Nigeria has witnessed an uptick in the number of trained skilled workers migrating to other countries, particularly to the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Many of these emigrants are graduates trained in Nigerian universities, which are highly subsidized by the government and take with them years of training and skills to foreign countries. These human capital exports have raised many concerns about the consequent deprivation in many of Nigeria’s struggling sectors, particularly the health care and financial services sectors. Brain drain is the migration of middle-class and highly skilled professionals from Nigeria to other countries. This trend was initially restricted to certain professions but has now become widely spread across professions with the introduction of various visa programs to fill workforce gaps in developed nations.
The impact of highly skilled migration has been felt in many sectors of the country but has had unarguably the worst effect on the health care sector. A recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that the current doctor to patient ratio is at 4 doctors to 10,000 patients. The medical and dental association of Nigeria also recently announced that about 500 consultants had migrated from Nigeria in the last two years. Recent numbers also showed that between January and September 2022, the United Kingdom licensed about 1,307 Nigeria trained doctors while recent data released, shows that 10,296 doctors who obtained their degrees in Nigeria currently practice in the UK. The reasons for Nigeria’s persistent brain drain are visible. High unemployment rate, worsening insecurity, eroding consumer purchasing power, poor health care and low doctor to patient ratio, a failing educational system, political instability and widespread corruption are all push factors.
The consequence of Nigeria’s brain drain is evident. It is estimated that the country has spent about US$2bn in the training of doctors who have subsequently migrated. This problem is not limited to the health sector alone, the financial services sector has also in recent times lost a significant number of staff to the japa syndrome. Desai et al (2009) note that mass movement of Human capital such as this will have myriad effects on a developing country like Nigeria, many of which they consider beneficial. High skill emigration can be a cradle to facilitate trade, investment and ideas; a rich source of remittances; and a possible supply of high human capital if emigrants return. The mass emigration of highly skilled workers could also lead to increased wage levels for those left behind. However, losing a substantial portion of a country’s best minds may also have significant negative effects on the country such as a negative net fiscal effect and low productivity or total absence of skilled workers in many sectors. The outflow of talent may also make the country less attractive for foreign direct investments and may significantly drag economic growth.
To avert this trend, effective governance and administration are needed to kickstart several industries and create a conducive place for doing business, which will help create employment opportunities that will invariably boost economic output in the country. It is also pertinent to ensure that a safe and livable environment is created. Wages and conditions of services for many of the country’s core personnel must also be improved.