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Japa and Nigeria’s biggest export

It is common to read about the so-called Japa-syndrome, referring to the exit of Nigeria’s skilled workforce in search of opportunities abroad. To call it a syndrome makes it look like a disease. May be it is a dis-ease. However, there are two sides to every coin – head or tail. Again, the cup is either half-full or half-empty, depending on how we look. We have examined the japa phenomenon, pointing out both sides to this coin, briefly though. We will love to hear from you. What are your thoughts?
Japa
Japa Credit: Edugist for the collage
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Japa has passed into the daily Pidgin English lexicon from the Yoruba language to capture the mass departure from Nigeria of its intelligentia and skilled hands, a phenomenon also known as brain drain.

In 2022, the average monthly search volume for japa in Google was about 100,000, Bard, Google’s version of chat generative pre-trained transformer (ChatGPT) stated. The search volume for japa could be higher or lower in 2023 than it was in 2022. Overall, it is safe to say that japa has appeared in Google searches millions of times in 2023. But the exact number is unknown.

Let us build a little more linguistic context. The term “Japa” is a Nigerian Pidgin English word that means “to run away” or “to flee.” It is often used to describe the phenomenon of highly skilled Nigerians leaving the country in search of better opportunities abroad. This exodus of talent is known as the “brain drain.” There are many arguments for and against brain drain.

Members of a professional group whose emigration often causes a public stir are medical doctors. This is because of the vital role healthcare delivery plays in any economy or society. One has to be healthy to be productive. Health is wealth, the saying goes. We have chosen this profession to illustrate japa for optimal effect.

Read also: Number of Nigerian students going to study in USA hits all-time high

Read also: Nigeria has highest number of international students’ population: UWG official

Nigerian doctors are leaving

Nigeria, one of the 54 countries on the African continent, has about 225 million inhabitants, or around one-fifth of the 1.40 billion people in Africa, according to Worldometer, an online database that gives live population figures.

In Nigeria, the doctor-to-population ratio was 3.81 in 2018 compared to 2.65 in 2003 per 10, 000 people. In April 2019 the Nigeria Medical Association said there were 40,000 doctors taking care of 200 million people. This is about one physician to 5, 000 patients. While the World Health Organisation shies away from recommending a benchmark ratio, India claims it has achieved WHO’s recommended ratio of a physician to 1, 000 persons.

According to the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), at least 2,000 medical doctors left Nigeria between 2021 and 2022. The association also said that nearly nine out of 10 currently practising in Nigeria are planning to emigrate.

The reasons for the brain drain of Nigerian medical doctors are complex and multifaceted. However, some of the most commonly cited reasons include:

Low salaries: Medical doctors in Nigeria are paid significantly less than their counterparts in other countries. This is a major disincentive for doctors to stay in Nigeria.

Poor working conditions: The working conditions for doctors in Nigeria are often poor. This includes long hours, inadequate facilities, and a lack of resources.

Lack of opportunities: There are limited opportunities for professional development and advancement for doctors in Nigeria. This can lead to boredom and frustration, which can make doctors more likely to leave.

Political instability: Nigeria is a politically unstable country. This can make it difficult for doctors to plan for the future and can lead to feelings of insecurity, which can make doctors more likely to leave.

The brain drain of Nigerian medical doctors is a serious problem that is having a negative impact on the country’s healthcare system. The government needs to take steps to address the factors that are driving doctors to leave the country. This includes increasing salaries, improving working conditions, and providing more opportunities for professional development.

Taxpayers money

Professionals are at liberty to take their expertise to any location or country of their choice. But we also find some difficulty with those who go away having been funded through university by taxpayers’ money, and they do not remember that they have to pay something back before going.

This applies specifically to doctors. Most of the doctors who go through federal institutions pay next to nothing to get medical degrees, and yet they leave here without paying back. While people should leave when they want to leave, we do think that a structure or system should be put in place that those who leave without having served the taxpayers who paid their fees through school, should be made to refund the money spent on them before leaving.

This is our editorial stance and we hold strongly to this opinion. The same thing applies to teachers, to those who pass through public institutions, who have been funded by taxpayers, to also remember that when they leave, someone paid their fees here and someone sent them to school here, and that either they pay back that money before going or they arrange for the money to be paid back.

Once this is done, anybody is free to leave and the system will continue to regenerate itself and continue to produce new teachers, new doctors and all of those. But we set out to talk about Nigeria’s biggest export in this week’s editorial, not to directly address policies around having professionals give back to society.

Nigeria’s biggest export

People familiar with Nigeria’s oil and gas sector know that the country has more natural gas than crude oil but has concentrated mostly on black liquid gold. Crude oil export has remained dominant and the highest foreign exchange earner for the country since the 1970s.

Nevertheless, in the last two years, Diaspora remittance has overtaken crude oil export as the highest foreign exchange earner making it Nigeria’s biggest export. Diaspora remittance means money that Nigerians living abroad send back home.

Diaspora remittance has been higher than oil revenue in Nigeria for the past two years. In 2021, Diaspora remittance was USD19.20 billion, while oil revenue was USD17.20 billion. This means that Diaspora remittance was 11 per cent higher than oil revenue. And in 2022, Diaspora remittance was USD20.90 billion while oil revenue was USD18.70 billion. Remittance was 13 per cent higher. This is a significant shift in Nigeria’s economy, as oil revenue has traditionally been the country’s main source of foreign exchange.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this shift. One factor is the decline in oil prices in recent years. Another factor is the increasing number of Nigerians who are living and working abroad. These Nigerians are sending money back to their families in Nigeria, which is helping to boost the country’s economy.

The increasing importance of diaspora remittance is a positive development for Nigeria. It shows that the country is becoming more diversified and less reliant on oil revenue. This is important for Nigeria’s long-term economic growth.

Here are some other things to consider when comparing Nigeria’s diaspora remittance to oil revenues. The value of the naira has fluctuated in recent years, which has affected the value of both diaspora remittance and oil revenue. The definition of diaspora remittance can vary, so it is important to use consistent data when making comparisons. The oil and gas sector is still a major part of Nigeria’s economy, and it is important to continue to develop this sector.

Overall, the increasing importance of diaspora remittance is a positive development for Nigeria. It shows that the country is becoming more diversified and less reliant on oil revenue. This is important for Nigeria’s long-term economic growth.

Making sense of the situation

Nigeria’s biggest resource is its people – its human capital. Making the most of this stock of capital means harvesting the demographic dividends that come with a large population. This harvest means an intentional development of systems that are both effective and efficient at producing and distributing knowledge, skills and abilities. But it also requires creating an environment that is enabling, so professionals stay after acquiring the knowledge, skills and abilities from these systems.

Nigeria is a blessed country that has been mismanaged over the years. Ordinarily, with the number of doctors that have left, this should lead to a total closedown.

But we have this extraordinary capacity to keep regenerating, to keep producing and becoming a factory of doctors and lawyers. So, Japa is not such a particularly bad thing. But then we should create an environment for those who wish to stay to be able to achieve the best they can. And that is what is still lacking.

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Folaranmi Ajayi
Editor
1 year ago

But we have this extraordinary capacity to keep regenerating, to keep producing and becoming a factory of doctors and lawyers. So, Japa is not such a particularly bad thing. But then we should create an environment for those who wish to stay to be able to achieve the best they can. And that is what is still lacking.

These lines nailed the points. However, I have my reservations about this conundrum called JAPA as I have argued ‘Japaism’ should be taught in business classes, the threat to our economy as a nation and the implication.

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