When Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, visited Nigeria last month, he said the current migration of young Nigerian professionals was good and healthy for the economy.
According to Gates, the rapid surge in immigration has significant benefits, as it contributes to the development of world-class skills and the capacity to repatriate much-needed foreign exchange to grow the local economy.
Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 election, corroborated Gates’ statement, saying that the country’s brain drain today will be its brain gain tomorrow.
“Nigerians leaving the country may look like a loss today, but when we start doing the right things and taking the governance of our nation more seriously, the knowledge and resources from them will be critical in the building of the New Nigeria, as it happened in China, India, Ireland, and other developing countries,” he said.
The comments by Gates and Obi highlight that Africa’s most populous nation can benefit from its brain drain if it can attract back those professionals to aid its development.
But to do this, experts say the right infrastructures and reforms to attract them back must be in place as well as an enabling business environment.
BusinessDay interviewed some human resource professionals and experts to get a sense of what they think the new government needs to do to transform the country’s brain drain into a gain.
Kemi Ogunkoya, a Lagos-based leadership development strategist:
There has to be ease of doing business in place so that a lot of talents that have gone out will be able to come back and deploy their skills by setting up businesses to drive innovation and the economy positively.
It is also important to have systems in place that enable innovation and productivity. We should not overburden our progressive businesses. If these measures are done, Nigerians abroad will be able to come back to solve the indigenous problems and generate revenue, thereby employing our local talents.
They will also be able to equip the local talents with the skills they already learnt aboard. And when that happens, businesses and individuals will strive for better.
Jennifer Oyelade, director of Transquisite Consulting:
If the government wants to entice them to come back, then they need to embody the systematic approach that Western countries have in terms of healthcare, transportation, general corporate governance and how the country is managed and run.
The county just needs a wide revolution to get young professionals to come back. There needs to be policies that work for the people and are not necessary for the government. The policies have to be genuine and transparent that see the development of the country.
In the United Kingdom, every area pays council tax but you will see where it is going too. Nigerians want to know that even if they are paying taxes, it is not going into a hole without any general progression but for the betterment of Nigeria.
Abiodun Keripe, managing director of Afrinvest Consulting Limited:
One interesting thing that we are seeing now is that the new administration is beginning to make some basic policy announcements that in the long run should begin to signal hope for the country and the economy.
That is why communication is key here. They should begin to communicate their policy language and posture to Nigerians in the diaspora.
The government should also begin to focus on doing some right things around infrastructure jobs, how to lift more people out of poverty and ultimately begin to re-orientate Nigerians on the importance of being a Nigerian.
Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at SBM Intelligence:
Up until now, the government’s approach towards engaging with the Nigerian diaspora has been hazardous at best or non-existent at worst.
The fact that they left does not mean that we have to break up any engagement with them. We need to have a deliberate engagement strategy to attract skilled talents from Nigeria.
We have to keep that engagement going so that the only connection that they have in Nigeria will not be only sending remittances to their loved ones.
The country has to also make it easier to get a Nigerian passport abroad. Business visas to Nigeria are notoriously difficult to acquire. We need to better run our foreign mission abroad by being more engaged in economic and cultural exchanges and engagements with the Nigerians that are residents in those countries.
Israel Odubola, a Lagos-based research economist:
Brain drain can only be a gain for Nigeria if the people who migrated are now coming back to apply their skills and knowledge for the development of the country.
And when it comes to brain drain, there is something called the push factors. The factors such as access to quality education, access to decent and dignified employment opportunities and access to better life are the ones attracting individuals to those advanced countries.
But if those factors are instituted in Nigeria, the incentive or motivation to leave the country will be very low.
So, we have to improve the quality of education to ensure our education product is in line with international best practices and provide the youthful population with dignified work opportunities, not just any opportunity.
And the government has started well in terms of economic reforms aimed at stabilising the economy but they should ensure that those reforms translate to improved living standards for Nigerians.
If these things are done, Nigeria will now be in a better position to leverage its human capital for development.
Analysts at PwC Nigeria
The declining workforce in America and Europe and the need for talent to sustain economic performance in these regions indicate that exporting Nigerian skills and expertise will benefit all parties.
Nigeria needs to start treating education as an infrastructure for development, not a social service, especially for digital education.
The brain export strategy requires a relatively lower investment than is required to follow the traditional (agriculture to manufacturing) development path and is also less risky as the investment is decentralised, the sectors are diverse and the markets (and customers) are many.
In the mid to long term, brain export has the added advantage of boosting confidence required for large ticket single investments in Nigeria, the size of which is needed for further exponential growth.