Brain drain and the chaos within

Sylvester Asoya

Last week, frantic medical doctors in Abuja drew our attention once again, to the ugly history of Nigeria’s human capital flight. We watched in horror, as frustrated Nigerian doctors in pursuit of good working conditions abroad, struggled for placement in Saudi Arabian hospitals even in this unusual time.

The federal government and its supporters have already passed a unanimous guilty verdict on these doctors in search of life. This is unfortunate. But the symbolism of the doctors’ ‘revolt’ is not lost. The fact that this scandalous recruitment exercise is happening in the middle of a global health crisis, is instructive. This action, coupled with resident doctors’ nation-wide strike in a country with one of the most disgraceful doctor-patient ratio in the world, is another swinging blow.
Surely, this is not a time to be a proud Nigerian.

Medical brain drain is a tragedy anywhere and it should be treated as such. As one of the countries facing the biggest brain drain in the world today, Nigeria stands no chance of survival if we continue to ignore our doctors and other health workers. In no time, I am sure public hospitals will be deserted. So, as doctors flee, we must come to terms with Nigeria’s lost generation and a bleak health care delivery system that is imminent.

Those who bring morality and patriotism as talking points to the current crisis in the health sector miss the point. Beyond everything, the on-going exodus of middle-class Nigerians, including professionals in the health sector, is all about economics and survival. Doctors also have a right to good life. Outside the issues of political instability, limited access, insecurity, non-inclusion, visionless leadership, apathy and other common causes of brain drain, hope remains central in the final analysis.
Many Nigerians are hopeless at the moment and this is very troubling.

But there is even a bigger fear. Like many people, I am also of the view that if nothing is done urgently to address the pervading chaos in every sector, Nigeria may eventually come to grinding halt. And this will be catastrophic.
In truth, Nigeria’s problems are complicated but not insurmountable.

We have an army of highly trained professionals leaving Nigeria en masse for other countries today because we once believed in education and skill acquisition as fundamental to development and growth. Our founding fathers also saw education as the key to the future. So, they invested heavily, both at the federal and regional levels. But education collapsed completely in Nigeria because of absence of planning and poor leadership. Even those running Nigeria do not have faith in our health and education sectors, and they make no pretense of it. According to UNICEF, one in every five out-of-school children is in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, our leaders are not paying attention to these embarrassing statistics.

What is the standard of education in Nigeria today? Can we safely call our universities centres of learning in a very real sense? How about the quality of instruction and teaching staff in our institutions of higher learning at the moment? And our lecturers, can they compete?
Everyone knows that brilliant and experienced teachers are all gone; they currently live and teach in countries where they are appreciated. Those remaining in our universities are overstretched and unfulfilled. And they are working under unbearable conditions unfit for research and learning.
Is that how to build a country?

As an undergraduate in the late 1980s, I was in the habit of checking out famous lecturers and secretly attending their lectures. It was my own special and compulsive way of widening my horizon and gaining additional knowledge outside my course of study. So, frequently
I ventured out, trying to understand those exceptional teachers and why they were revered by all, including their colleagues. I must confess, one of the interesting things about education in those days is that students at that time were lucky enough to have been taught by exceptionally brilliant and helpful men and women who predated our arrival as students on campus. In fact, long before becoming their students, some of us had read about them and their extraordinary works in our different secondary school libraries and other public reading rooms.

It must be stated, Nigeria once attracted skilled hands and famous professionals in different fields from many countries of the world.
I remember Professor David Cook, the teacher who introduced us to African and Caribbean literatures. Cook, a consummate British literary icon, critic, scholar and anthologist had earlier taught Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the renowned Kenyan writer and scholar at Makerere University before coming to Nigeria.
We also encountered Professor Sam Adewoye of the Department of Modern European Languages. Adewoye, the well-known author of The Betrayer of the Pacesetters Series, was also our lecturer.

As a matter of fact, Nigeria was known as the land of opportunities. And a big part of our success story at the time was defined by career prospects, stability, security and the welcoming treatment of visitors and citizens of other countries. So, highly trained and qualified professionals came calling.
I am sure if brain drain was at this supersonic level at that time, many people of my generation would have been denied the opportunity of learning at the feet of these notable scholars who made a difference.
My classmates and I remain forever grateful for their help.

The point is that young people today have every reason to be very angry with their so-called leaders for stealing their future. Unfortunately, some of them are busy defending politicians and hoping to continue this troubling vicious circle by stepping into their seedy shoes one day.

The question is: where are the amazing teachers and touch-bearers who hold a special place in our hearts in today’s colleges and universities?

Education, no doubt, remains the major key, the engine room and driver of growth and development.
It is therefore in our best interest as a country to educate and innovate because democracy cannot even survive without education. If we hope to prosper, halt brain drain, re-direct our youth, engender hope, re-build our battered country, achieve greatness again and save our nation, then we must return to excellence in everything. That is the only way to go.

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