There has been this argument on social media about whether Nigeria should actually ‘breed’ graduates to send abroad to earn dollars and grow diaspora remittances. I am on the opposite side of that argument, even though it is a complicated one. The idea is that like The Philippines, we should send many more people out. If you visit the UAE for example, you will see many Filipinos working in services. They are excellent at it. And so, there are folks in Nigeria – especially the banker types who daily complain about what they term as ‘dollar scarcity’ – who believe we should actually encourage educated Nigerians to travel abroad to earn dollars and send back home. There is one prominent economist here who pushes this idea.
Whereas there are merits to this argument; we are hungry for dollars, the ‘exported’ individuals on average get to live a better life, they also sort of decompress the tense unemployment situation at home, plus there is a chance that eventually, they may give back to the country, I also differ on many solid grounds, and think that even as it is, we are showing signs of mediocrity with the $25 billion remittance that we get as a nation. Egypt here in Africa is a country of 100 million people. They don’t travel as much as we do. Remittances to Egypt is over $30 billion annually. Filipinos are avid travelers even though not at the level of Nigeria. With a population of 106 million, they remit about $35 billion annually. Nigeria’s population is 206 million (depending on who you believe). Almost all of our youths – especially from down south are just waiting to get out of the country. We can be found everywhere and anywhere, from the rest of Africa to Australia, Asia to America through Europe. We are also all over South America and the Arab world. But our remittances have now dropped below $25 billion and we are struggling to get it back up, even ready to go all out and officially ship out our best. Many families take pride in being able to send their children abroad. Almost all the middle-class people I know would rather their children remain abroad permanently after their foreign studies.
In the first place, I believe we are not doing our math right on this matter. Education is overly subsidized in Nigeria and we can ill-afford that especially at the tertiary level. Medical Doctors are trained through our public universities but exported cheaply abroad (50% of them migrate), where they have to be retrained and sometimes repurposed. I hear there is a joke presently in Canada that goes; ‘where can you find the best surgeons?’. The answer is; ‘behind the wheels of an uber car’. This is because there are many medical doctors out there (not only from Nigeria though), who find it a struggle to fit into the system very quickly. Meanwhile, back here, we don’t have 10% of what we should have. Is the dollar remittances which these migrants make going to cover up for the investment made in them by the country? Are we costing that investment correctly? Are we just comparing dollar for dollar? Nigeria is currently digging holes in her finances and borrowing for generations unborn. We are using the lifeblood of this country to train people that we then export so cheaply. What about the needs of Nigeria? Who will help fulfil them? Why are developed countries not also exporting their people cheaply? Or is it just a phase? If it is a phase, should we have timelines to try and reverse such a reality rather than wear such as a badge of honour? Should we also depend so heavily on these folks who travel abroad? Don’t they have their own lives to live?
A self-respecting country is one where their citizens migrate and live abroad but they don’t care what they earn and they don’t really need the monies they send back home. Such nations don’t depend on the migrant citizens to send back money so that their folks back home may survive. Nigeria on the other hand has become so dependent. We beg and cajole our diasporans on a daily basis at the government level, maybe because the government itself is unwilling to do right by the citizens. Apart from government pressure which include visit by top officials abroad, families and friends back home never allow these folks rest. Many are unable to save a dime because they are constantly barraged from home. Many even lose concentration at work. We need to reverse this trend. Family members should know that it is incredibly hard living abroad where nothing goes for nothing, taxes are killing, and bills show no mercy. I have seen where family members take these things for granted and just multiply what they think their sons and daughters earn straight into naira and begin to accuse them of not helping back home. This is a sign of underdevelopment that we cannot afford to carry too far. But are we thinking? I have heard government functionaries make wild assumptions too about life abroad.
So, in my humble opinion. it is very dangerous for us to neglect BUILDING our own country and export our labour to where they are discounted. The best use of our human capital is here, if we got our acts right. This is where we need the medical doctors, engineers, techies, project managers, even those in the arts. It is here that we need to build and innovate, not help them abroad to keep their labour cheaper than it should be. I admit that there is a lot of learning we need to do from abroad. I wish we would see migration as a continuation of our education. I wish we could be more like Resource Investigators, who, in HR parlance, are people who travel with a view to learning so that they can replicate the knowledge in their own places. That is how the world has developed. We need more of that here. Learning from a country like Egypt, with just 100 million population, we need to start migrating right, not out of desperation. Nigeria has to solve her own problems. We cannot be unleashing our worst folks on nations – guys who travel just to become part of the dark economies of foreign countries, sometime just hawking on the streets or even in the drugs, prostitution or other illicit businesses. It cheapens our good folks and the rest of us. Getting a visa to almost anywhere from Nigeria now is a job of work and many employment applications are subtly stepped down once the computer sights Nigeria anywhere scanning your CV.
So, in my opinion, rather than seeking laurels based on $25 billion remittances, we need to aim much higher based on proper migration. There are vast amounts on work in Nigeria that needs to be done. And folks must be well-compensated to do the work. I have been pushing for more investment in human capital at home. I have said we can expand public services to make life more livable here. I have said we can employ a whole lot more people and use technology to ensure they earn their pay. I have said it is Nigerians that will organize Nigeria and make the country great. We can see that those who have led us have deliberately refused to do this investment. If they wanted to, we will not be hearing of an Accountant General, a custodian of our public finance, helping himself to N170 billion, or a mere Director of Finance, wantonly corner the resources of Ministry of Health to singlehandedly build a university (which must be several billions of naira of investment), a massive hotel and event centre among many of his godforsaken belonging. This is the same Ministry of Health that says there is no money to pay our medical doctors. I will not stop until everybody’s eyes are open to the possibilities of responsible public finance and the power of public goods, not the nonsensical entrepreneurship that these government officials push our poor youths into while they corner the commonwealth
Indeed, the only way our human capital will be more valuable abroad is when everyone sees that we are doing a good job of organizing our country. Are we saying we are condemned to a life of serfdom, whereby we can only serve superior races while our own abode is deprived of the same human capital by which our people add value abroad? God forbid. Perhaps on that day that we understand these issues and stop chasing symptoms, our people could remit $50 billion or $100 billion and they will not be under any pressure. I must acknowledge that the remittances for now is way more than recorded in official circles because many of our people use unofficial means to get money home. We can thus imagine the pressure they are under.