Pillage of Nigeria's skilled workforce

The Nation

Migrating for greener pastures' has been a recurrent clause in Nigerians' daily conversations since the turn of the 1970's when the culture of military impunity and bastardization of the economy forced citizens to seek better opportunities and prosperity elsewhere.

Over the following decades, as the country's economic fortunes continued to plummet, more illustrious countries had tightened their borders, leaving majority of Nigerians to pursue less legitimate modes of migration such as the valleys of the shadow of death through the Sahara desert or the suicide mission through the Mediterranean Sea.

A lucky minority left through visa lotteries and educational tourism. Still, much of the skilled workforce- those referred to as the middle class which has now shrunk spectacularly- hung on to their relatively comfortable government jobs and were scarcely interested in abandoning their pensionable appointments for an uncertain and apparently less secure opportunities abroad.

Alas! The times have changed in a remarkable way. As I write, almost every health professional that I know who is less than 50 years, has either migrated or is planning to migrate to the UK, Australia and Canada. This set of people includes accomplished doctors in government hospitals who are happy to divorce the thoughts of pension and gratuity to relocate to Canada or Australia.

The UK's Professional and Language Assessment Board (PLAB) is currently inundated with applications from Nigerian medical practitioners desperately vying to move permanently to Britain to ply their trade. To say it matter-of-factly, doctors who are laid back and not interested in migrating seem to be either too old to make the move, too rich to bother or do not have the right information or clue about what practice elsewhere means or promises.

Australia and Canada which have more robust immigration programmes are attracting not only health professionals, but all manner of skilled professionals; and our lawyers, engineers, scientists and academics are taking full advantage. From my own observation, it seems to no longer matter if some will not eventually practice their particular professions or whether they have to settle for less dignifying jobs (which pay better than white collar jobs at home, by the way), the goal is to leave!

Why are these countries opening up their borders and stealing our skilled manpower?

There are many reasons smarter countries are picking the best brains from around the underdeveloped or developing world. Firstly, every serious country recognizes the role its skilled workforce plays in economic development. In the area of health, for example, doctors and nurses from third world countries such as India and Nigeria make up the huge percentage of health professionals practicing in the UK, US and Canada. Rich Nigerians who can afford the humongous bills paid for treatment abroad will recognize that they are in many cases attended to by fellow Nigerians. The monies spent abroad go into the economy of those nations. This practice of having to travel seven lands and seven seas to meet fellow citizens practicing in places that have been cleaned up is synonymous to the other equally appalling culture of exporting our crude and paying mouth-watering amounts to buy them back as refined products.

Secondly, while these nations rake in the monies that should have gone into developing our own healthcare, they are also using our skilled manpower to make up for their own aging populations or shortages of skilled workforce. For instance, according to the 2016 Canada census, it is projected that by 2031 one in every four Canadians will be over 65 years of age. This statistics will get scarier with time as more and more people in Western societies are less worried about making babies. Therefore, the policy of importing younger, competent personnel sounds like a good idea. For the immigrants it may not be all rosy. There is the threat posed by xenophobes, racists and white supremacists which will always leave the feeling of nostalgia for a home that can be considered safer, even if only safer; but that is a story for another day.

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