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Brain drain in Nigeria: Causes, effects and solutions

Brain drain in Nigeria: Causes, effects and solutions

Brain drain has become a trending topic due to the harsh global economy. Nigeria, in particular, has been the worst hit as people, especially the upper and middle class, leave the country to find a more fulfilling life abroad. Everybody agrees it’s a worrisome development when a country’s best brains leave for other countries. However, not a lot has been done to stop the trend.

The truth is survival instincts rule humans. When an environment is no longer conducive, the logical thing to do is to migrate to a more conducive one. Nigeria’s economic environment since independence has not been encouraging. The country has been battling bad governance and the economy for a long time with no visible solutions. Hence, the brain drain has contributed to Nigeria’s unsavoury predicament today.

For this reason, let’s discuss the brain drain in Nigeria and possible solutions.

What is brain drain?

What is brain drain?

Brain drain is the emigration of a country’s most qualified talents to other countries, mostly to seek for greener pastures. Wikipedia calls it human flight capital, which could be positive or negative depending on the perspective you choose to view it. For countries receiving immigrants, it’s a positive because they get talented individuals that can contribute to the nation’s development. For countries losing their people to other countries, it’s negative development which may cause problems for the home country if the trained people are in short supply there.

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Brain drain in Nigeria

Brain drain in Nigeria

Brain drain is not a new trend in Nigeria. The country has been battling with the phenomenon since independence. Professionals, especially in the health sector, such as doctors, nurses and other health workers, as well as bankers and academics, are leaving the country in large numbers. Don’t forget Information Technology (IT) experts or tech bros who prefer to work.

According to the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigeria lost over 9,000 medical doctors to the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America between 2016 and 2018. The World Health Organisation (WHO) data shows that Nigeria has a doctor-to-population ratio of about 1: 4000-5000, which falls far short of the WHO-recommended doctor-to-population ratio of 1:600. This has depleted the already dwindling healthcare sector amid rising insecurity, mass youth unemployment, disruptions in the education sector thanks to Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike and the highest inflation rate over the past 18 years among other challenges.

Although people have been leaving Nigeria for other countries since before the independence, the development was exacerbated shortly after the oil boom in the 1970s when the economy began to take a downward turn following the boom. From the late 70s till date, Nigeria has steadily lost its human resources to other countries. This is quite ironic because Nigeria used to be an economic destination for migrants from India, Lebanon, etc, who dominated the education and business sectors.

We should also note that japa, the Nigerian name for leaving the country, used to be common among professionals. Today, it has become free for all, with countries like Canada and others offering attractive visa programmes to immigrants to fill their workforce. With the rising poverty level, insecurity, unemployment and other challenges in the country, many people enrol in these programmes and leave the country.

Causes of brain drain in Nigeria

Causes of brain drain in Nigeria

Mass unemployment

The rate of unemployment in Nigeria is high. According to Statistica, the unemployment rate in the country has been estimated at 33% in 2022.  Many Nigerians, especially the youths, are unemployed. A lot of them are university graduates who have found it difficult to land jobs. So, those with the means migrate abroad even if to turn to dishwashers, security or other menial jobs to survive. Some risk their lives through illegal routes to find greener pastures in more developed countries.

Poor salaries and working conditions

Even those with jobs don’t find life easy, as many are underemployed. This means poor salaries for Nigerian workers who still have to deal with the rising cost of essential commodities in the country. Poor salary and working conditions have been identified as the major causes of why doctors, bankers and other professionals leave the country for more advanced countries.

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Disrupted academic activities

The recently concluded ASUU strike has taught many Nigerian students that the country’s educational system is in shambles. Although the strike has been called off and lecturers have returned to the classrooms, there is no guarantee that another strike will not start. Nigeria’s academic history in higher institutions has been bedevilled by constant strikes which have disrupted the academic calendar. A student will study a four-year course for five or more years. As a result, many Nigerian students migrate to other countries to study through private funding or scholarships.


Insecurity has been identified as one of the major reasons Nigeria’s middle and upper class are migrating to other countries with their families. Terrorism, banditry, violent agitations, kidnapping, ritual killing, armed robbery, and other ills are rising with no solutions. Many rich people are becoming endangered species due to kidnapping. The middle and poor classes are not spared as well. This contributes to the massive brain drain in the country.

Bad economy

Talking about Nigeria’s current economy is enough to fill a book in volumes. The situation is so bad that some major corporations are moving their operations to neighbouring countries. The inflation rate is higher than before. The dollar has peaked at over N800 as of the time of this report. Nigeria’s economy is on life support, which will soon finish if something is not done. No one wants to be around when that happens. So many migrate to other countries.

Bad governance and corruption

When the powers that be are generally blind to the plight of the people, it becomes, “to your tent, O Israel.” Nigerians are basically on their own as government officials who are supposed to serve are enriching their pockets with public funds. Law and order have broken down, and many have found themselves on the receiving end. So, those who can escape to sane countries do so without looking back.

Effects of brain drain in Nigeria

  • Nigeria is one of the African countries which have lost more than $2bn since 2010 to training doctors who migrate to other countries for greener pastures. In other words, the country is spending money on doctors for nothing.
  • Nigeria is also one of the African countries with the worst indices for health. Yet, many don’t have access to healthcare workers due to the limited number remaining in the country.
  • Loss of human capital means loss of income for the government and, by extension, the country.
  • Fewer students want to attend Nigerian higher institutions due to the history of constant strikes.
  • Medical tourism is on the rise because most Nigerians with the means prefer going abroad for medical treatment, thus neglecting the hospitals in Nigeria.
  • Nigerian youths risk their lives by travelling through illegal routes to Europe and America, all in a bid to survive. Some are killed either by bandits or by natural disasters on the way. The survivors go ahead to endure conditions that are best left to the imagination due to lack of papers.
  • Nigeria’s image on the international scene has also been torn into shreds due to bad reports about Nigerians abroad. These people would have been more useful in the country had they been given the opportunity. Instead, they engage in all manner of societal ills because they’re all they know to get by.

How to tackle brain drain in Nigeria

  • Enabling environment of peace and security
  • Budgetary allocations should be increased in the health and education sectors.
  • Medical tourism should be banned.
  • There should be empowerment programmes for Nigerian youths to learn skills and create their own businesses to reduce unemployment.
  • Government should introduce policies that attract investors into the country.
  • Corrupt public officials should be held accountable for their actions.
  • Better salary and working conditions for workers in Nigeria. Also, a reward system should be introduced in establishments to appreciate outstanding workers.
  • Nigerians should also be able to hold the government accountable to reduce corruption and bad governance in the country.

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Nonye is a Thespian, screenwriter, creative writer and an unapologetic lover of books, great movies and sports. She has over 10 years experience in content writing on entertainment, movies, sports and lifestyle. Nonye is currently a content writer at Blackdot Media and founder of
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