Globally, free movement of highly skilled professionals and experts is a positive thing. However, the cost to the home nations of migrating professionals is incalculable in terms of development opportunities and loss of investment.
UNESCO defines brain drain as an abnormal form of scientific exchange between countries, characterized by a one-way flow in favour of the most highly developed countries. Brain drain can also be described as the international transfer of knowledge and resources in the form of human capital and applies to the migration of academics, skilled professionals, technical manpower and experts from developing to developed countries.
Brain drain occurs in two ways. The first is the outright and direct out migration. The second refers to when graduates trained abroad refuse to return home. A country can be drained of physicians, academics, scientists, engineers, among others.
While on a reporting project supported by the Institute for Media and Society Lagos, PANOS West Africa and the European Union, Sunday Vanguard findings revealed that apart from political and cultural factors, the reasons many Nigerian best brains leave are economic which include poor salaries, lack of job opportunities, unemployment and inflation.
Some skilled workers said they decided to relocate from Nigeria in search of job satisfaction, higher standards of living, better salaries and educational progressive society.
Nigeria has, over the years, struggled with the crisis of brain drain in all sectors with medics not an exception. Findings revealed that as at 2010, a total of 637 doctors left Nigeria, accounting for 36 per cent reduction in expert migration figures.
About 227 doctors migrated from Nigeria last year alone. A report released on November 17,2015 by the Institute of International Education (IIE) disclosed that a total of 9,494 Nigerian students are currently studying in colleges and universities in the United States.
According to the report, Nigeria is the leading source of students from Africa and the 15th largest worldwide, of international students studying in America since 2012. For example, Nigerian students in the US studying primarily at the undergraduate level have about 50.2 percent enrollment at the undergraduate level, 35.2 percent at the graduate level and 12.6 percent pursuing optional practical training.
Approximately two percent engage in non-degree programs or short-term studies. The overall number of international students at American colleges and universities increased by 10 per cent to a record high of 974,926 in the 2014/2015 academic year, the highest rate in 35 years, according to the IIE's Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.
The effects of the brain drain enormous, resulting in more African engineers working in the US than those in the whole of Africa. A report by the United Nations estimated that are over the next decade, Africa will need to train an additional one million health care professionals and find ways to retain more of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory technicians it currently produces. Thus, the European Union, EU, through public enlightenment campaign, has been showing concern to ensure that the equation of brain drain is balanced globally.
Also, a report gotten from the International Organization For Migration (IOM) states:'"It would have cost the developed nations about $184,000 to train each of the estimated three million professionals educated in developing countries now working in the developed world, resulting in a savings of $552 billion dollars for the developed nations." In essence, developing nations like Nigeria is giving developmental assistance to the developed nations, making the rich nations richer and the poor nations poorer.
Speaking from Canada, Mr. Godwin Osai, a technician who had worked with Unilever Nigeria Plc, said:"My determination to move to Canada is for better opportunities for me and my wife. According to him, relocating to Canada will give his children brighter future.
Asked when he will return to Nigeria, Osai, who was pessimistic about Nigeria's economy, said: "Probably in the next 50 years when the Nigerian governments would have seen the need to provide jobs for its citizenry, give adequate security and put infrastructure in place".
On his part, Mr. Femi Odetokun, an electrical engineer, who works with the Gulftainer Company Limited, Sharjah, in United Arab Emirate (UAE), disclosed that he left Nigeria because of labour policy. "Nigeria labour policy does not favour us, it puts limitations on our career growth," he said.
Odetokun, who had worked with APM Terminals and Tin-can Island Container Terminal, TICT, in Nigeria, said in UAE, he has a good offer with outstanding welfare package that his job in Nigeria could not offer.
Also Mr Laja Thomas, who left Nigeria for Canada two years ago, disclosed that opportunity for career development and growth in whatever vocation or profession he desires were some of the factors that motivated his relocation. He added that, in Canada, the education and development of children are paramount to the government.
In Canada, he noted, it's a secure and safe environment with opportunities devoid of nepotism, favouritism or inequality.
"In Nigeria, it is the direct opposite. Why should I not leave? It is a blessed country that lacks electricity, basic utilities and infrastructure. Nigeria is a country of cancerous corruption, mismanagement of our commonwealth, irresponsible leadership, lack of good governance, failing infrastructure. Why should I desire to come back?,"Thomas said.
The challenge of reversing brain drain is huge but the opportunities it presents far outweigh the threats. Most of the developed nations have policies in place to attract skilled labour from across the world to fill their own vacuum. The United Kingdom, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand always update their policies to recruit this segment of international migrants.
The US doubled its H1-B visas from 65,000 to 130,000 largely due to great lobbying by the IT and other industries. This figure does not include the 586,000 students that are attracted to the U.S. institutions from across the world, annually. Britain's points system, adopted in 2006, ensures that only people with the right skills or contribution will be able to enter the UK to work or study.
There is no reason Nigeria should not have a similar policy in place to attract the best to accelerate national development. Nigeria alongside with most African countries still do not know how many of their professionals leave the country annually, why they leave, the number that return and why they returned. The impact of this lack of awareness by the Nigerian government and most developing nations can be shown by the lack of policies in place to curb the unaccounted flow of their much needed highly trained people and little or nothing in place to attract back those currently in the diaspora.