Human Capital Flight or “Brain Drain” refers to the loss of skilled professionals from a source country for example Nigeria, to a recipient country such as the United States. This is a phenomenon that has been occurring for decades on the African continent. Research shows that between 1960 – and 1989 about 127,000 highly skilled Africans left the continent. Since 1990, Africa has been losing at least 20,000 professionals per year.
Much has been written about the adverse effects of Brain Drain to the African continent. There is good reason for this. It is quite frustrating that professionals who are trained on the continent eventually relocate to more developed nations for work and/or further study. At first glance, this can be seen as a set-back for the continent since money and resources are dispersed to develop these professionals to a certain level. For example, in 2001 the BBC reported that Brain Drain had cost the continent over 4 billion US dollars due to the recruitment of approximately 150,000 expatriate professionals each year (mainly nationals from Western nations). However, there is also a fast growing body of scholars who have written about the advantages of having such a vast network of professionals in the diaspora (Brain Gain).The fact is most of these professionals further develop their skills and talents when they go abroad. This makes them even more useful and able to give back to the continent in terms of their knowledge, R&D and financial investment which come in various forms including remittances. Remaining on the African continent might not have enabled these professionals to fully maximize their potential given the socio-economic challenges that have plagued the continent since independence, especially in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation.
The educated Nigerian emigrant is unlike any other emigrant in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa. This is due to the education policy that was adopted by the country shortly after colonization. Nigeria adopted the Western orthodox economic theory which suggests that “a high level of education induces a higher sufficiency in productivity of the labour force.” In simple terms Nigeria assumed that a highly educated workforce (with emphasis on formal education) would translate to economic growth and social development for the nation. With this hypothesis in mind, post-colonial Nigeria which was financially endowed at the time, sought to train and educate its people. Scholars have suggested that this hypothesis was flawed, as this theory would only work for nations that had achieved advanced stages of economic development i.e. countries in the West. Nigeria at the time had just gained independence and was finding its place in a new world of independent nations. The country was at its early years of growth. As a result of this policy, Nigeria ended up producing highly educated and skilled workers faster than it could implement growth fostering policies to build industries and acquire technologies that would employ its trained and elite workforce. The socio-economic challenges which ensued in the country plus the education policy blunder just mentioned, lead to the emigration of over-educated but indigenous elites who could not find suitable employment at home.
A highly-skilled Nigerian diaspora can work to Nigeria’s and indeed Africa’s advantage. What Nigeria needs is a strategic plan that is consistent and persistent, to harness the talent and networks available in the diaspora. A typical characteristic of Nigerians abroad is that most aim to and actually do return to the home country and invest what they have earned both intellectually and financially. In 2019, a total of 23 billion U.S dollars was remitted to Nigeria, making Nigeria the highest recipient of remittances within Sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, due to the COVID19 pandemic, global remittances have declined sharply in 2020. Nevertheless, we are in the COVID era where innovation is critical for so many economies and sectors making our highly skilled Nigerian diaspora a potentially huge asset. The educated elite in the diaspora are now more educated, better trained and equipped, and are vast contributors to global knowledge bases in areas that include business, the sciences, engineering, and medicine. With the advancement in communication technologies Nigerian professionals abroad can contribute effectively to Nigeria’s growth and development. It is up to policymakers in the country to create an enabling environment to engage these great minds who never broke ties with Nigeria and are willing to get involved.
Finally, some research has been done to understand the motivations of the average “Nigerian diaspora investor.” Remarkably, the study shows that Nigerians in the diaspora do not invest for financial reward. Rather, they are motivated by perceived emotional returns and the degree to which they invest, is connected to the level of “social embeddedness” in their country of origin as well as in their host country. Studies also show that Nigerians invest for perceived social rewards i.e. nostalgia and a feeling of closeness to home and loved ones, access to decision-makers in a community or state, chieftaincy status etc. More attention and study needs to be done on the psychological and social motivations of Nigerian diaspora investors. Understanding the “why” of the Nigerian diaspora can help the Nigerian government create policies that will attract more diaspora investment.