In the same week Nigeria celebrated the 61st anniversary of its independence, social media was abuzz with pictures of its citizens celebrating their escape from the country. 2021 has seen a rapid rise in the emigration rate of the country the likes of which have not been seen since the economic crisis of the late 80s when Andrew captivated television audiences nationwide with his self-assured determination to ‘check out’ of a country where nothing worked and find greener pastures elsewhere.
No one flees home unless the conditions at home are too harmful to them. Historically, Nigerians have always emigrated when the economic situation in the country became too dire. Following the wasteful spending of the newfound oil wealth on capital intensive projects like the Ajaokuta Steel Complex and the Festival Of Arts And Culture throughout the 70s, and a drop in global oil prices, Nigeria fell into great debt in the early 80s.
All this led to the first major economic crisis in the country; the breakdown of infrastructure and social services like health and education, rising inflation, unemployment, and chronic shortage of basic consumer goods like milk, a decline in the general standard of living. As a result of this Nigerians fled en masse to Europe and America in pursuit of happiness and a better life.
While the economic crisis of the 80s fuelled the first wave of mass emigration in Nigeria, the EndSARS protests and the government’s response to it, is one of the major factors driving this second wave. The protest reflected a growing dissatisfaction among the youth population with the direction in which the country was headed and the government’s response with the Lekki Tollgate massacre was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
Ahmed, a UX designer who recently moved to the UK said the incidents of Oct 20 was the reason for his decision to finally leave: “I was fed up, the living conditions in the country are getting worse day after day. You try to stay and work honestly but you get harassed by the police, you protest against this harassment and you could get killed. It just isn’t worth it.”
The medical sector has for the longest time been the worst hit by the emigration crisis in Nigeria, between April and May at least 200 Nigerian doctors were licensed to practise medicine in the UK. There is a high demand for skilled doctors and other medical personnel outside the country but the introduction of visa programs to fill workforce gaps by developed countries has created a path for members of other professions to leave the country. For instance, the UK Tech Nation visa enables skilled personnel in the technology industry to move to the UK for work.
Officially there is no policy to address this trend but recent actions of the government have shown that it is not exactly pleased with this state of affairs. For example, men of the Department of State Security disrupted a recruitment exercise for Nigerian doctors by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health. Also, the shortage of passport booklets which is to be provided by the Nigerian Immigration Service, the official body for regulating migration in and out of the country has prevented many people from leaving the country.
The migration of skilled personnel to other developed countries poses a huge threat to the development of future human capital in the country. A lot of government money is being spent in giving subsidised education to people who would eventually take their skills to another country to practice thereby wasting the investment in their education.
According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, it cost an African country between $21,000 and $59,000 to train a doctor, Nigeria along with eight other African countries have lost approximately $2 billion in training doctors who no longer practise in the country since 2010. Also, the income that would accrue to the government from the income taxes of these skilled workers is lost.
Leaving the country you have known to start all over again in a strange land, braving racism and all sorts of discriminatory treatment is never easy. But when your home no longer feels like home, when the security of your life and property cannot be guaranteed, when you are unable to find gainful employment then leaving becomes the only viable option and many Nigerians will continue to do so unless the government finds a solution to these problems.