Nigeria: Despair Forces Nigerians to Emigrate, Fear Cripples the Rest – What a Country!

FOR most citizens of this country, being a Nigerian is an unbearable burden, a dehumanising experience. While citizens of most other countries take for granted basic amenities and reasonable levels of security and welfare, Nigerians have absolutely no expectation of such things. They are denied critical services in education, health and basic infrastructure, such as electricity and sanitation, not to mention the protection of lives and property.

This shouldn’t be so, both constitutionally and philosophically. Nigeria’s Constitution explicitly states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”, and Thomas Jefferson, former US president, said: “The care of human life and happiness is the only legitimate object of good government.” What’s more, in 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution urging member-countries to make the happiness and social progress of their people the focus of public policy.

But the constitutional and philosophical principles and UN resolution do not guide how Nigeriatreats its citizens. Instead of the people’s safety and welfare being the primary goal of public policy, their happiness and progress are impaired by government neglect and failure. The situation is so bad that, as Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State put it last week, “living in Nigeria is hell”.

Well, the sorry state of affairs has two consequences. One is the large emigration of Nigerians; compelled by utter despair, they’re leaving Nigeria in droves. The other is the Hobbesian conditions under which most of those remaining are forced to live, gripped daily by the fear of terrorists and kidnappers.

These two consequences of state neglect – the growing emigration of Nigerians and the fear and uncertainty under which those at home continue to live -are symptoms of a fragile or failing state, and partly explain why Nigeria is near the bottom of the World Happiness Index (2022), ranked118th out of 146 countries, and near the bottom of the Social Progress Index (2021), ranked 138th out of 168 countries. Put simply: Nigeria is a fragile or failing state.

Let’s start with emigration. Recently, the Sunday Times, a major British newspaper, published a story titled “The Nigerian new wave”. In the story, the newspaper said that “soaring numbers of Nigerians are landing in the UK”, adding that Nigeria “is facing its largest exodus in a generation, perhaps ever.”

But who are the Nigerians emigrating? Well, they are people who “are abandoning businesses in Nigeria and trying their luck in Britain instead”; they are professionals, such as doctors, academics and technology experts, who are taking advantage of the UK’s “skilled work visas”; and they are young people who are entering the UK with study visas. In 2019, just over 19,000 skilled work and study visas were issued to Nigerians, but the number rose to 59,000 in 2021, making Nigerian migrants the fastest growing among the top five nationalities granted such visas.

Now, the fact that Western countries are welcoming large numbers of Nigerians as skilled workers attests to the high quality of Nigeria’s human resources. But the circumstances and consequences of the huge exodus are alarming. According to a World Bank survey, publishedlast year, half of young Nigerians want to leave the country, and about 56,000 more Nigerians are leaving than arriving per year. Well, we know why, don’t we? Nigerians are fleeing to escape a comatose economy, decrepit education and health systems and, of course, terrorism and kidnapping.

But, think about it. If technology experts are leaving Nigerian banks to boost technology industries overseas, if bright and promising lecturers are fleeing Nigeria to join foreign universities and if Nigerian doctors are emigrating to prop up the health services of Western countries, what does such brain drain mean for Nigeria?

Well, there’s one benefit: remittances by the emigrants. There’s another: international experience. But Nigeria would only benefit directly from such experience if the emigrants return home, which they rarely do. Truth is, the effects of large-scale emigration of talented Nigerians are enormous and hugely damaging.

Take education. The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, on strike for over six months, complains, rightly, that Nigerian universities are being hollowed out by the exodus of Nigerian academics, while the universities are not attracting foreign lecturers and students. But unless Nigerian universities can attract and retain the best and brightest from home and abroad, they’ll continue to languish at the bottom of world league tables.

What about the health sector? The World Health Organisation recommends doctors-to-patients ratio of 1 to 600, but Nigeria has 1 to 6,000! How would the exodus of Nigerian doctors improve that appalling situation? Of course, it would make things worse.

So much for those fleeing Nigeria; what about those in the country? Well, pity them because most Nigerians at home are condemned to a nasty and brutish life conditioned by insecurity and terrorism.

Recently, I announced the passing of my father-in-law at the age of 92. First, I’m grateful to Uncle Sam Amuka, the iconic publisher of this great newspaper, who called me to extend his condolences. But I was shocked that the family refused an offer to publish the obituary and details of the funeral arrangements in newspapers for fear of kidnappers, for fear that kidnappers sometimes followed funeral events to wreak havoc. I was literally begged: “We appreciate the gesture, but please don’t do it!”

Really? Baffled! But the fact that educated and enlightened people genuinely entertained such fear and refused to honour their departed loved one in such a memorable way shows how the spread and impunity of bandits and kidnappers have crippled daily life in Nigeria.

But why? Why are Nigerians emigrating in droves, fuelling massive brain drain? Why are those at home left at the mercy of bandits and kidnappers?The answer is simple: Nigeria lacks good government, it lacks a government that makes the security, welfare and happiness of Nigerians its primary purpose, its only legitimate object. What a country!

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