Should We All ‘Check Out’ of the Country?

It sounds very much like an apocryphal tale. But it is true that the joke is once again on Nigerian society in general and the medical profession or the health sector in particular.
What I am saying is that Nigeria has lost yet another batch of medical experts to the larger world. Thousands of highly trained medical doctors have just departed these shores for greener pastures abroad as the outcome of incessant strikes embarked upon by the National Association of Resident Doctors. They have gone to join millions of talented Nigerian intellectuals, academics and professionals, who have been driven out of our land by the harsh realities of our current existence. It is not a matter of profound argument or intellectual debate to say that the death of the Nigerian middle class due to equivocation and compromise has long been awaited. Yet, implicit in the very meaning of compromise as a means of harmonising the best features of opposing values is an element of tension. And it is this unwearied straining after the ideal within the actual, rather than any tame begging of issues, that imparts so invigorating a tone to the social life of our dying middle class.

In fact, it takes a thorough grounding and deep reflection on our belligerent and turbulent social system to appreciate the interplay of the social forces that impinge on the growth of the Nigerian educated elite. But the situation now exerts a critical immediacy and honest evaluation. We cannot pretend that the profound implications of the exodus of members of the Nigerian middle class to foreign lands have been intellectually confronted except in pious lamentations and official platitudes. For instance, the Babangida task force on brain-drain was another comic relief constituted in 1988, only to signal the official recognition of the menace. Professor Ibidapo Obe, who headed the committee even attempted to bamboozle Nigerians into believing that brain drain was a good thing. Or else, why in the name of decency must our best brains be driven into a life of forced exile by the sheer arrogance and murderous fantasy of our dubious economic and political realities? Or is it difficult to contemplate that it was the savage god of Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and its hostile manifestations that reduced our campuses to barren landscapes?

Whereas, according to Prof. Adebayo Williams, the inimitable critic and essayist, nothing can be more excruciating than the pain of having to abandon one,s patriotic post at a time when national events demand scrutiny and vigilance, yet to remain in Nigeria is to surrender your life to grinding poverty and penal servitude. Hence the compelling need to choose between dying in abject poverty and negating your patriotic obligation by “checking out.” Consequently, in the mid-1980s, the first batch of Nigerian experts, having felt the suffocation occasioned by a wanton reduction of their wages to a mere pittance as a result of the senseless devaluation of the naira, fled to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Asian Tigers for survival. It was indeed precipitated by a fall-out of SAP, a right-wing economic policy dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Between 1985 and 1988, three years into the Babangida regime, 260 specialist doctors had fled Nigeria to the United States, Britain, Western Europe and the Gulf region of the Middle East. Presently, three-quarters of our pilots and aeronautic and flight engineers have left the country and only ten of our 60 orthopedic surgeons are in the country. Of the 10 million Nigerians who are said to be living outside our shores, 7.5 million are highly skilled experts.

During the yearly United States Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, an estimated 3 million Nigerians compete for the 4,000 visas allocated to the country. Even though it was revealed recently that about two million Nigerians reside in the United Kingdom, the emigration still persists. With a take-home salary that virtually cannot take him home, the average Nigerian middle class man, with his chains of academic degrees, can no longer afford the commonest house-hold property like a brand new sound system, fridge, washing machine, cooker, etc. not to talk of buying a new car. Most Nigerians are now economic and political refuges seeking asylum in countries to which they flee. To say therefore that we should remain silent while our beloved country is being stripped of men and women of great and uncommon ability, who cultivate knowledge with such remarkable zeal, is to admit the absurd. Or course, the military that brought us to this collective state of arrested development had always hinged their claim to power on the failure of politicians to make life meaningful to the people. Yet, since the past 49 years of our political independence (29 of which had been under military rule), no unified political solution has been proffered to mitigate the social injustices inflicted on the middle and lower classes by our shameless and sadistic ruling class. And one needs to be a politician before one can conveniently feed one’s household.

It is therefore a fait accompli that some academics and professionals seek to evade by clamouring for foreign grants and fellowships that usually are no longer easy to come by. It is most unfortunate that the focal points of our national life do not have noble embodiments. For instance, how on earth can we rationalize the drift into the abyss which the country is currently experiencing even under civil rule? It is now safe to say that in terms of the essential needs of the average Nigerian, the civilian administration has made the military era look like paradise. Pubic infrastructure and improvement in the people’s standard of living have been fleeting passages in this government’s programmes. Whereas Obasanjo granted loans of $40 million to Ghana and $5 million to Sao Tome and Principe, Ghanaians no longer experience power outages in their country while electricity supply is almost grinding to a halt in Nigeria. Yar,Adua has started the “Big Brother” show – like the proverbial foolish man who fends for others while his children are dying of hunger at home. Even the government’s inauguration of a committee to attract home Nigerians abroad has failed as it cannot address the security crisis, the growing unemployment curve, the rising inflation rate and the parlous state of our social infrastructure. Whatever money voted for infrastructure is diverted into private pockets and to rig elections. The jamboree continues unabated.

Nigerians must extricate themselves from a condition of helpless impotence in the face of overwhelming power show by incompetent politicians. This is the time for us to defend liberty and the advancement of democracy – not in the framework of mass exit to foreign lands, but in the fiery glare of a dramatic confrontation with the forces of retrogression ravaging our country. A country that has produced such geniuses as Philip Emeagwali, Gabriel Oyibo, Olatunji Dare, Nelson Oyesiku, Ben Okri, etc., who have conquered their worlds, cannot afford to be helpless while its human capital is being used by other countries to advance. There must be the passion to build a nation in which poverty, injustice and misery must be eliminated. We must develop faith in mankind based on belief in man,s dignity and innate desires, given education and the right economic conditions, to help his fellow man.


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