How brain drain suffocates Nigeria’s health care delivery

The continuous exodus of professionals for greener pastures abroad, especially in the education and health sectors of the economy, is causing hiccups in health care delivery; ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

In the 70s and early 80s, Nigeria was home to many foreigners who thronged into the country in search of greener pastures. Today, the reverse is the case as the trend is that many Nigerians, especially professionals in different sectors, now leave the country for overseas in droves.

This exit is not based on government’s Technical Aid Corps scheme by which the country loans her skilled expatriates to help other countries in need of help, but in this case, according to a local, popular parlance used these days, they simply want to japa, which means to leave jet out of the country out of frustration.

Reports from medical field

This emigration of professionals cuts across many areas, especially in teaching, medical and ICT. For instance, in the last one year, investigation reveals that over 13,000 medical personnel have left the country for UK and western nations in search of greener pastures.

According to the UK immigration report released recently, Nigeria is second only to Indian in the number of visas granted to skilled workers under healthcare.

Also, according to the outcome of 2017 NOI Poll result carried out in partnership with Health Watch Nigeria, 88 per cent of indigenous medical personnel sought opportunities to migrate abroad to work.

In the same vein, the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) says more than 100 of its members left the country for greener pastures in 2021 alone.

The president of MDCAN, Victor Makanjuola, said 17 tertiary health institutions in the country were affected by the movement. According to him, the resignation of medical consultants and subsequent movement to overseas countries has affected the services in that sector significantly.

Currently, Nigeria’s doctor-to- patient ratio is 1:2,753 as against the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) minimum recommendation of 1:400 and this is likely to be worse as medical personnel continue to migrate from the country.

As at the end of June 2022, investigation shows that Nigerians made up 15,772 of the work visas application requests granted for migrations abroad. This is a 303 percent increase when compared to the 3,918 granted in 2019.

India has the highest with 45 per cent (42,966) while Philippines is third with 11 per cent of 11,021.


It is the same in the education sector where reports so far indicate that a good number of lecturers have left with many still leaving the nation’s ivory towers. This is particularly exacerbated by the ongoing prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) over disagreement with the government.

For instance, in the University of Lagos, it may not remain the same again at the end of the ongoing strike.

The chapter chairman of ASUU, Dr. Dele Ashiru, recently disclosed that about 70 per cent of the institution’s best lecturers have resigned.

“The impact of government’s insensitivity and deployment of weapons of hunger might not be immediately known until after the strike. At the moment, more than 70 percent of the young and promising academics retained by the university through mentorship have all left the country for greener pastures due to the poor conditions of service in the country.

“Those that are left are on the verge of leaving. No government in the history of Nigeria has been so insensitive, brash and disrespectful of the best brains in the country. This is unfortunate and a shame,” he said.

In Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife, it is the same story. The institution’s ASUU chairman, D.r Adeola Egbedokun, said the institution is already besieged with mass resignation of lecturers who want to relocate abroad.

So, it is with the Federal University of Technology Akure where its chapter chairman of ASUU, Oluyinka Awopetu, said lecturers are resigning in their numbers and relocating abroad.

“Of course, there are lecturers that are traveling out of the country in pursuance of further qualifications.

“It is impossible to say they abandoned the profession authoritatively. Others sought ways of coping in these difficult and trying times as well. One may not be able to say if they are coming back or not,” he said.

More reactions

Professionals who spoke on this development said the trend portends a bleak future for the country in terms of human, capital and economic development.

An sssociate professor in OAU, Dr. Opemiposi Blessing, said, “The mass exodus of professionals from the country would put the nation’s future in jeopardy as the implications would be enormous. If not corrected on time, it portends a bleak future for the country.”

She attributed the development to the lack of necessary impetus, insecurity, good working conditions and other social facilities that aid business operations, desire for conducive working and learning environments, crumbling economy, amongst other factors.

According to Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, the president of ASUU, “So many lecturers are leaving to engage in farming and others; they are tired of the treatment they’re receiving from the government and because of this, they are looking for alternatives. So, many more would leave even after the strike too. I pity the country; Nigeria would be the loser for it.”

In his contribution, Otunba Stephen Olawale of the Lagos business Forum said “Nigeria faces a dark future as her investments in human development are being utilised in other nations.”

He said brain drain has led to the debacles being experienced across sectors of the nation.

“The ratio of professionals to clients, especially in the public sector keeps declining, leading to poor service delivery, high importation, medical tourism and everything else that comes with inadequate manpower,” he said.

Olawale said further, “The solutions to the issues are to improve our country’s security, infrastructure, and health care, minimise corruption, pay good remuneration and people would not be too eager to leave.”

He added that the political class should play less politics with people’s lives and be circumspect with government policies the moment they are in power.

Old story

A lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Abuja, Dr. Ocheche Eneje, however, said the issue of brain drain “is not new in Nigeria,” and so there’s no need to cry foul.

Dr. Eneje who spoke to Blueprint Weekend at the premises of his side business in Dutse area of Abuja, however, blamed the crisis rocking various sectors on what he called external and internal factors.

He said, “It is no longer a new thing to talk about brain drain. The phenomenon had been with us since independence. What however I need to let you know is that there are both internal and external factors causing brain drain. You may say the current and even previous misunderstandings between the government and lecturers may be the internal factor, but beyond that external influences such as overtures from Western nations to lure local expatriates abroad also contribute to the migration of skilled workers.

“This happens when there is a weak government that cares less for its professional class. If not that, how on earth would a government allows its highest level of higher institutions to be shut down for seven months without blinking an eye? Even if you care less for the welfare of lecturers, what about our children who are at the receiving end? America can go to any length to do anything for her citizens; that is why there is absolute loyalty from every typical American, but that is not the case of Nigeria that has elevated political offices ahead of education. We have to move beyond that primordial sentiment if we need to grow.”

The increasing rate of brain drain has led to the closure of most government-owned institutions, while the fate of many other critical institutions still rendering services are at downward trend across the country due to shortage of manpower.

Studies reveal that one of the economic effects of migration is that it leads to brain drain, a situation where a country witnesses a high number of its best hands or professionals leaving the country. Amazingly, the crop of individuals leaving the country are youths who have been trained and graduated from university; some are young or in the middle level of their professional careers.

According to the African Union, Revised Policy Framework for Africa and Plan of Action (2018-2027), an estimated 70,000 skilled professionals emigrate from Africa each year. The report says Nigeria lost over 9000 medical doctors to the United Kingdom, Canada, and the US between 2016 and 2018. With a depleting number of medical doctors, Nigeria annually spends between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion on medical tourism. Brain drain therefore cuts across many sectors and professions.