By Oliver C. Orji
‘Migrating for greener pastures’ has been a recurrent clause in Nigerians’ daily conversations since the turn of the 1970’s when the culture of military impunity and bastardization of the economy forced citizens to seek better opportunities and prosperity elsewhere.
Over the following decades, as the country’s economic fortunes continued to plummet, more illustrious countries had tightened their borders, leaving majority of Nigerians to pursue less legitimate modes of migration such as the valleys of the shadow of death through the Sahara desert or the suicide mission through the Mediterranean sea. A lucky minority left through visa lotteries and educational tourism.
Still, much of the skilled workforce- those referred to as the middle class which has now shrunk spectacularly- hung on to their relatively comfortable government jobs and were scarcely interested in abandoning their pensionable appointments for an uncertain and apparently less secure opportunities abroad.
Alas! The times have changed in a remarkable way. As I write, almost every health professional that I know who is less than 50 years, has either migrated or is planning to migrate to one of the UK, Australia and Canada. This set of people includes accomplished doctors in government hospitals who are happy to divorce the thoughts of pension and gratuity to relocate to Canada or Australia. The UK’s Professional and Language Assessment Board (PLAB) is currently inundated with applications from Nigerian medical practitioners who are desperately vying to move permanently to Britain to ply their trade. To say it matter-of-factly, doctors who are laid back and not interested in migrating seem to be either too old to make the move, too rich to bother or do not have the right information or clue about what practice elsewhere means or promises.
Australia and Canada which have more robust immigration programmes are attracting not only health professionals, but all manner of skilled professionals; and our lawyers, engineers, scientists and academics are taking full advantage. From my own observation, it seems to no longer matter if some will not eventually practice their particular professions or whether they have to settle for less dignifying jobs (which pay better than white collar jobs at home, by the way), the goal is to leave!
Why are these countries opening up their borders and stealing our skilled manpower?
There are many reasons smarter countries are picking the best brains from around the underdeveloped or developing world. Firstly, every serious country recognizes the role its skilled workforce plays in economic development. In the area of health, for example, doctors and nurses from third world countries such as India and Nigeria make up the huge percentage of health professionals practicing in the UK, US and Canada. Rich Nigerians who can afford the humongous bills paid for treatment abroad will recognize that they are in many cases attended to by fellow Nigerians. The monies spent abroad go into the economy of those nations. This practice of having to travel seven lands and seven seas to meet fellow citizens practicing in places that have been cleaned up is synonymous to the other equally appalling culture of exporting our crude and paying mouth-watering amounts to buy them back as refined products.
Secondly, while these nations rake in the monies that should have gone into developing our own healthcare, they are also using our skilled manpower to make up for their own aging populations or shortages of skilled workforce. For instance, according to the 2016 Canada census, it is projected that by 2031 one in every four Canadians will be over 65 years of age. This statistics will get scarier with time as more and more people in Western societies are less worried about making babies. Therefore, the policy of importing younger, competent personnel sounds like a good idea. For the immigrants it may not be all rosy. There is the threat posed by xenophobics, racists and white supremacists which will always leave the feeling of nostalgia for a home that can be considered safer, even if only safer; but that is a story for another day.
Canada and Australia have perfected their skills-based immigration programme so much that the new UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has taken a cue and announced plans to emulate such a system in preparation for the expected economic dynamics after Brexit. This only further illustrates the economic worth of hiring skilled immigrants.
Australia, Canada and the UK are not alone! Donald trump is also revamping America’s immigration programme to admit only individuals who have the wherewithal or the skillset to make developmental impacts in their country. The common denominator in the intentions of these nations is to ‘pilfer’ the best of the best to themselves, leaving the exporting nations with increasingly less qualified people. The point-based immigration system they are all embracing is only a sieving mechanism and only those with the money and brains will be selected. Apparently, many Nigerians do not want to be left behind, with everyone scrambling to ‘put head’ anywhere – be it China, Abu Dhabi or even nearby African countries like Ghana, Mauritius and Botswana.
But what is Nigeria doing about the current massive wave of brain-drain?
