Nigeria and her Big Brain Drain

People say the “Nigerian Dream” is to leave Nigeria and frankly, one would not easily find many Nigerians who would argue that supposition.


To corroborate this point, one only needs to look at immigration data out of Nigeria and into most countries in the world. As the most populous African country on earth, there are no shortages when it comes to Nigerians’ reach around the world. In the US for example, 1st and 2nd generation Nigerian immigrants make up around 0.6% of the US’ population from foreign descent and have been identified as the “best educated” groups of immigrants entering the US even exceeding the average for the native American population in both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Nigerians are characteristically enterprising although the average income for Nigerian homes in the US only ranks a little above the general average annual income ($52,000/50,000) for immigrant families. However, as at 2012 managed to a sizable remittance of over $6bn – about three times more than aid disbursed to Nigeria by the US between 2012 and 2016. Among the 34 other OECD countries (excluding the US), Nigerian immigration increased by a combined 54.3% between 2000 and 2014 for reasons that take a firm root in Nigeria’s unrestrainedly expanding population and branches out into other issues such as seeking paid employment, education, tourism, etc. with Canada, Italy, UK and Germany coming out as other preferred destinations.

Living standards in Nigeria are not exactly utopian. With more than 60% of the “oil rich” Nigerian population living in poverty, it could more accurately be described as a developing country with so much “potential” but crippled anyway in a war against many demons. As a citizen of a developing country especially one like Nigeria, time teaches that the most valuable resources one needs to survive are in fact patience and perseverance; both will be tested by virtually every factor existing in the real world, every single thing from the availability of social amenities to religion and culture and even relationships with other Nigerians. From a subjective point of view, being a Nigerian is extremely draining; physically, emotionally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, everythingnally. As a Nigerian millennial especially, one is stuck in an unkind position between the last generation who probably saw anything good about being Nigerian and coming wide-eyed generations. Full of confidence and hope for the future, trusting the “sacrifices” and progress made by the preceding generation; hoping that in time and following the steps of their immediate predecessors, they may take up sizable chunks of the responsibility of nation building and develop it in an image that they see fit. They look forward in confidence that their predecessors have it all figured out while the predecessors stand with empty hands in a plundered wasteland; raised too proud to complain about the ills from the past but unwilling to disappoint those coming after as they have been disappointed by at least three successive generations before them.

While this remains the Nigerian reality, three groups of people become apparent. There are those whose patience have been so far depleted that they become desperate enough to attempt leaving the shores of the country by near literally any means; there are those who are wealthy or lucky enough to buy their ways out; and finally, there are those with no options but to remain. Somewhere in the description of the first two groups, Nigeria is haemorrhaging human resources, talents and expertise from all possible sources. Scientists, artists, start-up entrepreneurs, teachers, soldiers, sportspeople, IT specialists, inventors, etc. but arguably, there has been no sector hit as hard as that of medical practitioners. In fact, we estimate that at the rate the country is currently losing out on medical staff, in the space of just over decade, Nigeria will run out of qualified doctors, surgeons and nurses thus begin a miserable spiral into a public health crisis. Factually, who can blame them? I guess there is also a fourth group of those who have made up their minds; for better or worse.

Social media particularly, has been in recent years, filled with reports of high flying “Nigerians”. Reports range from scholars accepted into all US Ivy League colleges to literary and arts maestros. We read about the Nigerian man who created “cancer seeing” goggles to mathematicians and physicists making novel contributions to sciences. We hear very often about people like David Alaba, the Bayern Munich footballer; we hear about how grammy award winner, Seal’s real name is actually “Olusegun Olumide etc.” and more recently, current boxing World Champion: Anthony Joshua has had Nigerians pointing out that his middle names are “Olaseni Oluwafemi” which technically means he is a Yoruba man. If any of these people had chosen to remain in Nigeria, attempting to ply their trades and employ their abilities locally rather than choose the option of going abroad, whether the situations would be different is not far-fetched. The Nigerian system is broken from education to arts, sports, law enforcement, healthcare, politics and even the judiciary. Nigerians are a people who have fallen in love with their captors and romanticised the notions that resistance is futile; only god can save and worse still, from the current conditions as long as they remain on Nigerian soil, progress, the greater good, etc. are all secondary to the luxuries of feudal lords who own the land. For those however, who do not buy the narrative, the only way out is finding a way out of the country. Seemingly, the system cannot be repaired and this is a revelation borne out of the palpable frustrations of those who have tried and failed. It very rarely pays being the smart guy around here. I recall as an instance watching a video on the internet of Senator Ben Bruce breaking down the reasons why the aviation sector could not afford to be so backwards. It was a long almost ten minutes filled with facts and facts and figures and so on. The video was captioned: “Nigeria is the only place in the world where knowledge is not power.” Again, you would not find many Nigerians willing to argue this supposition.

