The unabated brain drain and the impending brain dearth


By Lakinbofa Goodluck

Nigeria’s future is threatened by factors that can be traced to one source – lack of vision and foresight on the part of the entrusted. A nation’s future is greatly endangered when there is no sustainable plan for its population, especially the ones that can significantly contribute to the economic advancement of the nation.

According to the National Population Commission, Nigeria’s population is currently estimated at 184million. The youths make up more than half of that population, those below age 30. The major challenges facing the country’s youth population are unemployment and unemployability. Statistics have shown that the youth unemployment rate in the country is over 25 percent. Whilst a significant percentage of the youths are genuinely unemployed even when they possess the right qualifications and skills, some youths are actually unemployed because they are not employable – they do not fit into the available job specifications. Beyond that the governments at various levels have not made strategic and long-term efforts to address these problems, they are also nonchalant about the magnitude of the ongoing brain drain, and the gradual dearth of skilled labour that is befalling the country.

As a result of the continued and seemingly hopeless socio-economic situation in the country, many skilled individuals have either found respite in other countries or they are in the process of activating their dreams. And gradually the skilled workforce Nigeria needs to power its economy is on slide without any plan of restoration in sight. For the purpose of this discourse, let us stratify the Nigerian workforce into three – the people at the lower echelon of the ladder, those in the middle and the ones at the top. The ones at the bottom are the semi-skilled artisans such as the electricians, plumbers, tilers, carpenters and the like. This category is often characterised by people with intermediate education – primary school leaving certificate to Ordinary National Diploma (OND). The local farmers that actually engage in the field work can also be added to this category.

The middlestratum consists of skilled individuals who have mostly become trained on the basis of attending university to obtain qualifications such as BSc or Masters. Interestingly, there are many young Nigerians with Master’sDegree yet unable to find a suitable employment. Before now a Master’s Degree would be an advantage for a job seeker but the story has changed. Many Master’s Degree holders actually pursued the degree as a way of getting busy while in search of a job, not necessarily to solve a problem or for career advancement.Those who find employment do soas interns or trainees for some years before they are offered full employment. Essentially, the people in this category are those at the entry level in offices, some of whom have also found breather in entrepreneurship.

The top category consists of the middle level managers and executives in the banks and other business institutions. This category can also accommodate the health practitioners and academics in our various higher institutions. In effect this category of people is gainfully employed but they constantly feel underpaid and undervalued for their hard work and contribution to their organisation. In essence, it becomes easier for them to find greener pastures elsewhere owing to their exposure to information and knowledge of the world in comparative context. The people in the middle and top category are more prone to brain drain than the people at the lower cadre. The other difference is while the people at the top and mid-level could afford the funds to emigrate legally, the people at the lower cadre do so illegally or through crooked means. This is why some Nigerians have opted to go through the Saharan Desert all the way to Libya with the hope terminating their sojourn in Europe. The common denominator in all this is that many are tired of the socio-economic situation of Nigeria.

Accordingly, some countries have perfectly positioned themselves to take advantage of the current predicament of Nigeria. Canada and Australia seem to be the leading countries in this regard. Lamenting the situation, a bank official recently stated that at least one family relocates to Canada on a weekly basis in the banking sector. The same situation is visible in the academic and health sectors. In the case of Canada, there seems to be a deliberate plan to recruit the best brains from Nigeria as it is a lot easier for a well-educated person to obtain the visa and green card easily.

The implication of the foregoing is the gradual shortage of manpower in the various sectors of our economy. A doctor recently intimated how Lagos State experienced mass exodus of nurses and was forced to hurriedly recruit nurses to fill up the vacancies. A recent poll by NOI Polls in partnership with Nigerian Health Watch revealed that about 8 out of every 10 (88 per cent) of medical doctors in Nigeria are currently seeking work opportunities abroad. The Chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association recently stated that more than 40,000 of the 75,000 registered Nigerian doctors were practising abroad. The Governor of Kebbi State recently lamented the unavailability of doctors and nurses to employ in the state. The Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Mathematical Centre (NMC), Prof AdewaleSolarin also decried the rate at which mathematicians are deserting the country. This is probably the norm in every sphere of our national life with skilled human capital finding means to leave the country.

It would have been much easier if there were ready and sufficiently skilled individuals to fill the vacuum created by the people leaving the country. But sadly it is even more difficult to find employable graduates to fill vacant roles in Nigeria. In other words to make a new graduate fit into a position requires that the person goes through some training which many employer are not willing to expend resources on. This is why many employers require years of experience even for entry level because they would rather pass the expense of training a new employee to another fellow or company. What this connotes is that every brain that is lost to another country does not have immediate replacement in Nigeria. Hence, we are gradually experiencing shortage in skilled labour.

Dispiritedly, a different scenario is occurring at the lower cadre of our labour force. Whilst the skilled labour force at the top stratum isimmigrating to other countries, jobs at the bottom of the ladder are gradually being taken over by immigrants from other countries.Case in point is the construction industry that thrives on the contribution of artisan. Many artisans in Nigeria have left their primary craft and have now become okada riders in various suburbs. According to report from the Nigerian Builders Association, the nation loses about 190billion to foreign artisans that have now dominated the construction industry in Nigeria. Speaking to the issue, the president of the association stated that the country currently lacks the skilled manpower to do the jobs in the construction industry and as a result, artisans are often imported from Togo, Benin and other neighbouring countries. The Vice President at a recent function decried this prevailing reality stating that the country has no business importing artisans. But what exactly will business owners do when they have jobs to do? Will they conclude that since there are no artisans in the country the job should not be done even when there is abundance of this workforce in nearby countries? The answer obviously is no. In spite of the unavailability of relevant data, a rough estimate provided by the National Builders Association stated that there are about 10, 000 foreign artisans currently earning livelihoods in Nigeria. This situation is not unconnected with the dilapidated state of our technical colleges that can best be described as ancient technical museums that are spread across the country.

So as the skilled workforce is exiting the country en masse, the semi-skilled labour force is confronted with a take-over of their jobs by people from neighbouring countries. Meanwhile many of the young school leavers that occupy the middle stratum of the labour are largely unemployable. If this ongoing pattern is not arrested Nigeria will be faced with a major labour crisis. Our industries will either resort to employing unqualified Nigerians to fill vacant positions or we continue to open up our borders for foreigners to take over while the unemployment rate continues to grow astronomically. The only way to arrest the impending brain dearth is to fix our educational system such that it will produce truly qualified skilled, individuals, provide better wages for the labour force, and to generally create a society that is socially and economically appealing by all standards.

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