Brain Drain Taking a Toll on Africa’s Largest Economy

Insufficient manpower contributing to Nigeria's poor state of health care
By Toluwani Eniola, Special to The Epoch Times
October 16, 2018 Updated: October 16, 2018

LAGOS, Nigeria—Gaining admission to study public health at Harvard University last year was a career breakthrough for Luke Adeola (not his real name), a Nigerian medical doctor.

Adeola’s plan was to get his master’s and return to Nigeria to continue his budding career. A few months after graduating from Harvard, the 34-year-old has not returned home.

“I don’t want to go back to Nigeria now because of job insecurity,” Adeola told The Epoch Times. “Doctors are more fulfilled and valued here in the U.S.”

It is not only doctors like Adeola who are leaving the country for better opportunities. Nigerian professionals in other fields such as the arts, sciences, and engineering are not leaving anything to chance and seeking better career fulfillment overseas.

A woman holds her sick child as she waits for a doctor in Nigeria.
A woman holds her sick child as she waits for a doctor at the Hasiya Bayero Paediatric Hospital, Kano, Nigeria, in this file photo. (Toluwani Aniola/Special to The Epoch Times)

These Nigerian professionals are scattered all over the Americas, Europe, and Asia, in what has been described as Nigeria’s brain drain epidemic, fueling concerns about the depleting human capital needed to sustain Africa’s largest economy.

The Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, reported in 2015 that “376,000 Nigerian immigrants and their children (the first and second generation) live in the United States, and Nigeria is the largest source of African immigrants to the United States.”

Economic Loss

Brain drain is a big threat to the country’s economy, which has plummeted in recent times, owing to the dip in oil revenues.

The loss of skilled manpower to other countries has major implications. For instance, Nigerian universities don’t seem as attractive to students as more academics choose to leave the country, which in turn motivates more students to go abroad in pursuit of better education. Analysts say this has adverse effects on foreign exchange as Nigerians spend millions of dollars abroad for the education they could get at home.

According to the 2017 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange, 11,710 Nigerians studied in the United States for the 2016–2017 academic year alone. This is a 9.7 percent increase over the previous academic year.

Brain drain also costs Nigeria significantly in the health sector as many Nigerians are increasingly embracing medical tourism because of inadequate medical expertise back home. Nigeria’s minister of state for health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, lamented this loss last year when he stated that the country loses up to $1 billion annually to medical tourism.

Peter Mba and Chike Ekeopara from the University of Calabar in Nigeria say there are several factors that contribute to talent leaving the country.

“The downturn in economic growth in Nigeria can be linked to brain drain owing to several factors such as lack of investment, institutional failure, violent crime, multidimensional corruption, and inadequate infrastructures,” they wrote in a paper.

“The professionals that are emigrating out of Nigeria include those with technical expertise, entrepreneurial and managerial skills and in the new world order; economic growth is driven by people with knowledge.”

Leaving Home

The looming fear of job insecurity and poor pay and infrastructure in the Nigerian health sector are what is discouraging doctors like Adeola, who have pitched their tents abroad, from going back home

Similarly, these factors are also contributing to a rise in emigration of Nigerian doctors, triggering concerns in the Nigerian health care system.

Patients await treatment at the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital in Lafia.
Patients await treatment at the Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital in Lafia, Nasarawa State, Nigeria, in this file photo. (Toluwani Aniola/Special to The Epoch Times)

“We were up to 150 who graduated as doctors in my class at the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital in Nigeria. About 50 of my classmates have relocated abroad,” Adeola said.

“Everyday, I get calls of inquiry from my colleagues back home. They tell me they want to leave Nigeria.”

Adeola explained that the situation is so bad that even those who had completed their residency in Nigeria want to come to the United States to start all over again.

Frustrated by the working conditions in Nigeria, last year, Taiwo Omotayo, another budding Nigerian doctor, enrolled for the two-part Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test. The tests are mandatory to work as a doctor in the UK.

“I was happy to leave Nigeria and work in the UK. You cannot compare the two countries because the difference is just too much,” said Omotayo, who recalled his experiences in a phone interview with The Epoch Times from the UK.

Top Destinations

The United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and the Middle East are the top destinations for these doctors, according to the Nigerian polling organization NOIPolls.

According to a report by NOIPolls and Nigeria Health Watch, 88 percent of medical doctors in Nigeria were scouting for work opportunities abroad in 2017. The United States is the second top destination, according to the think tank.

The Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria lists about 72,000 registered medical doctors, but only around 35,000 are working in the country.

State of Health Care

Insufficient manpower, compounded by the brain drain, are contributing to Nigeria’s poor ranking in various health performance indices. In January, the U.N. Children’s Fund ranked Nigeria as 11th in a global ranking of countries with a high mortality rate for children.

“The unfortunate thing is that the few remaining ones in Nigeria are planning to leave. This is a far deeper crisis than we are giving necessary attention to,” Adeola said.

In an ironic twist, Mike Ogirima, the immediate past president of the Nigerian Medical Association, supports the migration of Nigerian doctors, but laments it is unfortunate that Nigeria has become “a training ground for doctors in the U.S. and Canada and other destinations.”

Ogirima advocates for doctors to leave the country because it is within the confines of their rights.

“I personally will encourage them [doctors] to leave because they need to survive first as medical professionals. When they complete their training in Nigeria and they don’t get their desired job, they are open to better options abroad,” he told The Epoch Times.

“We have proffered different solutions such as improved working conditions, increased the budget for health in Nigeria, but nothing has changed.”