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Nigeria brain drain

Nigeria 2023 Presidential Election – What will candidates do about brain drain from the country?

Nigeria brain drain

Author: Moremi Adeyinka. Over the last couple of decades, poor economic prospects in Nigeria have been fueling a brain drain from the country. Poor economy has also been aggravated by safety and security factors as concerned Nigerians look outside for themselves and/or family.

Nigeria was once destination for economic migrants with influx of healthcare, education and other skilled workers from foreign countries ranging from Ghana to Lebanon to India.

Today, Nigeria is the highest workforce exporting country in Africa.

What is brain drain

Brain drain is a phenomenon in which skilled workers migrate out of their countries to more developed countries in search of a better standard of living. These include better job opportunities and higher pay, better working conditions, and often most importantly social and political security.

In general Nigeria brain drain immigration to countries like UK, USA and Canada soared in the last 10 years. This trend escalated with mass emigration of Nigerian healthcare workers to developed countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2022, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) reported that Nigeria has about 24,000 actively licensed physicians caring for its over 200 million population. NMA lamented that out of that, about 10,200 have abandoned the country for jobs in other countries.

Less than 50% (30,000) of 80,000+ doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria are currently practicing in the country. And while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 4.45 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 1,000 population, Nigeria has below 2.1.

“We are witnessing an epidemic of brain drain,” said Dr Dare Godiya Ishaya, president of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

Nigeria brain drain
Source: International Journal for Equity in Health

The UK government published a report in August 2022 showing that 13,609 healthcare workers left Nigeria for the UK between 2021 to 2022. This is second only to India (42,966). See UK National statistics: Why do people come to the UK? To work.

Number of Nigerian doctors on UK register before and during COVID-19

Nigeria brain drain

International Journal for Equity in Health also reported that:

Before COVID-19, 88% (almost 9 in 10) of Nigerian doctors and about 50% of Nigerian nurses considered seeking job opportunities abroad, unless their working conditions improved. Unfortunately, the pandemic further strained the already fragile Nigerian healthcare system, resulting in serious negative impacts on its workforce.

With Nigeria’s healthcare system already in poor conditions, this exodus of health care workers to foreign countries only worsens the system.

See also Emigration of Nigerian Medical Doctors – Survey Report.

Nigeria brain drain is not limited to the healthcare sector. According to reports, Nigeria is the highest workforce exporting country in Africa. Infact, Nigeria is a top source country for international students and skilled workers in many professions.

For example, the poorly funded education sector is plagued with massive brain drain – even to other African countries. Frequent institution closures, student unrests, poor salaries and working conditions are among reasons cited for relocation to another country.

According to Wikipedia, the Naija entertainment industry, a relatively steadfast sector, is now experiencing the phenomenon. Wikipedia reports that some celebrities, including Opeyemi Aiyeola, Doris Simeon, Lara George, eLdee, Lola Alao, Regina Askia and Bayo Bankole migrated to other countries. See Brain drain from Nigeria – Wikipedia.

In many other sectors, thousands of young and mid-level skilled workers, intellectuals and creatives who should be working in Nigeria are leaving the country.

Nigeria is top target of developed countries immigration strategies and plans

As developed countries struggle with COVID-19 related labour shortages and economic downturn, Nigeria is featuring as a top source country for solutions.

Brilliant credentials, resourcefullness and committed service mentality of Nigerians have made them a top target of developed countries immigration strategies and plans.

The top list of foreign Nigeria brain wooers are United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, and Saudi-Arabia.

The Health Foundation’s REAL Centre in the UK published research showing that by 2030/31, up to an extra 488,000 healthcare staff would be needed to meet demand pressures and recover from the pandemic.

Canada in turn has designed several immigration packages to lure skilled workers from Nigeria. See for example Canada Express Entry immigration pool system. Infact, Nigeria is one of the very few countries for which Canada has fast tracked study permit to attract early potentials from Nigeria. See for example Canada’s Nigerian Student Express Program – Get Your Study Permit in 20 Days and New Canadian Permanent Residents from Nigeria to spike by 60%.

Impacts of Nigeria brain drain

Brain drain is a euphemism to put lightly what is really a devastating human capital flight! This video from BBC explains how brain drain is devastating Nigeria’s healthcare sector.

Brain drain is commonly cited as a devastating blow to Nigeria’s overall development. Consequences include the following. 

1. Degraded quality of service

Major effects of Nigeria brain drain is reduction in quality of service due to the absence of skilled workers in essential sectors. Brain drain from sectors like healthcare, tertiary education institutions and research centres is killing these sectors.

2. Decreased education standards

Nigerian universities in general, and teaching hospitals in particular are collapsing from loss of skilled manpower. This is also resulting in production of poorly credentialed graduates and quack professionals, creating major risks to lives.

3. Low or slow economic growth

The continuous outflow of human capital from Nigeria is causing serious decline in economic growth. Nigeria’s economic woes are directly correlated to brain drain. Human capital flight is proven to significantly impact the overall economy and consequently social stability.

It also impedes technological development and advances as it siphons skilled and innovative experts out of the country.

4. Poor public health services

Nigeria’s elites, including politicians, fly abroad for regular medical check ups and treatments while the general mortality rates keep climbing. Unfortunately as a result of Nigeria brain drain health care workers who should be providing similar care to the public have migrated to other countries.

Nigeria 2023 President Election candidates on Nigeria brain drain

Nigeria 2023 general election is an opportunity for Nigerians to explore what the various presidential candidates and parties will do to stemy Nigeria brain drain.

Recent migrants from Nigeria and established diaporans often cite the following issues for examination and reflection by the candidates:

  1. Unemployment and low paying jobs
  2. Unfavourable working conditions
  3. Lack of financial security
  4. High rate of poverty
  5. Poor health care and facilities
  6. Incessant social and political crises
  7. Poor leadership in governments and public service
  8. Corruption at all levels of governance

The following is what we found on the internet from the front running presidential candidates on the issue:

The PDP Party presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku, has long lamented Nigeria brain drain. See for example: Atiku Abubakar – Atiku laments brain drain out of Africa and Nigeria: Atiku Blames Brain Drain On SAP. He promises to revamp and grow the Nigerian healthcare system to stemy the drain, and create a reverse brain drain by enticing diasporans to return to Nigeria.

The APC Party candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, promised: “I’ll turn brain-drain in Nigeria’s health sector to brain gain if elected. He says he already has the master plan to upgrade leading health institutions to world-class standards. Tinubu made the statement at the Healthcare Transformation coalition (HTC), Symposium with the theme; ‘Repositioning the Healthcare Sector: Creating the Pathway to an Effective Health System’ in Abuja on January 14, 2023.

The Labour Party flag-bearer for the 2023 Nigeria presidential election, Mr Peter Obi has pledged to increase electricity generation, address brain drain, and implement Diaspora voting, among others if elected. Obi made the pledge on Sunday at Columbia University, New York while having a conversation on economic and government policy with Columbia’s Africa Business Club, Black Law Students Association, and the Nigerian Diaspora in New York. Full article at

The Social Democratic Party presidential candidate, Adewole Adebayo, has expressed progressive sentiments and plans for reversing Nigeria brain drain as part of a human rights based social and economic package. See for example SDP Presidential Candidate Pledges Human Rights Reform.