It’s Time To Listen To…… Emeagwali & One Million Nigerians (Part 3)

 NIGERIA YOUR TREASURE: Today, if man or history challenges us to produce our treasure house (our legacy?) what will it be? The ‘Accumulated Hydrocarbons, the ‘Rain Forest’ or …



emeagwaliToday, if man or history challenges us to produce our treasure house (our legacy?) what will it be? The ‘Accumulated Hydrocarbons, the ‘Rain Forest’ or ‘Human Resources’? None of the above! Truth is, we are yet to consciously recognize, appreciate, collect document and preserve nationalknowledge – which is and remains the greatest treasure for any conscious nation with an ambitious vision. Knowledge is the ultimate legacy of man’s existence on the planet

Earth. We don’t have to visit the American Library of Congress (the largest empire of human knowledge to date) to appreciate this fact of history. The above statement is now being validated by the revelations of 21st century Information Age. This makes it necessary to start to ask such patient questions as: what is the gross asset value of

Nigeria’s human resources abroad – analyzed in terms of scientific knowledge, expertise, skill and practical experience? How best can we pool all these quantum knowledge together to benefit Nigeria (Africa)?

 One fundamental and inescapable truth is that we will need abundant knowledge, commitment, resources and energy to become a relevant player in the global Technology development domain – especially in the IT & CT domain. One clear way of not attaining the goals of this very fundamental national mission is to neglect the importance of the

largest concentration of the knowledge reservoir of Nigerians in Diaspora”. It will amount to the greatest development tragedy that can befall any nation. Presently these warehouses of knowledge are wasting away – really wasting away, just like the many million tons of ripe tomatoes produced by the remarkable talent of our rural farmers, but for lack of national distribution network of our farm produce. How long can we afford to continue to exist like this as a nation – a nation afraid of knowledge? Or a nation that

hates knowledge, science and technology?

 At best, what the national pretence of contact or ignorance is better than knowledge has done for us as a nation is to create ‘an artificial economy’ – this monster that stirs us daily in the face, strangulating our dream, labour and creativity into what we now know as “a capital merchandizing environment’, where bags of money and finished goods and services change hands. Amidst this state of apathy is the equation of run-away brain drain that we must now start to address with all seriousness and resolve to turn around its impact.

 It stands to reason that a nation of more than 120 million people that funds the development of Science and Technology with less than 100,000 US dollars (N1 billion) annually but can afford to place a page advert of the same value on Wall Street Journal

and/or budget to build a stadium at an estimated cost of N30 billion – can only be classified among nations that hate knowledge, science and technology. This negative attitude to technology development and knowledge incubation must change.

 It is time to listen to the accumulated mental agony of Nigerians in diaspora. Far from it the ignorant will assume that these Nigerians have fully adjusted to and/or fully assimilated into the environmental or cultural settings of their different host countries. Those who harbor this view are dead wrong. Gross majorities of Nigerians abroad are culturally alienated and unhappy to a very large extent. The mental satisfaction they have gained overtime by realizing their intellectual potential does not ultimately fulfill the entire dream of life for them as Nigerian. The life experiences of these Nigerians in diaspora can indeed be described as cultural exile.

 For a long time our dear nation has suffered a self-inflicted problem that has created a gross psychological imbalance in our national development cycle. Confidence in transparent and productive governance became totally eroded. Citizens can no longer

realize their dream and full potentials in life; life itself became highly insecure and near meaningless? These and other factors have essentially motivated the brain drain tragedy. Millions of Nigerians out there are indeed victims of bad governance. Whereas those who

went in search of knowledge in early 30s returned home very committed. The following are the views of Philip Emeagwali who has conducted case studies on the ‘brain drain’ issue and generated functional solutions as a renowned Consultant on the subject of brain drain.

” The brain drain is a historic as well as recent phenomenon. Over four centuries, the slave ships brought the ancestors of 200 million Africans now living in the United States, Brazil, Jamaica and in the disapora. These 200 million diasporan Africans have the highest standard of living and possess the education and skill that can be used to develop Africa but it will be impractical for them to return to Africa.

 Today, one in three African University graduate now live and work outside Africa. There are more Sierra Leonean medical doctors in the city of Chicago than in the entire nation of Sierra Leone. Africa’s most important export to Europe and the United States is trained professionals, not petroleum, gold and diamond. It seems like there are more African intellectuals living abroad than within Africa.

 African officials come to the United States to seek technical assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. According to the United States Census Bureau, Africans are the most educated ethnic group in the United States. Therefore, our leaders can seek technical assistance from Africans living in the United States (and Europe). Sixty-four percent of Nigerians in this country has one or more university degree. There are one million Africans living in the United States. We came to America to study. We planned to return home. But things got worse at home and we decided (orare forced) to remain in America.

