ANALYSIS: Students, doctors fleeing hardship…How ‘Japa’ syndrome will cripple Nigerian systems
The Yoruba slang ‘Japa’, which means to run or flee, has become synonymous with the mass exodus of Nigerians to other countries in search of greener pastures
The nation’s current state −insecurity and economic woes- has fueled the phenomenon.
The 2018 song ‘Japa’ by singer Naira Marley, may have also influenced transforming a hitherto unpopular expression into what could be adjudged the most recognisable word in Nigeria currently.
Travelling out of one’s country to another country to seek better economic opportunities is not new, but the current trend has become worrisome.
The countries of choice are mainly the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany and many other economic powerhouses where life is far better and security is guaranteed.
Professionals in the ICT sector, health and medicine, and students are among most Nigerians who have left the country searching for a greener pasture. This has had dire consequences on every sector of the economy.
In the last eight years, 5,600 Nigerian medical doctors have migrated to the United Kingdom (UK).
Uche Rowland, President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), was quoted in a report by Premium Times that Nigeria has 24,000 licensed medical doctors available in the country, less than 10 per cent of the number needed to meet a WHO recommendation.
For a country of over 200million population, a mix of 23 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 10,000 population are required to deliver essential health services, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
But Rowland said only one doctor is available to treat 30,000 patients in some Southern states, while in the North, it is one doctor to 45,000 patients.
According to a recent report from the General Medical Council of the UK website, about 200 Nigerian-trained doctors were licensed by the UK government in one month between August and September 2022.
Figures obtained from the website also showed that between January and September 2022, about 1,307 doctors trained in Nigeria were licensed in the UK.
According to the site, a total of about 10,296 doctors, who obtained their degrees in Nigeria, currently practise in the UK.
Why medical doctors leave Nigeria
Maiyaki Peter, a medical doctor, said the migration of skilled labour, including doctors from Nigeria, to other countries is a serious indicator of the failure of systems.
Peter highlighted poor remuneration, poor working environment, unbearable conditions of service, political instability, poor infrastructural development and quest for a better quality of life, among others as reasons my professionals exit the country.
He added that the development has put more pressure on already under-staffed medical systems, loss of skilled medical manpower, collapsing medical system, poor quality of life for Nigerians, and lower life expectancy in Nigeria.
Uwem Udoh, another medical doctor based in Nigeria, revealed that doctors’ migration to other countries is mainly economical as most of them migrate for better living standards, adding that the facilities for proper practice is short in Nigeria, as well as poor government infrastructure.
Udoh noted that this has led to lower number of doctors for the populace, adding that the quality of training of new doctors will be reduced drastically as most of the consultants are the ones leaving.
He urged the government to improve the infrastructure in Nigerian hospitals and improve the remuneration of doctors and other health practitioners.
He also urged the government to come out with policies that will ensure continuous training of doctors.
Udoh practices in a private hospital, but he lamented that practicing in Nigeria is difficult although he is passionate about taking care of the sick.
Another medical doctor, Donald Egwu, said “You don’t beat a child and ask him not to cry. It’s as simple as that”. “These doctors are migrating to other countries for better working/living conditions. I don’t blame anyone that chose that route especially after going through medical school in Nigeria”.
Egwu recounted his ordeal while looking for a place for his housemanship, noting that it took him almost two years to get a place.
That was a depressing experience, he said.
“In Nigeria generally, employment opportunities are very low and it has gotten to a point that even medical doctors find it difficult to get jobs. It has become a critical situation,” he said.
“If you talk about the WHO ratio of doctors to patients, you’ll realize that the doctors are not even enough and they are now migrating to other countries because the government is not serious about the Ministry of Health.”
“If you check the budget and what is allocated to the ministry, I don’t want to talk about the corruption going on there, but let’s even assume that everything allocated is being put into proper use, it’s still not enough, based on global standards, to cater for infrastructure, medical equipment, salary and all.”
According to him, the “situation is quite complicated as it’s not just about remunerations because most Nigerian hospitals are poorly funded and they lack equipment that should make work easy for health care workers, as well as insecurity because the country is unsafe, coupled with economic issues like inflation and all”.