As far as I know, Nigeria is asleep and snoring away. She does not seem to care, after all she has close to 200 million people. This is eminently confirmed by the response of the minister of labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who announced on live television on April 24, 2019 that Nigeria had no need to worry about the spate of mass migration of Nigerian doctors to the rest of the world. With an insouciant air of detachment, he said, “No, I’m not concerned at all. I’m not worried. We have surplus. If you have surplus, you export”.
But Nigeria does not have surplus. We may have a surplus population of about 200 million people but according to UNICEF, 10.5 million of our under-fifteens are out of school. The UN also reports that about 92 million of our people live in extreme, desperate and multi-dimensional poverty. When broken further down, you have the remaining 100 million who are either trooping into higher schools without any hope of employment and tens of millions of others who have graduated without any gainful employment. Indeed, with WHO’s 2015 Workforce Alliance report that puts 10,000 Nigerians to 4 physicians and 16 nurses respectively, we do not have any surplus. What is more, if the current tide is not contained what would be left behind in the country after the very best have left would be the inexperienced or the aging professionals.
The consequences of the brain drain transcend merely the implications on our institutions, especially the health system. The economic implications for Nigeria are also sources of concern. With a shortage of manpower and the rampant corruption in high places, Nigerians who reside abroad are under enormous pressure to cater for the needs of their wards back home. These Nigerians also remit huge sums of money back to the country which go into the coffers of government and disappear without anything to show for it. This contrasts with what countries like India have done with the repatriated funds of their emigrated citizens. The initial impacts of mass migration of highly skilled Indians have been offset by the reinvestment of the revenue sent back by these people, enabling the country to build its ICT and health systems to enviable standards.
Nigeria must wake up and take notice of the long-term effects of the dwindling skilled work force or be ready to face the dire consequences. Repatriated funds by Nigerians in the diaspora might be an enticing justification to encourage the exportation of skilled professionals which might explain why Dr Chris Ngige’s earlier stance on the matter ostensibly earned him a reappointment as labour minister, but when these monies face the same fate as the millions of repatriated and recovered loots, travelling politicians will continue to dread the ire of these ‘abroadians’ who are evidently not comfortable that they still have to share the burdens of a seemingly dysfunctional country from which they thought they had escaped.
Oliver C Orji, an academic and medical scientist, writes from England, UK
Breaking News From Aso Villa
By Femi Adesina
Quite a challenging week it has been for Nigeria, and, indeed, the rest of the world. Except perhaps in China only, where the affliction started from, figures of Coronavirus infections continue to mount in other parts of the world. Italy and Spain have been particularly badly hit.
But as the world reels under the impact of a most pernicious pandemic, a suicide bomber wreaking deadly havocs, merchants of fake, hateful news remain fully at work. Aso Villa, the seat of presidential authority, has been their focus for most of the week. They have kept churning out spurious reports after the other about President Muhammadu Buhari, and some other people who work with him. If you choose to believe them, the President by now has even been evacuated, and is receiving medical attention at an undisclosed location somewhere in the wide world.
Breaking news from Aso Villa. That is what you have had day after day. And each time I am contacted to authenticate one story or the other, I tell the enquirers that the Presidential Villa is part of the world, part of humanity, and the people there are not immune from what is happening in the rest of the world.
But the outright fake, hateful news, I have ignored all week. Not a word in response. How do you begin to give wings to concocted stories through responses that will make the falsehood fly faster? No, purveyors of wickedness should not have the satisfaction of drawing us out all the time, and getting some tacit endorsement for their flight of fancy.
A top aide of the President tested positive early in the week. He is receiving adequate care, and he has our best wishes. But for the sinister minds, it was floodgate to all sorts of malediction. All sorts of Breaking News followed:
‘Intensive care machines brought into Aso Rock.’ ‘President Buhari coughing ceaselessly.’ ‘PMB under intensive care.’ ‘Adesina among those who accompanied Abba Kyari to Kogi.’ (I never did). ‘Garba Shehu under self-isolation.’ ‘Buhari may be smuggled out of the country, as condition worsens.’ And by yesterday, a recorded message started circulating on WhatsApp, saying President Buhari had been sneaked out of the country. To where? By who? Their fecund imaginations did not say.
