In another revelation, Colin Singer, a founding director of Canadian citizenship and Immigration Resource Centre (CCIRC) revealed that Canada’s gain of some of Nigeria’s brightest and best minds will translate into a net loss of talent for Nigeria; while a documentary by the Voice of America reveals that about half of Nigerians especially youths are willing to leave the country for a better life on the account of job insecurity and economic hardship.

For young Nigerians, educational attainment seems not to be the solution to the challenge of unemployment as Nigerians that are educated are struggling to be gainfully employed in the country. According to the World Bank, “between 2010 and 2020, the unemployment rate for Nigerians with secondary and post-secondary education increased by more than 30 percent”. This implies that the labour market is quite constrained to absorb more people and even the ones that are employed are forced to accept meagre wages thereby reducing the living standards of Nigerians.

The concern is not because people are travelling out; this has been common parlance since the colonial era. The concern is that Nigerians are more desperate to move out of the country by all possible means than evermore. While this might not be bad in its entirety as foreign remittance will also be a viable means of increasing revenue inflow into the Nigerian economy, one of the issues Nigeria needs to address is that it might end up losing most of its best brains to the developed economies as the mass exodus of its skilled labour force will further take a toll on the nation’s human capital development index.

Another issue of concern is the fact that the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment into the country has been on the low side as the latest ranking by Rand Merchant Bank reveals that Nigeria is not amongst the top ten business destinations in Africa. The implication of this is that while Nigeria keeps losing its own skilled workers to the developed countries, there tends to be no corresponding inflow of foreign skilled workers into Nigeria which will not augur well for the country’s sustainable development goals.

Read also: International education: Brain drain or brain gain?

Mass emigration: Beyond unemployment

A research report by Micheal Clemens of the Center for Global Development revealed that rich people are more likely to migrate than poor people, which implies that the more people get more economic opportunities, the more they are likely to migrate. The implication of this is that beyond the issue of unemployment, Nigerians have other motivating factors to migrate to other countries which include the quest for an environment that is secured and has a high quality of infrastructures.

High-skilled labour is a prerequisite for any country to attain economic development. The only way any country can transform its economy is by investing in its labour force as there can be no meaningful growth if there is a low quality of skills. Since migrants are more productive than natives because they are more likely to be of working age exploring the option of migration, this might not augur well for the growth of the “giant of Africa”.

In the words of David Khoudour of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “the question is not whether migration is good or bad for development, the question is why some countries manage to go through the development process without having to send millions of its citizens abroad”. Therefore the concern for any government should be about how to create good and high-paying jobs such that the reason why people leave would no longer be under the guise of unemployment, insecurity, or poor infrastructures. The youths are the future of this country, therefore, all hands should be on deck to ensure Nigeria doesn’t lose them to other countries. Nigeria needs to promote a youth-friendly and secured economy which will bridge the rising gap of socio-economic inequality.

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