Here is a question I once asked a football aficionado friend whom I first had the argument in this piece and I feel You can answer it too. “Does Brazilian star Neymar Jr decision to leave Santos for FC Barcelona mean Brazilian football is high quality or does it mean Brazilian football is low quality?” “It is high quality,” You argue. The question is why then didn’t he and many others like him who have left decide to shun the European giants and stay at home? “That means Brazillian football is low quality then,” you shrug. Now that brings up the question: if it is low quality how come it managed to produce such a quality player like Neymar and why do European giants go to Brazil with wads of cash if the players there are not good enough? The real answer to the question is that you really shouldn’t measure the quality of the Brazilian League by the number of its players who move to Europe or other countries.
That question leads me to the real reason for today’s opinion piece. There is no doubt about the fact that the Nigerian contingent put up an abysmal performance at the Rio 2016 Olympics and it was all due the fact that they were badly treated by all the authorities involved in the preparation for the event. However, if you followed the Olympics, you would likely have encountered the fact that athletes of Nigerian origin have won medals for various other countries, and the accompanying sentiment on Nigerian social media that many of them defected (and are defecting) to those other countries because the Nigerian system has failed them. This sentiment that the Nigerian system is failing/has failed (depending on the level of anger and hysteria of the person expressing the sentiment) is neither new nor limited to sports. The argument that the Nigeria’s “best brains” are leaving the country spreads across academics, medicine, technology, in fact, every sphere of the Nigerian life. The lament everywhere seems to be “How will Nigeria develop if the products of its education system don’t stay around to contribute to its development?”
Going with the Neymar example I made above, I think we are making mountains out of molehills with this issue of defections/emigrations contributing to Nigeria’s underdevelopment. While it is admittedly a problem, but it is not really as big as we think it is. We cannot (and should not) really measure our progress or lack of it as a nation, by looking at the number of our compatriots who defect abroad. So the wailing that the best brains are leaving for greener pastures is just much ado about nothing. Just stick with me; I will explain what I mean.
It is not that we don’t have problems in Nigeria, we have plenty and here is not the place to list them. However the notion that people who defect are the “best brains” a country has is fallacious, even in a country like Nigeria where nothing seems to work. (If you are willing to argue that living in America has made Chinwetel Ejiofor a better actor than say RMD or Olu Jacobs who live in Nigeria, I would be happy to engage you.) I am no Ben Carson but I did manage a C in Biology in my O’Levels so I know that there are no humans with naturally occurring bigger brains than others and that your brain doesn’t get bigger from defecting from one country to another (if you have information to prove me wrong though, I am open to it). Also the notion that if you don’t have rocket scientists or men with PhDs you cannot develop a system that works is fallacious, and that is why we are all surprised that the Nigerian economy has confounded and still continues to confound the people in critical positions in spite of the foreign degrees and the list of attractive qualifications that they have. What you need to develop a system that works are people who are committed to making sure things work properly. After all the people who laid the foundation of the working economies, that Nigerians defect to, were not as educated as we are today, neither did they have the access to technology that we can boast of. Therefore arguing that brain drain will get so serious that at a point there will only be retards and morons left in Nigeria, is as illogical as arguing to European clubs that there are no more good players in Argentina since the likes of Neymar have left. They will just laugh in your face and continue the call to the Brazillian agent they are promising the large wad of cash if he gets that wonderkid from Corinthians or Santos with the strangely British nickname to sign for them.
The wailing from Nigerians about how many people have run away for me is just complaining about a symptom of a disease instead of tackling the cause. We are not just complaining about a symptom either, but one that is more complicated than “see it has failed and they are all running away” approach we are taking to it, one that has little bearing on the problem we have and one that you cannot do anything to prevent. For further proof that brain drain is not the cause of our problems, Kenyans and Ethiopians runners routinely defect to other nations, but there is no Olympics or World Championship that you do not see a cache of Kenyan and Ethiopian gold medals. In fact, their systems are so effective that it seems like the day an Ethiopian or Kenyan athlete defects to another nation is the day their career starts to fade into obscurity. So if our system is not working it is not because of brain drain, it is because our leaders lack either the commitment or the wisdom to make it work. sometimes, other countries taking your nationals away can often be a sign that you are doing something right, as the Brazil example proves.
The point of my argument is this, migration is as old as the time God banished Adam and Eve from Eden and forced them to go somewhere else. At any point in time, we have over 100 million Nigerians within her shores. If we cannot get any of those people to make the nation work, then we might just have a bigger problem than brain drain.
Consider this; France made the final of the European Championships with 10 players in their starting 11 playing at foreign clubs. England with their absolutely 0% brain drain lost to a nation of less than a million people in the same Championships. I think we can all draw our conclusions, right?
Thanks to @tundeleye and @chxta for the pictures. Have something to contribute to our opinion column? send us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Ibadan Insider Opinion or get on the homepage, join our community and start writing.