Nigerian Nurses on the Run: Increasing the Diaspora and Decreasing Concentration.

AuthorFagite, Damilola Dorcas
PositionSpecial Edition on Nigeria - Report


Recent migration patterns and their underlying motives are modelled along the new forces of globalisation which are transforming economies all over the world. The deteriorating socio-economic conditions and deepening poverty in the late sixties and early seventies propelled a wide variety of migration configurations. As the euphoria of national sovereignty waned and the early nationalists, who assumed the mantle of leadership with the exit of the imperialists, plundered the collective patrimony of the nation, and military intervention became inevitable, the country was plunged into the grip and jackboot of military dictators. During the military regime in Nigeria, the economy was bastardised, meritocracy was sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity and appointments were dispensed to trusted companions of the dictators in power. The situation compelled many Nigerian professionals including nurses to 'flee' to a more conducive clime in their effort to increase their standard of living.

Macro-economic adjustment measures and huge increase in the number of entrants into the labour market fuelled job crisis; creating sustained pressure for emigration. In the same vein, insecurity, better prospects of living conditions amongst other factors also fuelled migration of Nigerian-trained nurses and other health professionals to developed economies.

One of the greatest obstacles to Africa's development is the emigration of African skilled workers to developed countries. The exodus of highly trained people from developing and underdeveloped countries to industrialized or developed nations is not a new phenomenon; however, the magnitude of the problem in Africa and its alarming increase presents a growing urgency for action as the consequence of this migration threatens to stunt the overall development of the continent. As serious as the consequences of migration of professionals are for the overall development of the African continent, the health sector is particularly affected. The loss of nurses in Nigeria, in particular, is a growing phenomenon, which is fuelled principally by shortages of nurses in developed countries where there are high demands for nurses to fill the vacuum in their health care systems created as a result of their growing population.

The United States has 126,000 fewer nurses than it needs, and government figures show that the country could face a shortage of 800,000 registered nurses by 2020 (Brain Drain in Africa: Facts and Figures). Research has also revealed that nurses from Africa south of the Sahara have been migrating in a reasonable quantity to countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Portugal, Ireland, Australia, etc. (Odoemene and Osuji, 2015:1542). Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that although Africa south of the Sahara has twenty-five percent of the world's diseases burden, it possesses only 1.3 percent of the trained health workforce needed to combat these diseases (WHO 2004a, b). Todaro and Smith (2006, 390) submits that education played a powerful role in the growing problem of international migration of nurses from 'poor' countries to the 'rich' ones, as the quality of nursing education in Africa, and further training in the profession cannot be compared to what is obtainable in developed countries.

Significant numbers of Nigerian-trained nurses migrate every year to developed countries or to another sector of the economy. This is as a result of understaffing which results in stress and increase workloads (Crush 2006:2). According to Docquier and Marfouk (2006: 193-218), 10.7 percent of the highly skilled nurses who were trained in Nigeria ended up working abroad mostly in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Many of the remaining nurses are ill-motivated, not only because of their workload, but also because they are poorly paid and equipped, and have limited career opportunities. These in turn lead to nurses migrating and consequently, crippling the health system, thereby, placing greater strain on the remaining nurses who themselves seek to migrate from the poor working conditions (Dovlo). There is a considerable literature attesting that the migration of skilled and well-trained nurses from developing countries like Nigeria to developed countries is increasing dramatically (Crush 2006:2).

While different scholars espouse different reasons for the increase, all agreed that it is happening and that hit hardest by the brain drain are the developing countries, as they sometimes lose a good number of their trained-nurses to developed countries which can better weather their relatively smaller losses of skilled nurses. In the interview conducted among trained-nurses in Nigeria, it was revealed that a quarter to two-thirds of them expressed an intention to migrate.

By way of explanation, brain drain is a popular euphemism for the phenomenon whereby a significantly large number of highly skilled individuals leave a particular geographical area, usually their nations of origin, for other nations over a comparatively short period of time because of a variety of reasons. A fundamental contribution to the brain drain syndrome was a change in the political equation.

This study assessed published and unpublished literature on nurses' migration in Nigeria, and Africa in general. Government reports and documents were also used for statistical purpose. Documents were scrutinised and carefully examined for relevant information and data on migration of nurses in Nigeria, and issues affecting the Nigerian nursing workforce, as well as the effects of the migration on the Nigerian health care system and recipient countries. This crucial finding was that few of the studies reviewed were based on Nigeria and on primary quantitative data. This paper attempts to extract relevant content material from these previous studies. In some of the publications reviewed for this study, the factors responsible for nurses to migrate, that is, 'push and pull' were discussed (e.g. Dovlo 1999; Meeus 2003; Padarath et. al. 2003). These are helpful in that they provide an opportunity to assess the overall impact of various factors influencing migration of Nigerian-trained nurses.

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