“I don’t blame anybody for migrating to countries with better opportunities and conditions because if you offer a child something sugar as well as something bitter, that child will definitely go for the sweet one.”
“It’s a welcome development because everybody is looking for ways to better their lives.”
Speaking on the possible solutions, Egwu said the government should be ready to change the narrative first by drafting up policies that will have positive impacts on the health sector, increasing budgetary allocations to the health sector for better infrastructure and remunerations, incentives to make the health care workers because they also have families depending on them, so the responsibility is enormous on them.
“You and I know that it is a very delicate profession and as it is said, a hungry man is an angry man, so you don’t expect such persons in that condition to effectively attend to patients, no matter how humane the person is, it will have a negative impact.”
He added, “The government needs to come up with better policies, build standard hospitals with standard equipment.”
While also speaking on the effects of the migration on him as a doctor still in Nigeria, he said, “It’s been really challenging for me as a medical practitioner still in Nigeria because the morale is low and a lot of times you may want to make calls, referrals to some of your colleagues only for you to realize that they’ve left the country.”
“I really fear for what will be the fate of the Nigerian health sector in future because even those in medical schools especially in their final year, they are all working towards relocating once they are out of school unlike during our time when we were just thinking about residency.”
Students are largest migrants
For students migrating for studies, some of them decried the situation of writing JAMB several times just to get admission, coupled with the incessant ASUU strike, while their contemporaries in other countries are doing way better.
Kemi Martins, who just gained admission to study in the UK, said she was very happy to relocate to “a better country that prioritises the interest of the general public in terms of education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.”
Meanwhile, Victor Ogungbemi, who is trying everything possible to travel abroad for further studies, lamented that his parents can hardly afford to cater for his well-being. So, he is seriously exploring all options to probably get a scholarship.
On their part, some parents have lamented over the financial burden of sponsoring their children abroad, considering the economic hardship in the country.
A businessman, Umoh Okon, revealed that he presently has two of his children studying in Canada. Okon said the financial implication has taken a toll on him as he struggles to meet up with the fees and other necessities.
He, however, said that what matters most is the fact that his children are acquiring quality education overseas with adequate infrastructures, stressing that his decision was necessitated due to the persistent ASUU strike, among other factors.
Another parent, Abdulrahman Ibrahim, who has three children studying in different countries, said he has no regrets and he is ready to empty his bank account to ensure his children have quality education.
He further revealed that he is planning to relocate to the United States by early next year due to the high cost of living in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, there are some other parents who cannot afford to send their children to study abroad.
Ngozi Amadi, who is a petty trader, said she has five children, three of whom are supposed to be studying in the university but they are learning trades to support the family.
She appealed to the government to “consider the ordinary Nigerians and improve their standard of leaving”.
A senior lecturer at the Delta State University, Paul Opone, identified three factors as the major reason for migration of Nigerians abroad, namely insecurity, bad leadership and poverty arising from bad governance and dwindling economy.
According to him, “the average Nigerians are faced with untold difficulties and are no longer sure of their safety with every passing day”.
He stated that ASUU strike has become perennial, leading to fall in educational standard in Nigeria, noting that many families who could afford exorbitant school fees abroad take the chances, thereby costing the country so much in foreign exchange.
“Many of our professionals including lecturers, medical doctors to name a few, go abroad to ply their trade there leading to brain drain in Nigeria,” the university lecturer said.
“The effect is unimaginable. Nigeria is losing her best brains to foreign countries, which the most critical element in national development.”
He, therefore, urged the government to be more serious with the welfare of its citizens and the education sector, adding that more allocation has to be channeled to the education sector to be able to meet global need and make Nigerian universities more competitive.
In the same vein, a lecturer at the Imo State University, Chukwuemeka Nnadi, blamed the federal government in totality for the whole situation, stressing that if the government had lived up to its responsibilities by ensuring that the masses have access to basic infrastructure, as well as job opportunities and better financial allocations to the various sectors in the country, things would have been different.