I thought it was just a garage sale post. Then I read the comments. Lol. People had somehow deduced that the OP was emigrating and so liquidating all their assets – air conditioners and all.

I wonder if there’s a start-up building a business for this – visa applications, bank accounts, sublets and shared accommodation, a job and p2p FX, crypto and marketplace, etc?

Seriously though, this third edition of Nigeria’s brain drain is no small challenge. Everyone we speak with has had a similar experience over the last 18 months – they are losing young, mid-market talent, in whose development they have invested.

This challenge isn’t unique to Nigeria, however. India and South Africa, for instance, are also going through a similar mass exodus. But one could argue they have made the investments necessary to recover from – and even leverage – the mass exodus of young skilled workers.

The term ‘brain drain’, aka human capital flight, was likely coined or at least popularised, sometime in the 1950’s, by the British Royal Society, to describe the economic, social and professional impact of medical and STEM graduates taking up opportunities in North America. It was a hotly debated topic at the time and has made periodic returns to the news since then, much as it has done in Nigeria since the civil war.

I think the term is outdated and doesn’t capture what is happening, and what could happen, vis-à-vis the future of work.

Hear me out.

In the 1950’s, when the phrase was coined, the world was going through a tech upheaval of sorts. There were rapid improvements in mass communication technologies, specifically the (colour) television.

Even though there was no Zoom or MS Teams, engineers had at least figured out how to transmit and receive colour signals.

So, the concept of ‘brains’, i.e. skilled labour, physically departing meant that any value – economic, social, professional – they could have added to society would be lost. And the only way to replace this was to ‘create’ (educate and train) another.

This is not how the world works today. There are dividends society gets from sharing its skilled workers. It improves the velocity of knowledge sharing and forms new networks for productive output. In short, economic migration should be a win-win for the societies involved but only if they have the tools and networks to leverage this.

So, what should we be doing to (re)build value? Answering this question requires us to break the mountain into smaller hills. First, there’s the critical sectors short-term labour challenge – in healthcare, security and public administration.

As Nigeria’s skilled nurses and doctors depart for Canada and the UK, we are dramatically exasperating an already precarious situation. We did not learn what those developed countries learnt during peak COVID.

They learnt that developing countries produce cheap and effective healthcare workers – who are desperate for a better economic future. Nigeria can’t compete with those countries, but it can produce more healthcare workers.

The challenge then becomes – how will you keep them, especially specialists whose skills are in high-demand globally? The same issues keep coming up – remuneration, benefits, working conditions, equipment and supply shortages.

Last year, the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige said he believed doctors trained “for free” should sign a bond with the FG and commit to nine years of service. Aside from the potential ethical and legal questions a move like would raise, I don’t see public sentiment backing such a policy.

And some observers believe it could backfire spectacularly, triggering a mass exodus of healthcare undergrads and trainees. People are not plants, after all.

But what about focusing public sector investments on benefits, infrastructure, specialist training and equipment? What if every nurse, doctor and MedTech in Nigeria today had access to all the lifesaving, well serviced and maintained equipment they need?

What if we can deliver this whilst guaranteeing that wages and benefits will be paid as and when due. Can Nigeria become one of the worlds training grounds for healthcare practitioners?

You are wondering about funding, aren’t you? This is indeed another challenge, after picking a clear policy direction for the sector.

We believe the FG can find ways of enabling programmes like this by supporting, or perhaps getting out of its own way, and allowing stakeholders to structure and deliver impactful Public-Private Development partnerships, such as Coca-Cola’s erstwhile Safe Birth Initiative.

This will not be enough to drive sustainable development at scale though – the core funding challenge must still be addressed.

Nigeria’s Finance Act 2021 introduced a ‘Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax’ (SSB) that levies a ₦10 tax on each litre of non-alcoholic and sugar sweetened drink. Yes – that includes drinks with no added sugar and those sweetened using artificial ingredients.

Furthermore, the finance act does not make clear how it will direct this towards fixing the country’s massive health sector deficiencies. It is thus a win for those non-profits focused on addressing non-communicable diseases via constraining demand through pricing, but it will likely be just another price hike for consumers, putting more pressure thinning margins in the sector.


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