Reflections on Brain Drain and Brain Gain in Nigeria

Over the holidays, a colleague of mine who has a thriving practice here in the United States shocked me and many of our friends when he said he was planning on returning home to Nigeria to set up a private clinical practice. In fact, he said he has shipped personal belongings and medical equipments to Nigeria. He said he believes he has learned all there is to learn in advances in medical science having undergone training in the United Kingdom and the United States. He said it is time to return to Nigeria and give Nigerians the benefit of the expertise he has acquired over the almost twenty five years since left the shores of Nigeria in search of greener pastures. One of our colleagues jokingly asked if the pastures were no longer and that he hoped he was making the right decision.

Today as I reflect on this conversation with our friend, I am once again drawn into the ever contentious exchanges on “Brain drain” and Brain gain”. Many have argued that my Nigerian professionals including physicians would not have reached full potentials and achieved professional expertise and competence if they had remained in Nigeria. May be and may be not. Others argue that even if this was the case, Nigerian professionals should return home after their training to contribute to the development of the country; after all to whom much is given much is expected. This is so much so when one remembers that most individuals in my generation were literally paid to go school. We all received bursaries, scholarships, and all kinds of grant to attend universities in Nigeria, and did not pay tuition.

So my friend is turning brain drain into brain gain by returning to Nigeria to contribute his expertise to health care delivery. Returning home to Nigeria is one way of turning brain drain into brain gain. Unfortunately, many Nigerian professionals can not take such giant leaps for fear of failure, insecurity, and an unfriendly practice environment that does not engender professional satisfaction and fulfillment. For the majority for whom returning home is not feasible, there should be other ways to give back to Nigeria and contribute to her development. Nigerian professional organizations in the Diaspora need to develop constructive, long-term sustainable strategies to develop particularly the education and health sector in Nigeria. The Diaspora Commission set up over a year ago is still bugged down with bureaucracy and has no tangible achievements to date. During my days in academia, I had Indian colleagues who go to India every summer to teach in medical schools and provide development workshops to practicing physicians. Such arrangements are done through their professional associations, are not done sporadically for self-recognition, develop clout, or for personal or political gains, but regularly in the overall interest of Indians.

Wherever you stand, or whatever your believes, “Brain drain” or “Brain gain” one thing is clear; Nigerians in diaspora particularly professionals need to be more involved in the rebuilding of the Nigerian state.

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