Brain drain:  the Nigerian Situation


Dr. Jide Adelugba



In our present day Nigeria, the state of socio-economic development dictates the necessity to harness all our resources for the betterment of our people.  The situation of everyday living in Nigeria needs no further documentation; we all know that it is very bad when compared with that of advanced countries of Western Europe and North America.


Standard dictionary  defines brain drain “as the loss of skilled intellectual and technical labour through the movement of such labour to more favourable geographic, economic, or professional environ , depletion or loss of intellectual and technical personnel,   a gradual depletion of energy or resources; a drain of young talent by emigration"


By way of explanation, brain drain is a popular euphemism for the phenomenon whereby a significantly large number of highly skilled individuals leave a particular geographical area, usually their nations of origin, for other   nations   over a comparatively short period of time because of a variety of reasons. Consequently the area from where they departed are  impoverished  one way or the other. Essentially their nations of origin are denied the services and expertise they would have otherwise provided.  This phenomenon would resonate with the Nigerian society. It has its hands in the deteriorating situation of our institutions of higher learning; it   is visible in our major industries. The private sector is denied the experience such people would have brought to bear on the economy.


The root cause of brain drain in Nigeria lies with our successive leaderships and governments that have demonstrated, very convincingly,  that the interest of Nigeria and its citizens were never their priority. They relentlessly pursued their own agenda

It is doubtful if one can really discuss the issue of brain drain without making some reference to patriotism. Patriotism, that is, love and devotion to one’s country can not be absolute, quite often it is situated in an identifiable social context. Is patriotism present in deficient proportion in Nigerians working and living in advanced countries? Absolutely not, however, it may be so if patriotism is defined in a narrow sense and out of context with prevailing conditions in Nigeria.  Otherwise how can one explain the apparent complacency of Nigerian professionals abroad when they keep on toiling day and night to oil the machine of development and advancement of the industrialized and advanced economies of Western Europe and North America to the detriment of their home countries?


Because of the untoward effects of brain drain on Nigeria it would seem to me that the issue has to be confronted. The reason being that it is a problem to which there are solutions. For too long a time the developed world had used all sorts of tactics to exploit the nations of Africa and indeed other developing nations.  History books are replete with examples of how and to what extent the resources of third world nations have been plundered.  How our leaders   supported and actively impoverish the developing nations is a topic for discussion that is best left for another opportune time.


In modern times this exploitation of developing nations by advanced economies and democracies continues unabated though in different forms with varying degree of severity. For the purpose of this discourse I would concentrate on the often ignored   topic of brain drain in favour of developed nations.


Presently, exploitation by the west is in disguised forms of subtle manipulation and propaganda engineered by their various institutions. These institutions are attached to their military, industrial and economic complexes.


The gradient and outflow of brain drain in favour of the developed world should be a major source of concern to the developing nations and their governments at all levels. Nigeria is a prototype of such nations.     If the ideals of United Nations are honestly pursued, the issue of brain drain should attract their attention even at the Security Council level. Notwithstanding the legitimacy or otherwise of the causes of  brain drain  the fact is, brain drain  is causing incalculable damage to Nigeria and other developing nations.


The impact of having developing nations devoid of the prerequisite manpower can not but be related to some of the things that make the often belated and inadequate UN intervention inevitable.

It is high time the issue of brain drain got the attention it deserves. Apart  from bad governments  that characterise  developing nations  and their economies  perhaps  there is no  singularly important  issue  that ,if addressed properly,   in a very patriotic and honest way can turn  these countries around.


Pre and post independence   the Nigerian nation had monumental increase in educational opportunities for Nigerians both within and outside the country and consequently increased rate of manpower development. The expectation was that all this would translate into recognisable   improvement in infrastructural development and the betterment of life for all Nigerians.  To some extent that was beginning to happen before bad politics and the immaturity of military intervention redirected the course of Nigeria development and history.


Nigerian leaders and lovers of Nigeria all over the world should be aware of the extent of brain drain in all spheres of human endeavours and in particular   healthcare disciplines. There are Nigerian doctors working in all   hospitals in major cities and towns in the developed world. To crown it all these doctors had their primary medical education and in some cases postgraduate training in Nigeria.  As if the aforementioned is not enough, these Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora had their education   free of charge at the expense of the various Nigerian governments -state and federal.


There are various reasons why professionals, for example, doctors decide to live and work in developed world.  Irrespective of the propriety of such decisions the current situation is that the issue should be addressed at the highest level of government.


At the risk of being criticised by colleagues it would seem to me   that reasons other than those related to patriotic zeal are keeping us away. These can be understandable when all factors are considered.  In some cases it would be suicidal, in a manner of speaking, if some of us just literally plunge ourselves into the ocean of the current Nigerian situation.


One can pontificate a lot about the root causes of brain-drain. I think it is high time the issue was brought to the fore,

It would seem to me  that  instead of  a great  deal of  pledging  or  in some cases   giving millions  of dollars   to African nations  in the form of Aids ,the developed world  should work with   African nations to honestly address the root causes of what make their philanthropy inevitable.


In a very practical way   western governments can work with national governments of Africa on the active encouragement of the reversal of brain-drain. What aid money can replace the socio economic impact of the services of our highly skilled medical doctors on the welfare of our people?  


The impact of doctors from developing world going back to their countries of origin on the developed world is better imagined. Who in his right senses in the UK or Canada, for examples, would want to see doctors from developing countries out of their healthcare system?  The reality is that their healthcare systems would collapse.  


In the past it was fashionable for the western world to use the influence of raw and physical power to exploit   unwilling nations. In this day and age all the developed nations need do is to have coherent and well thought out policies that would address their needs taking into consideration the gullibility of poor nations.  For this reason I often question the altruistic nature of their benevolence to developing nations.    The irony of it is that the best brain and supposedly the most useful segments of Nigeria and indeed the developing nations have voluntarily turned themselves into useful and viable tools in the hands of the western world.