In public universities for instance, from securing admission as a new entrant to enduring the gruelling dog years and dealing with the variables they produce to finally graduating puts one on through a miserable display of apathy and greed that more often than the system lets on, has an undesirable end where, frustrated past their limits, students end up taking their own lives. Nigerian lecturers have been known to demand everything from food and drinks to money, building materials and sexual favours in exchange for course credits and very often, “demand” euphemises the situation as they may be prepared to punish their victims with up to four extra semesters when compliance is not forthcoming. Sports administrators are known to be more concerned with “who sent you?” or “how much do I get in pay-outs?” or just how much government allocation they might be able to misappropriate than the real essence of the competition they have been charged with upholding. It really is no surprise that after the 2016 Olympics, Nigeria returned with only a bronze medal after a month of competition; talk about a golden bronze – one with God I suppose is a majority. Entrepreneurship is encouraged as the government cannot be bothered about stimulating job creation only to have the budding investments be strangled to death by incessant hoops of pointless “regulations”, multiple cut-throat taxations, unavailability of energy and credit facilities, etc. The consistency is shrill and chilling; the land may be green but very little of anything grows here. The president of the US as at the period when Nigeria had just gained her independence made a remark during his inaugural address. At the event, he made a point about hoe, from his perspective, a progressive and powerful democratic system might be forged and John F. Kennedy said, “…ask not what your country can do for you; rather ask what you can do for your country.” One might be willing to do anything for Nigeria, but whatever gifts with which you may have been endowed; “Nigeria’s” apparent primary objective is to frustrate them to their eventual death.

However, Nigerians are remarkably intelligent people and have been globally acclaimed for this quality. However while more and more of these gifted seeds keep falling on this bare rock, some to be eaten by the birds, some to be scorched by the sun, some to be trampled till they can sprout no more and some to be blown away by the wind or carried off by storms. What this means for Nigeria is that the best of what she has to offer are resources for other’s progress. Our topmost scholars leave and become teachers where they are offered better lives. Doctors, engineers for no faults of theirs, leave with their expertise, innovation and inventiveness (fun fact: the ONLY heart and kidney specialist surgeon IN THE WORLD is a Nigerian man – no, he doesn’t work in LASUCOM). The best of our artists leave and we have to enriching other economies through royalties from movie tickets, record sales and concert fees so we can enjoy the expression of their genius. Our fashion designers leave and create clothes that we cannot afford to buy. This leaves us with huge debt loads on procuring technology to improve our living standards; a life expectancy of 53 years (was 54 in 2014), and an unpleasant situation where the more we do, the more we have to do if we intend to at least keep up with a world that is so quickly leaving us behind. Whether through loss of revenue to foreign universities through which Nigeria sends nearly N2tr to other countries especially in Europe, the US and Ghana; losses in labour and productivity that otherwise would have been of gain to the country; perhaps even from loss of lives through immigration mishaps, the cost to Nigeria is alarming for present and future national prospects.

A friend of mine left after he finished studying medicine, he says he’s never coming back – he is a medical professional, it’s not like the US wants him to anyway. Another joined Louisiana State University and has become a valuable researcher pumping out peer-reviewed research papers practically every other month. Yet another is getting global acclaim as a programmer in Georgia where Obama himself gave him an award. Me? I believe in Ni… Hahaha! Come on.

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