Reversing Nigeria’s brain drain…..

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By Kevin Idehen

The Brain Drain is often used to describe the movement of highly skilled experts from the country of origin to a new host country, more frequently from developing countries to developed countries.  The brain drain deprives developing countries like Nigeria of valuable personnel that end up contributing to the economies of the developed nations who in turn have been accused of poaching the best and brightest highly skilled workforce from a country that desperately needs them.

A United Nations report stated that “The failure of the postcolonial state in Africa in the 1970s and 1980s – Low morale, lack of academic freedom and collapse of tertiary education, rise of authoritarian regimes, hardship and paralysis ushered in by Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) and so forth – provoked the exodus of highly skilled Africans”.  The migrants’ economic wellbeing not available in their country of origin is a major push factor in deciding to migrate.

Other push factors include but not limited to salary and benefits differentials, inadequate professional and career opportunities, large technological gaps and inadequate local technological capacity, lack of willingness to change by the home country, the relevance and quality of foreign education, training and qualifications compared to those acquired in the home country, discrimination or the sense of not belonging, political balkanization or instability, lack of realistic and accurate human resources policies and plans and restrictive trade practices of the developed nations that strangle the development of the developing nations.

A United Nations report stated that many students sponsored to do post-graduate studies in technology, science and engineering abroad have stayed away at the end of their studies.  To fill the vacuum created by the brain drain, Africa spends $4 billion annually to recruit and pay 100,000 expatriates to work in Africa when we can use a portion of that amount to recruit from the vast pool of equally qualified and experienced African professionals living and working outside Africa.  In today’s knowledge-based economy a major concern is the adverse effect of the loss of skilled professionals, due in part to the talent hunt policies and better working conditions of the developed nations. The global Competition for skilled Professionals by the developed nations is fierce and those trained in the developing nations end up filling the skills shortage of the developed nations.

The effects of the brain drain to Nigeria and Africa respectively is enormous, resulting in more African engineers working in the USA than those in the whole of Africa.  A report by the United Nations estimates that ‘over the next decade Africa will need to train an additional 1 million health care professionals and find ways to retain more of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory technicians it currently produces.  The International Organization For Migration (IOM) estimates that ‘”It would have cost the developed nations about $184,000 to train each of the estimated 3 million professionals educated in developing countries now working in the developed world, resulting in a savings of $552 billion dollars for the developed nations.” In essence, developing nations like Nigeria is giving developmental assistance to the developed nations, making the rich nations richer and the poor nations poorer, an analogy of pouring water from a drum into the river, springs to mind.

The challenge of reversing any brain drain is huge but the opportunities it presents, far outweigh the threats.  Most of the developed nations have policies in place to attract high skilled labour from around the world needed to fill their own vacuum.  The United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all made, and continuously updated, their policies to recruit this segment of international migrants.   The United States doubled its H1-B visas from 65,000 to 130,000 largely due to great lobbying by the IT and other industries.

This figure does not include the 586,000 students that are attracted to the U.S. institutions from around the world, annually.  Britain’s points system, adopted in 2006, ensures that only people with the right skills or contribution will be able to enter the UK to work or study.  There is no reason why Nigeria should not have a similar policy in place to attract the best to aid in accelerating our own national development.

Nigeria along with most African countries still do not know how many of their Professionals leave the country annually, why they left their home country, the number that return and why they returned back.  The impact of this lack of awareness by the African Governments and most developing nations can be shown by the lack of policies in place to curb the unaccounted flow of their much needed highly trained people and little or nothing in place to attract back those currently in the Diaspora.

Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora at the House of Representatives, Hon. Abike Dabiri – Erewa, sponsored the Nigerian Diaspora commission bill, which has resulted in Nigeria being the first African country to establish a Diaspora Commission. The speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Dimeji Bankole, said “Nigeria’s Diaspora communities are capable of mobilizing substantial investments and development capital into the country, especially with a 2008 World Bank estimate that put the annual remittance of Nigerians in the Diaspora at well over $11 billion”.

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a former lecturer, has also lent his support to the much needed Diaspora Commission.  He stated that “We want to upgrade it to the level of a commission to coordinate experts in the Diaspora. We want to raise it beyond a department in foreign affairs. We are looking at establishing the Commission before the end of this administration, in the next 12 months.”

These are positive signs coming from the key decision makers of the nation and are a welcome development for Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora. Though we have much catching up to do, in comparison with the developed nations and the BRIC economies in this important area, we have started the long journey with an important step.  These positive words must be backed up by specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time related actions or it risks being piled up in the ever growing dump of brilliant ideas that were never bore any fruits due to regional wrangling, selfish interests and recruiting people based on anything but their existing skills and experience.  Nigeria must be put before any region with national interest and pride over regional interest and pride.

Another important development includes the ability of the Nigerian Diaspora to cast its vote for the first time in Nigeria’s history, come 2015.  This will be an inflection point in our growing democracy, as it will engage the Diaspora in the political development of the nation.  The loot from the corrupt leaders of our Nation is stored in the banks of the developed nations, thus making them richer and us poorer.  Any increase in the cost of living in Nigeria equates to an increase in the size of the remittances sent back home from the Nigerian Diaspora.  These remittances have lifted families out of poverty, educated siblings, created employment and given hope to what was once viewed as a hopeless situation by many.

We must understand the reasons behind the brain drain, compare our results with the real experience of living in the developed nations and identify the ways to attract our Professionals back home.  These Professionals will be returning with skills and experience gained internationally and with the right business environment, will make positive contributions to our growing economy, with a main focus on improving the non oil sectors of the economy.  There has been evidence of some people returning to Nigeria, only to pack up and go back abroad as they could not deal with the challenges of settling back into their motherland.  Reasons have included being ripped off financially and emotionally by family members and friends, business failure, complexities of doing business in Nigeria, poor infrastructure, security concerns and the lack of constant electricity.

Research has shown that some businesses set up by the Diaspora in Nigeria are headed by people without any business experience or experience of managing a project of that magnitude.  Recruitment is often based on being related to the business owner, which is no surprise why most of them fail.  Other reasons for business failure include the business owners not being present to manage the growth of the business as they immediately return back to their host country, once the business has been set up.  Research has also shown that even with the challenges of settling back into Nigeria, most Nigerians will prefer to be back home, especially with the global credit crunch forcing everyone to reconsider their options.

Nigerians are excelling in their selected industries around the world, as we are without doubt one of the most creative and hard working people on earth. It hurts each time we all get painted with the same brush, when a Nigerian breaks the laws of the host country.

In Africa, the annual amount remittances received from its Diaspora is higher than the total foreign aid it gets annually, so let’s refocus our energy in the right areas. The Diaspora can contribute to Nigeria’s much needed development from their current abodes, by maximizing the opportunities presented by the advancement in information and communication technology, where physical location becomes less important in the new global village. The New Nigeria is a country that celebrates its heroes that exhibit our true values, home and abroad. These heroes that act as good ambassadors of our country by excelling against all odds in a foreign land, add positively to the challenge of re-branding the battered image of our great nation in the eyes of Nigerians and the International community.

Nigeria is on the rise as positive change, in high and low places, sweep across the face of the New Nigeria.  Long live the New Nigeria, as the old myopic regional way is swept aside by the new national and positive way.  One Nigeria forever and our true values must be passed onto the next generation of Nigerians!

I completed an MBA at the London South Bank University and my dissertation topic was: “Reversing Nigeria’s Brain Drain”. 

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