Reversing high toll of Nigerian pros abroad
THE signs have always been apparent but the true and vividly troubling picture of the outflow over the years of highly skilled Nigerians who strengthen foreign countries’ workforce was laid bare the other day by the European Union (EU): there are more Nigerian professionals in Europe than there are locally.
Not surprisingly, EU admonished that the situation could be detrimental to the country’s development. This is a new challenge for the new Buhari administration and a conscious attempt must, therefore, be made to create an enabling environment to attract as many as possible of the highly skilled home to join in the rebuilding effort.
That the country should be made to work henceforth to get Nigerians to take charge in every area of life is not negotiable.
The point is reinforced by the fact that many Nigerians are itching to return home but for the limiting factors of economic climate, lack of infrastructure, insecurity, being out of touch with home, and perhaps the false comfort of being overseas.
Obviously these are not totally irreversible conditions. EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Michel Arrion had explained that the Union welcomed legal immigration that enhances factors of production particularly labour in Europe.
The reason is not far-fetched: aging population characterises Europe and other western countries. “But we have to be careful sometimes about brain drain,” he noted. In this context, exodus of local talents must be reversed to become brain gain for the country.
Specifically, Arrion said: “There are more PhD holders of Nigerian origin in Europe or in America than in Nigeria…There are more Nigerian doctors and nurses in Europe and in America than in Nigeria.”
How true, how sad! The UNDP Human Development Report indicated that more than 21,000 Nigerian doctors were practising in the United States alone by1993 while the country suffers from a shortage of doctors.
If the number in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Europe, Australia and those in other African countries were to be added, the statistics would be close to 30,000, and that, 22 years ago! Today, given the economic tribulations the nation has endured with its consequent brain drain, the figure could be more than double.
With much of the country still essentially with unreliable infrastructure, according to International Organisation of Migration estimates, higher level science, engineering and medical professionals often find little to motivate them into staying, especially with job offers from the U.S. and European nations exerting a powerful pull.
In spite of the recent report of a growth rate of seven per cent for a country that desperately needs to rebuild and improve its resources, over 20,000 doctors and more than 10,000 academics in the U.S. alone with a Nigerian population in excess of two million, is a heavy loss.
Some other figures indicate that in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, Nigerians appear to work predominantly in the health sector followed by real estate and wholesale sectors.
In U.S. and Europe, 83 per cent and 46 per cent respectively of the Nigerian immigrant population are highly skilled. On the average, 64 per cent of the emigrant population fall into tertiary education group, a 2006 study showed.
In any case, it is not all gloom for the economy as the inflow of remittances to Nigeria moved up dramatically to about $17.9 billion as far back as 2007, according to CBN (about 6.7 per cent of GDP). One fact has emerged in all of these and it is that Nigerians are industrious and are globally rated for their skills and talents in all areas of human endeavour.
They have always excelled anywhere, and the country should be proud of that status of exporting quality hands. The positive message too is that they are out there in numbers competing favourably with the best around the world.
However, the snag has been the negative perception of Nigeria herself in the international community owing to successive deficient leadership.
Sadly, the culture of emigration is yet ingrained in the psyche of an average Nigerian professional. Movement is in droves for greener pastures but this can be curbed.
In the oil industry, after more than 50 years of discovery and production of oil, the country ought to boast of a sizeable number of Nigerian experts to run the industry effectively without over-reliance on foreign inputs.
How despicable it is that even now, the NNPC has no knowledge of what is being produced or taken out by the Joint Venture partners or operators, or at what cost. Effective monitoring of oil lifting is almost non-existent.
IOCs are no saints; they have been accused of bending regulations by venturing beyond agreed areas to source for oil to the country’s disadvantage.
It is regrettable that the NNPC runs on a model that does not work or is being sabotaged for selfish interests because some compatriots abound in the system who are willing to help the operators circumvent rules. Refineries are there only in name, and even fertilizer companies cannot be effectively run, either.
In engineering, why are there no local contractors as good as Julius Berger for example? Yet Nigeria can boast of reputed engineering schools and engineers who can hold their own in designs and construction across the world.
There is a lesson or two from Chinese current forays into foreign countries in these fields: if China had allowed uncontrolled invasion of its home by foreign companies and experts there won’t be enough ‘experts’ to send out as it does currently.
Nigerians are among the best brains in the medical field world-wide; it is logical then that they move to where they are respected for who they are and where their talents are recognised.
Ironically, medical tourism thrives so well here now as Nigerians, including the leadership, move abroad in thousands seeking treatment in the best hospitals since modern working tools and a conducive environment are not guaranteed at home.
Let the Nigerian professionals return! The nation should provide the tools and allow them to express themselves thereby reversing the ugly trend and saving scarce foreign exchange.
Nigerian professionals should be encouraged by a proper reward system. Achieving results cannot be by legislation alone but by motivation and genuine commitment on the part of the government.
With an appropriate environment, citizens, especially highly skilled professionals, will begin to see themselves as true Nigerians. The country’s best must be encouraged to return and join in the efforts to rebuild the country.