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Brain Drain and Nigeria’s Hypothetical Wealth

In today’s world, economic migration is a common theme, particularly with a focus on its effects on underdeveloped and developing countries. Nigeria, a country renowned for its mass youthful population, continues to tether along a frail balance. 

Crucial factors support this tightrope Nigeria walks on: its state competency, human resource efficiency, and hard technological optimization. However, Nigeria’s state competency and hard technological optimization continue to stagnate because its foremost element of economic development—its best and brightest people—are fleeing its shores. 

The Million-Naira Question

Being young in Nigeria equates to being halfway optimistic and halfway pessimistic. While scrolling through social media, it’s common to come across success stories of young Nigerian professionals and notice a crucial detail: they live and work outside Nigeria. At this point, the psychological effect of Japa sets in. 

Japa, a Yoruba word that means ‘to flee,’ is the famous slang Nigerians use when emigrating. Likewise, the term ‘brain drain’ means the loss of a country’s human capital resources to other countries. The famous million-naira question arises: Why do people Japa

According to a research study by EE Emeghara in 2013, there are push and pull factors affecting Nigeria’s brain drain. Nigeria’s economic instability, rising inflation rate, poor infrastructural development, and insecurity are demoralizing factors driving the brain drain. On the contrary, attracting factors responsible for Nigeria’s brain drain are a higher standard of living, social freedom, exciting job prospects, and political stability. 

Brain drain

Migration data shows most developed nations seek skilled workers to migrate to their shores. Thus creating a demand for a young workforce from other countries. Unfortunately, Nigeria plays the role of a feeder country, losing skilled workers by hundreds of thousands in the past decade alone. 

A 2022 UK immigration statistical report revealed that over 13,609 healthcare workers immigrated to the UK from Nigeria between 2021 and 2022. Taking a look at the WHO’s requirement of 4.45 healthcare workers per 1000 persons: Nigeria currently has a healthcare worker-to-population ratio of less than 2.21 per 1000. This data reveals the Nigerian healthcare industry is barely standing on its two legs. 

Yet a carefree nature to Nigeria’s data record: the loss of engineers, lawyers, accountants, scientists, and vocational workers are unavailable.  It is safe to say the Nigerian government has no data on the loss of this section of its labor force, proving they believe the country has an abundance of skilled workers. Moreover, they believe Nigeria’s wealth lies in its mineral resources, thus misunderstanding economic development principles.

Nigeria’s imaginary wealth

Indeed, there is a popular misconception about Nigerian mineral resources. This misbelief shares similar infamy with the infamous quote by Nigeria’s former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, who said, “Money is not a problem in Nigeria, but how to spend it.” 

Many Nigerians, including the government, share the sentiment that Nigeria is a wealthy country since it possesses an abundance of fossil fuels, mineral resources, and vast arable land. However, this opinion falls flat on its face when it attempts to stand alone. 

Firstly, mineral resources amount to nothing if they are not optimized. In 2023, the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative released figures revealing the contribution of the solid minerals sector to Nigeria’s revenue in the past 13 years. The Nigerian solid minerals sector generated an income of $1.4 billion, whereas the oil sector—Nigeria’s focal revenue source—generated $394 billion in the past decade.

An examination of East Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea reveals immense economic development despite their meagre mineral reserves. The lesson to gain from the East Asian economic model is its profound investment in human capital resources. And long-term social and political stability. In simpler terms, Japan is great, not because of its land or mineral resources but because of the Japanese people. 

Fixing Nigeria’s Brain Drain

After answering the million-naira question on why Nigerians Japa, the next question is a billion-naira question: How do we stop our brain drain? A simple answer is a draconian measure: outrightly banning emigration. In most cases, the Nigerian government has a history of enacting draconian measures rather than addressing the root cause of the problem. 

Without a doubt, this solution might slow emigration, but Nigerians will seek illegal means to flee. I believe the viable solution is the effective utilisation of human resources by creating measures that enable people to create value.

Ultimately, if the Nigerian government continues to misdirect its focus, the country’s brain drain will continue to leave a hole in Nigeria’s workforce. Although human capital is not an infinite resource, Nigeria remains a nation of enormous potential because of its people—its best and brightest—and its young workforce, who can create value. Nigeria will experience tremendous growth when it answers the crucial question: How can we make Nigerians create immense value? 

Olorunfemi Olaleye

Olorunfemi Olaleye is a Nigerian writer who writes about life, society, and Nigeria. He publishes a weekly newsletter on substack, where he addresses the Nigerian human condition. Moreover, his stories have been published in Iskanchi Magazine, Kalahari Review, and JAYLIT.