People & Money

Poor Nigerian Doctors and Greener Foreign Hospitals  

A government with people like Ngige and Adewole cannot be said to be willing to benefit from the expertise of all the doctors Professor Abdulkareem was addressing”.

It’s no longer news that doctors and other healthcare workers are leaving Nigeria for a better life outside the country. As only roughly half of registered doctors in Nigeria are still practising in the country, it seems the exodus has now gotten to a stage where universities are begging their new graduate doctors not to leave Nigeria. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Professor Sulyman Abdulkareem, speaking at the induction ceremony for the university’s newly minted medical doctors on Tuesday, encouraged the doctors not to flee Nigeria like their senior colleagues. Prof Abdulkareem, quoted by the media, said, “It is disheartening to note that we may have just trained you to become assets to other countries… Let me make it clear to you that the nation needs your services dearly and is willing to benefit from your expertise.”

Two things to unpack in Professor Abdulkareem’s appeal here. One is that there is nothing disheartening about Nigeria training doctors and other graduates for other countries. This is something we have chosen to do as our government has refused to produce any policy to address the problem. There has been no serious attempt at providing our graduates with opportunities while we continue to invest billions of naira to subdisise university education for many more. As at 2020, 40% of Nigeria’s 6.9 million graduates were unemployed, with another 20% underemployed.  Every year, over 500,000 new graduates are produced. Needless to add that doctors are not immune from this reality as the Nigerian Medical Association has warned for years that as many as 40% of doctors were unemployed or underemployed.

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Since it has somehow continued to make sense to our government to keep churning out graduates our economy has no capacity to use, it makes sense that these graduates will go where they are needed. As a Professor of Chemical Engineering, Abdulkareem will probably recognise this movement of talents from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration as simple “diffusion.” Going by the salary and conditions of service available to doctors and other healthcare workers, Nigeria continues to behave like a country with a high concentration of medical workers. The diffusion was, therefore, always inevitable.

Secondly, while Nigeria does need these medical workers that are leaving, Nigeria has not shown any willingness to benefit from their expertise as the Vice Chancellor claimed. In fact, until now, Nigerian leaders have treated the underutilisation and subsequent emigration of these professionals as a minor issue. When confronted in 2018 about the inability of doctors to get residency opportunities, an important prerequisite for their career growth, the then minister of health, Professor Isaac Adewole essentially told doctors to find other jobs to do if they couldn’t get residency.

In 2019, the then Minister of Health, Dr. Chris Ngige insisted that Nigeria had more than enough doctors, waiving away concerns that the country was facing a crisis of inadequate staff in its health sector. A government with people like Ngige and Adewole cannot be said to be willing to benefit from the expertise of all the doctors Professor Abdulkareem was addressing.

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, one must admit that patriotism by itself does not pay anyone’s bill and graduates, medical graduates no less, have financial obligations to deal with. It is unkind to keep telling people with no prospects for decent jobs in Nigeria to not seek opportunities elsewhere. As long as remuneration continues to be poor, Nigerian doctors will seek opportunities in countries where the pasture or in their case hospitals appear lusher.

Sodiq Alabi

Sodiq Alabi is a communications practitioner and analyst who has experience in leading and supporting communication processes. He has expertise in organising media events, preparing reports, creating content, and managing websites and social media platforms.

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