And more Breaking News: ‘Buhari bans journalists from covering Aso Villa.’ (A man supposedly in intensive care was still banning reporters. Lol). ‘Buhari in self-isolation’ (Yet he was in the office on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, even receiving visitors). ‘Aso Villa shut down.’ And the vile beat goes on…
Why do some people conjure nothing but evil? Why do they imagine vain things? In 2017, while President Buhari had his medical challenge, they were on orgy of negative wishes, misinformation, and disinformation. But God pulled a fast one on them. He brought the President back, as right as rain. Haven’t they learned their lessons?
With the good people, however, positive things are happening. Tony Elumelu’s UBA is giving N5 billion to help Nigeria and Africa. Abdusamad Rabiu (BUA) has donated one billion Naira in cash. . Folorunsho Alakija has imported test kits and other materials for Nigerians, worth hundreds of millions of Naira. Aliko Dangote, after an initial donation of N200 million to combat Coronavirus, is leading top bankers and the private sector generally to raise aid. GTBank has donated a 100 beds care center. The Redeemed Christian Church of God has provided ventilators. And many more. These are the people and organizations that should define us as a people, not the conjurers of wickedness and doomsday. God is surely greater than them. And Nigeria too.
~ Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity.
COVID-19: A War Without Arms
Alas! It’s a global novel virus.
It started as an epidemic outbreak in China,
Now, it has snowballed into a pandemic,
Spreading like Australia wide fire,
Attacking at a speed swifter than light,
Killing its victims like an angry vulture,
It is Corona Virus, nicknamed COVID-19.
It has no regards for boundaries, personalities, and affluence.
COVID-19 has brought down governments without firing any arms.
It brought nations to their knees without minding their military strengths nor have regards for the sophisticated ballistic and chemical weapons in their arsenals.
The foundation of many establishments are shaken and threatened to core.
It has dazed and rendered world powers powerless.
It has brought down respected and exalted institutions.
Global economy is at a standstill and steadily nose-diving,
The world economy is fast crumbling under the fold of the riotous virus.
It has made a global mockery of world best medical think tanks.
Nations have no choice than to lockdown
The streets of popular cities are deserted, now turned ghost cities.
The pandemic exposed the vulnerability of human’s without respect to race, color or language.
It revealed the humanity in human.
The panic pang of watching fellow humans fall helplessly to the gruesome hand of COVID-19 is terrifying.
Sooner or later, the world would have a relief from the fist tight fold of the ravaging pandemic.
And when it finally bids the world a goodbye, after its irreparable havoc on humanity,
When friends and families painfully reminiscence the traumatic experience of losing someone so dear to their hearts,
I hope it would lead us to better appreciate little things which are often regarded as inconsequential but in reality, they are the most consequential.
~ Odunayo Oluwatimilehin, OYEWOLE.
A Postgraduate student, University of Ibadan.
Coronavirus: The Nigerian Dream Cure
By SKC Ogbonnia
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), which has compelled people to stay within their localities, illuminates the genius of the ageless adage: charity begins at home. It has exposed the malignant ignorance within Nigerian leaders who prefer foreign medical treatment while neglecting the amenities at home. The COVID-19 has profoundly exposed the nature and scope of the Nigerian healthcare crisis. Yet, every cloud has a silver lining!
The recent coronavirus controversy in Enugu is a perplexing preface. A 70-year old woman was suspected to be carrying the virus. But there is no laboratory capable of administering the COVID-19 test in the entire Eastern Region. Thus, it took several days before the test result could arrive from faraway Irrua in Edo State. Though the result returned negative, the woman had already died while isolated in a squalor at a grungy ESUT Teaching Hospital complex. The irony is that this incident took place in Enugu—of all places, the Igbo flagship metropolis that has no excuse to lag in development, having served as the capital of Eastern Region, capital of Biafra, capital of East Central State, capital of the old Anambra State; and currently the capital of Enugu State. This predicament only goes to ridicule the faculty of the globally renowned Igbo intelligentsia that parades Enugu as its sanctum.
The most mind-boggling yet is the situation in Northern Nigeria. Though the North is the perennial epicenter of the national healthcare crisis, it never dawned on the politicians to establish standard laboratories for testing a disease like Coronavirus in the entire region, besides an outfit at the nation’s capital, Abuja. To test for the virus. those in Sokoto will have to travel over 650 km while those in Maiduguri must commit 845 kilometers before reaching Abuja. One can only wonder the wisdom of the Northern leaders, widely celebrated for strategic vision in gaining power, but who continually fail to maximize such power towards the common good of their people.