 It wasn’t always like this. When Nnamdi Azikwe, and Kwame Nkrumah arrived in the United States in 1920s and 30s, there were about 20 sub-Saharan Africans in the entire United States. A hundred percent of those that came to the united States returned home.

The widely held myth is that Africa is only exporting raw materials to the west. Africa is also exporting talented human resources to Europe and America.

One million Africans are working outside Africa. At the same time, Africa spends four billion dollars a year on salary of 100,000 foreign experts. Yet, African nations are unwilling to spend a similar amount of money to recruit one million African university graduates who live and work outside Africa. In effect, we are operating one third of African University resources to satisfy the manpower needs of western nations. One third of the African education budget is a supplement to the American education budget. In effect, Africa is giving development assistance to the United States. At the rate medical doctors are leaving Nigeria, we could eventually have more Nigerian Doctors working outside Nigeria than within.


How can we reverse the brain drain? The nation’s brain drain episode can indeed be turned into a ‘brain gain’. Information and Communications Technology now affords us the singular opportunity to create a foundation for harnessing the enormous knowledge potentials of our scientist and engineers scattered in many parts of the world. Above all, the contacts they have build-up overtime become an additional asset that can be exploited to the benefit of our nation. However, one fundamental weakness that must be overcome

is how to build a strong unity and leadership base amongst the numerous complex minds that make up this ocean of intellectuals and experts. It is quite possible to realize this objective given the enabling environment, resources and incentives. We must begin now!

 The following represents Philip Emeagwali’s response on how the brain drain can be reversed: “We begin by building a data bank of the more than 100,000 African academics, scientists and experts living abroad. Then we offer them reasonable compensation and benefit packages that will entice them to return to Africa. Recruiting some well-paid scientists and engineers may not be possible. An alternative will be to use their services on voluntary and part-time basis. For example, those American college professors can teach in Africa during the summer months and on their one year sabbatical leave.

 Our internal loss of skills is a form of brain drain. To make ends meet, most skilled African professionals have “extracurricular” occupations. I know a Nigerian professor that raises poultry, a doctor that manages a beer parlor, and an engineer that operates a kiosk. Last year, 2,000 Nigerian pharmacists left the country. Street hawkers fill the void

and are dispensing expired drugs to Nigerians! We need to establish ‘brain gain’ by encouraging cross-migration non-African professionals to compensate for those who left Africa. For example, Russia recently lost 80 percent of its mathematicians. After the cold war, many Russian scientists emigrated to Iran, Iraq and Israel. African nations failed to hire unemployed Russian scientists who were accustomed to earning low wages.

 They should require African professionals to give something back to their country as repayment for the state-subsidized education they received. For example, they could require doctors to do three years of rural community service before receiving their medical certificates. African’s brain drain is United States‘ brain gain.

The United States has increased its immigration quota to admit 135,000 Information Technologists over the next three years. They should ask the United States to pay an indemnity for luring those 135,000 professionals from Third World nations. One might

ask: Where do we find the money to pay these experts? I will recommend we reduce arms purchases. Nigeria claims it can only afford to pay its professors 100 dollars per month although she spent millions of dollars fighting in Sierra Leone. The money spent on

warfare will pay the salary of 600,000 professors. We need to change our priorities from warfare to technological advancement.

 Affluent Africans fly to the United States for medical treatment. In other words, few Africans contribute to the USD$200,000 a year salary of an American medical doctor while they pay doctors in Africa less than USD$1,000 a year. The Nigerian defence sector has one of the largest budgetary allocations while technological development –

through the Ministry of Science & Technology – receive the smallest budget allocation. The military budget is about 100 times larger than the technological development budget. It should be reversed.

After forty years of exporting oil, Nigeria still contracts petroleum exploration and recovery to western companies who, in turn, retain 10 percent of the oil revenues.

Strength is not purchasing an obsolete Russian jet fighter. Strength is Nigeria owning the technology (knowledge) it uses to extract and refine petroleum.”

 This series on “It’s Time to Listen to Emeagwali and one million Nigerians will be concluded under “Part four”. Meanwhile I wish to thank all those who have read and followed this presentation on issues of knowledge, technology and brain drain and the need to refocus our development mindset to positive thoughts – while cultivating the much needed critical minimum competence and technological capacities to compete with the rest of the world. My special appreciation goes to all those young minds and good

People (Nigerians at home and abroad) who took special interest on the issues raised and found valuable time to respond by sending me all those creative, interactive and very motivating e-mails. I thank you all.

In this article

Join the Conversation