By Babatunde Ayedoju
One of the characteristics of human beings, is movement. On a daily basis, an average human being does a lot of movements from one place to another. It could be from one community to another. In some cases, it is from one country to another.
Right from the time of the explorers of old, like Christopher Columbus and others, movement from one country to the other has been a key feature of the human society. People discovered new places beyond their immediate environments. Africa was discovered by the whites. Some of them came as traders. They soon found a rich source of raw materials and a ready market in Africa.
With time, Africa came under their dominion, with a lot of Africans being exported to other parts of the world to work as slaves. This continued until slave trade was abolished in the early 19th century. Today, officially, slave trade can be said to have ended in most parts of the world. However, Nigeria, in recent times, has witnessed a wave of massive migration of her citizens to other parts of the world in search of what people call greener pasture. Though it is known as brain drain in standard English, the common man on the street has coined another word for it, derived from the Yoruba language. It is called ‘japa’, a syndrome that the Nigerian society has had to battle with for some years.
Worst hit by this menace are the health and educational sectors. Recently, the Nigerian Medical Association revealed that Nigeria has a deficit of 315,426 medical doctors to cater to the health needs of its 215, 266, 984 population due to massive brain drain, adding that between 2016 and 2018, not less than 9,000 doctors left Nigeria for better work environments, safety and security in three countries – the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America.
December last year, the UK government listed Nigeria among African countries whose citizens could apply for qualified teacher status through the Teaching Regulation Agency in the UK, from February 2023. Reacting to this development shortly afterwards, the Lagos State Chairman of Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Akintoye Hassan, had described it as a business decision by the United Kingdom government geared towards minimising cost and getting cheap labour.
While noting that Nigerian teachers are competent but work under unfavourable conditions, Hassan equally pointed out that this offer from the European nation will not augur well for the Nigerian workforce.
He said, “As far as I am concerned, they just want to minimize cost and get cheap labour. Few days ago, nurses in that country went on strike because of poor remuneration. When they get new intakes for the job, they will start them at lower levels and pay them less. For those coming from Nigeria for instance, the situation will still be seen as better than what obtains here. We must note that the situation portends danger for Nigeria. The reason is that when countries such as Britain balance up regarding workforce, they will shut their doors.”
According to a Pew Research Centre study conducted in 2018, Nigerians top the chart of people who plan to move to another country within the next five years with 48 percent, among the 12 countries sampled for the survey.
The survey also revealed that 55 percent of those who planned to leave Nigeria had gathered information about moving to another country; 34 percent had either saved or borrowed money; 30 percent applied for necessary documents like a passport and Visa; and 14 percent had taken all necessary steps.
African Union’s Revised Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action (2018-2027) disclosed that an estimated 70,000 skilled professionals emigrate from Africa each year. According to reports, Nigeria lost over 9,000 medical doctors to the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S.A between 2016 and 2018. With a depleting number of medical doctors, Nigeria annually spends between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion on medical tourism.
Nairametrics also reported that Nigerian companies spent over $55 billion on foreign professionals’ service in 10 years. On the other hand, the country only received $770.48 million for professionals in the country.
According to some online reports, Nigerians paid N9.78 million for a U.S.A visa in 2017. This fee only includes those who traveled as non-immigrants and excludes those who obtained immigrant visas or those whose application was rejected.
Will this trend continue or is there any hope in sight that sooner or later Nigerians will find pasture green enough on our own soil. If the reasons behind massive brain drain or japa syndrome are the poor economy and unfavourable job condition in the country, can an improvement in these indices stem the tide of migration out of the country?
Beyond all that, what is the possibility that the incoming government will be able to do anything about the way Nigeria keeps losing some of her best brains and hands to other countries through the brain-drain phenomenon that is called Japa?
In addressing the issue, Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Relations, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko first traced the brain drain phenomenon in Nigeria to the military era in the 1960s and 1970s when academics were forced out of their official quarters and they also had to face harsh working conditions.
He pointed out that the phenomenon which started then was aggravated by the poor state of the country’s economy.
In the opinion of Ehiabhi, “It is difficult to say if the incoming government will be able to reverse the trend of brain-drain immediately. However, it can stem the tide by providing welfare packages for citizens and making basic infrastructure available.”
Dr Adedayo Afe, also from the Department of History and International Relations Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, shares a similar opinion. He believes that there can be an improvement if the new government formulates good economic policies and is able to provide security. He, however, noted that it would be a gradual process.