The founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew tells a story in his book “From Third World To First World” about how, in 1966, he visited former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah in Accra. He recalled how Nkrumah had made one Abraham, a 30-year-old, a university Vice-Chancellor.
The young man, according to Lee, had come first in Classics — Latin and Greek, at Oxford University and Nkrumah was very proud of him. Lee said he wondered why an economy like Ghana’s which depended heavily on agriculture would have its best brains study Classics.
About one month later, Nkrumah would be overthrown in a military coup while he was being welcomed with a 21-gun salute in Beijing. As you would expect, most of the members of the political elite had to run for their lives before the coup plotters could get to them.
Years later, when Lee enquired about Abraham, he was told that he also ran away after the coup and had entered a monastery in California, USA.
To this, Lee said: “I felt sad. If their brightest and best gave up the fight and sought refuge in a monastery, not in Africa but in California, the road to recovery would be long and difficult.”
This story is not about Ghana but about the mass exodus ongoing in Nigeria.
According to a PwC report released last week on Nigeria’s diaspora remittances, there are at least 1.4 million Nigerians in the diaspora, citing a United Nations report.
It is not clear if those figures include the thousands who enter Europe through the Sahara Desert every year or hundreds who overstay their tourist visas in North America.
The report also cited a Pew Research Centre survey which said more than 80% of Nigerians have expressed interest in leaving the country within the past year. In other words, everyone wants to chicken out.
It is important to note that this set of Nigerians are not poor, ordinary people. They are people mostly smart, middle class, skilled professionals in their late 20s and early to mid-30s.
How can this economy make any meaningful progress without such people?
The results of that mass exodus are beginning to manifest in the diaspora remittances which climbed to $25 billion in 2018, according to the PwC report. And some could argue, just like Nigeria’s minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, argued sometime this year that, that’s how Nigeria stands to benefit from the brain drain.
But this is a two-way loss for Nigeria. First, we have lost our best brains to other economies. Second, the remittances only fuel a culture of consumption which has only worsened our import dependency.
Since we don’t produce much here. The hard currencies that come in as remittances end up in a developed world where we spend it to import the things, we should have no business consuming in the first place.
That’s beside the fact that foreign investors won’t come because of the dearth of quality human capital. Today, it is tough enough for any medium-sized business to attract and retain quality talents. With a fractured education system, trying to nurture a pool comes at a considerable high cost that isn’t sustainable.
Imagine a Canadian investor that wants to set up shop here. The quality of skills he would need to profitably sustain the business has already come to him. So, it would be more profitable for him to set up in Canada, hire Nigerians over there and send the finished products down here. We gain nothing.
This makes a mockery of the government’s attempt to lure foreign investors.
There is no country that doesn’t have its share of the diaspora who contribute to their economies in the best way they could, but we cannot deny that this scenario we have in Nigeria is far from the ideal.
Most of the people that are leaving are promising to return when the politicians decide to fix Nigeria. But that isn’t ever going to happen, especially when it is such people who have what it takes to challenge the leadership have been overtaken by apathy and left the country.
So, you can understand why people argue that the more people leave, the longer it would take to fix Nigeria if that time would ever come.