Where do Nigeria’s brightest and fittest go? By Henry Boyo

Africans in the prime of their lives were forcibly plucked from their homes and families, bundled tortuously under deck and transported as human cargoes to be sold as slaves, to plantation owners in the Americas and the West Indies about 200 years ago.  Regrettably, in recent times, there is an unexpected twist to this macabre déjà vu!  Despite the pervading economic challenges, some Nigerians, just like their counterparts in other African countries, make heroic sacrifices to educate and train our children only to gamble our investment thereafter on one throw of the dice.  Indeed, families have been known to sell their prized possessions to sponsor promising ones amongst their children for the hazardous and often fatal road to find job opportunities abroad!

The odds of setting foot in Europe are probably higher than one in 20, and even then several of the fittest and extremely “lucky” ones who make it are often hounded into asylum camps where they “enjoy” the status of glorified prisoners.  Despite the level of education and training attained back home, the toughest migrants, who manage to slip into the civil society, barely earn subsistence wages with jobs that the host citizens reject.  Invariably, family expectations of the dividends of occasional dollars and Euro remittances through the “Western Union” ultimately confine most of these unfortunate African youths to a life of bare subsistence abroad!  (See “Plight of the African Youth” at

However, by virtue, of winning the much celebrated and sought after immigration lottery tickets, some other African youths escape the torture of perilous journeys across hostile desert landscapes and turbulent oceans in rickety boats in search of jobs and a better life in Europe and America.  Invariably, the immigrants in the above two entry categories do not often possess the specialist skills required in the host countries, and therefore, end up with poorly paid blue collar jobs!

Another category of unforced “immigrants” are the privileged children of the elite and middle class from several African countries.  The immigration path for such youths is comparatively made much smoother and less hazardous by the capacity of sponsors and parents to outlay an average of about $50,000 annually for the education, travel expenses and upkeep of each child abroad.

Thus, in spite of the pervasive poverty in countries where a majority of families live on less than $2/day (i.e. less than $1000/year), it is not unusual for the cost of education of the average  middle-class African child  to result in a significant outflow of hard-earned foreign exchange.  Indeed, if only 50,000 out of over 180,000 visa applicants to the United Kingdom alone are students, this could lead to an annual outflow of about $2.5bn (i.e. over N400bn); an amount, which is incredibly close to the provision of N426.53bn for education at all levels nationwide  in the 2013 budget!  Thus, despite the incontestable reality of biting mass poverty and increasing national debt accumulation, middle class and elitist African families may ironically be subsidising the cost of education in those better-endowed and more successful economies from whom we frenziedly solicit foreign development aid and loans!

The other significant segment of African immigrants are those who are selectively head hunted; first-class brains, hard-working and experienced university lecturers, innovators, accomplished artistes and talented sportsmen, who could otherwise add value to the resolution of our abiding domestic economic/social challenges. They are regularly identified  and lured away with tempting offers and a facilitated immigration process to serve abroad.

Consequently, if Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest is valid, the writing must be on the wall for those countries who have unwittingly become victims of a unidirectional outflow of possibly the fittest and the brightest youths from their homeland, as the price they pay for the modest inflow of “Western Union” remittances from emigrants to address the foreign exchange shortages in their economies.  In contrast to the earlier generations of Africans who studied abroad, and regardless of the mode of entry, today’s youths show very little inclination to relocate and contribute to development back home, because of the relatively unattractive foreign exchange equivalent of the naira denominated salary packages and the inexplicable dearth of job opportunities on the continent.

Thus, the net result of the sacrifice of our people and our collective self-denial to invest in youth education and human capacity building is ultimately a monumental and bizarre misapplication of the scarce human and financial resources required for our own survival and national economic development.

So, how did the future of the African youth and by extension the economic viability of countries on the continent become so bleak?  What dampened the erstwhile eagerness of our youths to return home after completion of their studies abroad?  Some analysts agree that the trend changed, when retrogression was promoted during military dictatorship, while unbridled corruption and inappropriate economic and monetary policies began to drive the business of government.

Nigerians, who were earlier warmly and enthusiastically welcomed as affluent tourists (even without visa requirement) in Europe and America have become unwanted guests, as our counterproductive  and self-serving monetary management made nonsense of the purchasing value of our currency and devastated the income profile of all wage and salary earners.  The inevitable downturn in the economy and the ensuing brain drain to greener pastures continue to rob us of most of our best brains, while a collateral decay in educational infrastructure, led to rapidly tumbling standards in our secondary and tertiary institutions.  The work ethic gradually collapsed, mediocrity thrived and not too long after President Shehu Shagari glibly threatened to use our oil weapon to deal with the United States, Nigerians became regularly numbered amongst the world’s poorest,.  The IMF-inspired Structural Adjustment Programme was grafted through the backdoor after 1985, and since then, in spite of bourgeoning dollar balances made possible by about 1,000 per cent rise in crude oil prices and significant leaps in production output, the free fall of the naira exchange rate has inexplicably continued unabated. The IMF-inspired naira devaluation, which precipitated the social and economic dislocation and the eventual brain drain, have also faithfully served the same purpose of dislocating sustainable economic progress in many other African countries!

Nevertheless, all is not lost, as the huge imbalance between remuneration packages and job opportunities in Nigeria and abroad will be redressed, if the Central Bank of Nigeria relinquishes its monopoly of the forex market!  It is inexplicable, for example, for the naira to exchange for N80=$1 in 1996, with barely $4bn as total reserves and less than four months demand cover, only to exchange for over N160=$1 with over $40bn and well over 12 months imports cover in 2013!

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