In a 2015 essay, “Every Nigerian Blood Is On The Line”, I drew attention to the ignorance of Nigerian leaders, who tend to forget that good leadership is vitally important to both the led and the leader. I enumerated the embarrassing cases of highly placed politicians from the immediate past administration who lost their close relatives because they failed to provide good amenities in the local communities, such as President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience Jonathan, Namadi Sambo, David Mark, and Ike Ekweremadu, among others.
Also remember the strong man of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu, who died on his way to procure traveling documents towards a foreign medical trip. Equally relative is the case of Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Alex Ekwueme. These two prominent men suffered stroke in the same Enugu at different times but had to allow a few weeks to stabilize before embarking on foreign treatment. Before they could reach their British destinations, their situations worsened. Neither Ojukwu nor Ekwueme made it back home alive. Needless to mention sitting Head of State Sani Abacha and President Umar Yar’Adua, who died at the Aso Villa, under questionable health conditions.
The crisis conundrum is that the current leaders still do not seem to get it. Nigeria’s top office holders, including President Buhari, embrace foreign medical treatment as a second nature. But that was then—definitively then!
The point, if it is not already apparent, is that coronavirus has emerged as a quintessential equalizer. It has provoked a national consciousness and common sense, by consequence. The pandemic has made it imperative that people, both rich and poor, must seek prevention or treatment in their immediate environment. The elites may be accorded the usual preferential treatment, quite alright, but any attempt to ignore the masses, as in the past, is a poisoned chalice.
The foregoing thesis becomes more compelling, when considered that the threat of the COVID-19 in Nigeria is real. Though there are only 44 confirmed cases as at the time of this essay, the low number simply signifies lack of adequate testing centers. A forewarning is that out of those 44 cases, 35 were in the Western Region, being the cluster where 4 out of the 5 testing laboratories in the country are located. It is also not a coincidence that both the East and the Far-North are yet to record any case. Their common denominator is plainly the absence of testing centers in those zones. Moreover, testing for the COVID-19, for now, remains an elitist agenda. But the truth remains that every Nigerian life is on the line.
A dream cure, therefore, is a revolutionary approach that can sufficiently address the Nigerian short and long-term healthcare needs. Besides any mitigation measures or cure for the COVID-19, Nigeria must, without any delay, equip and modernize to international standards eight existing university teaching hospitals. While six of such hospitals should be spread in the six political zones, the remaining two would be allocated to Abuja and Lagos. This revolutionary plan is well studied, and the goal is twofold: First, it will significantly improve the national healthcare delivery for the ordinary Nigerian people. Second, it will be able to treat the Nigerian leaders and stem the shameless pattern of medical tourism in foreign lands.
Establishing eight world-class hospital—within one year—is not rocket science. The sources for the financial and the human resources are equally well studied. The budget for the hospitals is $8 billion. The most cost-efficient is direct funding through crude oil, its hazy market and politics notwithstanding. A plain source is to plug out $12 billion from the now suspended 2016-2018 External Borrowing of $22.7 billion proposed by President Buhari. While $8 billion goes for the hospitals, the remaining $4 billion will be dedicated to mitigating the coronavirus pandemic. Phase II will target the state capitals and so on…
The dream cure is neither politics nor business as usual. It should be executed by a Healthcare Revolutionary Council (HRC) that can include these notable patriots: Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Omoyele Sowore, Akinwumi Adesina, Adeleke Mamora, Femi Falana, Bartholomew Nnaji, Ngozi Iweala, Oby Ezekwesiri, Ogbonnaya Onu, Kanayo Ubesie, Donald Duke, Pat Utomi, Ben Murray-Bruce, Festus Keyamo, Muhammadu Sanusi II, Nasir el-Rufai, Obadiah Mailafia, Nuhu Ribadu, Aisha Buhari, Shehu Sani, Mathew Kukah, Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Hameed Ali, Yakubu Dogara, Aisha Al-Hassan, Audu Ogbe, Iorwuese Hagher, Natasha Akpoti, Yakubu Mohammed, and Abubakar Sani Bello.
SKC Ogbonnia writes from Ugbo, Enugu State, Nigeria
Twitter @ SKCOgbonnia
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