The  aforementioned may be nothing short of whining  as  one can not complain of having his head shaven when in fact he voluntarily participated by sitting very calmly for the barber to do the shaving.


The blame for brain drain lies squarely with the various governments that have ruled the developing nations of Africa. Those governments, through their ineptitude and lack of vision, have turned their populations with productive capacities to willing sophisticated slaves in foreign lands.  


It is shameful   to see regularly on the television   the tell-tale signs of economic and administrative poverties of the developing nations.


It is not in the interest of developing nations that this trend should continue unabated.  The idea of free, trade globalisation   and free movement of labour would find new meanings with the apologists of brain drain.  For the Nigerian people the impact of brain drain is too costly and should no longer be ignored.


I would illustrate with a relatively   understandable field of mental health where properly trained personnel are the mainstay of advanced and sophisticated   mental healthcare delivery systems.  There are states within the country where there is not even a psychiatrist in their public service neither do they have one working within their territory. In these instances one is not talking about deterioration of the state of the art medical equipment and inability to buy new medical technologies etc.  What is staring all of us in the face is the failure of coherent mental health policy   or complete absence of such a policy.


The improvement to the life of the nation and that of ordinary Nigerians would increase exponentially if our drained manpower is back home where it rightly belongs.


There is need to bring the issue of brain drain to national and international consciousness, we have ignored it for too long and much to our own peril.  The federal government and the national assemblies must discuss it. Nigeria deserves the establishment of a commission to look into the magnitude of the problems and proffer solutions.    A very practicable way of addressing it is for Nigerian governments – local, state and federal   to actively address the issue. The details of this can be worked out by the commission.


The federal government can also bring it up at the United Nations.   Any keen observer of international politics would know that the  ‘super powers’ in the UN  would  make it look like a storm in the tea pot, the reason being that it is not in their interest to take the issue further in a very serious manner.


Our professionals abroad are worth more than any aids from the developed nations. It is high time our governments both federal and states took steps to encourage the reversal of brain drain which is terribly hurting our economy and the wellbeing of Nigeria. A whole generation and a variety of expertise are literally vaporizing from the surface called Nigeria. It would be too simplistic to see these professionals as unpatriotic rather the governments should address factors that facilitate their exodus from the country.


The implications for the socioeconomic welfare of our people will be invaluable even if fifty percent of Nigerian professionals currently abroad, especially medical doctors, were back working and living in Nigeria.  Simply put, the best indirect way of addressing the problem is the return of hope and a sense of having irreversible, increasingly responsible and humane government in Nigeria. This translates to selfless leadership with vision and mission.


Nigeria really has no alternative other than having governments and leaders that can demonstrably inspire in us the need to believe that our individual and collective hopes and aspirations can be achieved within the country.


In addition to setting up a national commission to look into it, Nigeria can use its influence with the leaders of the developed nations to bring the implications of brain drain for the developing nations to the international community -. United Nations, European Union  , African Union etc.    


In respect of the issue of brain–drain the developed nations are reaping and bountifully too where they did not sow. This phenomenon makes Nigeria  and  other developing nations poor. It is far cheaper for them to encourage, by whatever means including policy orientation, the influx of the best brains from developing world. Unfortunately, bad governments in the developing nations with their attendant poor planning and reckless disregard for their future generations are all too conducive for the maintenance of the status-quo.   Unlike most of their African counterparts western leaders are periodically at the mercy of the electorates, as such they can not afford to be arrogant, shamelessly corrupt and above all careless about the welfare of their people.


I would rather want the Western World work with developing nations on ways and means of reversing brain drain instead of pursuing vigorous aids policy coupled with avoidable and often inevitable philanthropy, which effectively and paradoxically only address their moral and cognitive dissonance.


All Nigeria needs is cooperation from developed nations, we are abundantly blessed with both natural and human resources to the extent that we could transform our land to the best available anywhere in the world.  Let the ordinary Nigerian be assured that he needs not be selfish in his dealings with fellow Nigerians and the nation, that the government would and could provide him with enabling environment and opportunities to develop his potentials.


I sincerely believe that Nigeria can not wait till it trains another generation of professionals for it to move forward. Already, we have enough to restart and sustain meaningful socio-economic development.  The governments both federal and states have to actively encouraged Nigerian professionals to return to the country and contribute to its development.  For sure, our university system will be rejuvenated and reinvigorated so will other sectors of the economy.



As individual Nigerians we favourably compare with citizens any where in the world. Unfortunately as a nation we still lack the prerequisite features that characterise the developed nations. There seems to be gross absence in all sectors and at various levels of leadership, of a sense of public service for the good of all. The common man has been disillusioned by years of morbid leadership of criminal proportion. The hypocrisy as displayed by political leadership is such that is visible to the blind.


Nigeria has no reason other than demonstrable selfish and corrupt leadership to be in our current socio-economic development. The good thing though is that all this can be corrected in no time if the issues about vision and honest commitment to change are addressed.


Most Nigerians see through the hypocrisy of successive leaderships to the extent they have developed apathy and a sense of hopelessness. This has bred as offspring, the self-centered and reckless Nigerian whose main goal is to satisfy his worldly and carnal desires with mindless disregard for our collective future. It is only in Nigeria that individuals with influence, usually money, are above the law. This to me is the bane of corruption. Ordinary Nigerians see this and develop an attitude prejudicial to the idea of complete and total respect for the laws of our land.   




Dr. Jide Adelugba

Consultant Psychiatrist

Regional Psychiatric Centre (Prairies)
P.O. Box 9243
Correctional Services Canada
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7K 3X5