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The Brain Drain Bill: Balancing Individual Rights And Public Interest

The Brain Drain Bill: Balancing Individual Rights And Public Interest 

By Usulor Chukwuebuka


Every day, a large number of Nigerians troop to the embassies for visas to travel outside the country and to live and work in foreign countries. While others are going to the embassies, others are making their way to the airports and borders with the goal of leaving the country permanently. Conversely, the issue of human capital flight referred to in local parlance as ‘japa’ feature prominently in discussions and debates in Nigeria’s print and social media.

Labour (human capital) is the live wire of every economy. Consequently, any nation faced with the challenge of human capital flight is bound to feel its adverse effects especially in regards to it’s economy. This has been the case with Nigeria which has suffered stunted economic growth and development as a result of human capital flight in the country.

This paper critically analyses the factors responsible for human capital flight in Nigeria and also proffers solutions which, if implemented, can eliminate these factors.


From the beginning, man has been known to be a ‘mobile’ creature. In search of adventure, food and other needs, human beings move from one place to another. This has become more regular and efficient in today’s globalised world with an advanced transportation technology.

In recognition of the essence of movement to man’s survival and standard of living, international legal instruments have given recognition to the right of everyone to leave any country, including their own country. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

Moreover, Nigeria’s Constitution also guarantees the right of everyone to freedom of movement. Section 41 of the Constitution which guarantees the right of every Nigerian citizen to move freely within Nigeria and reside in any part of the country also provides that no citizen shall be refused entry into or exit from the country.

The courts of law in Nigeria have also affirmed the right of Nigerian citizens to leave the country. In Director of State Security Service & Anor v Olisa Agbakoba (1999) 3 NWLR (PT. 595), the court upheld the right of every Nigerian citizen to leave the country without being unlawfully prevented from exercising this right. It further held that the right to travel outside Nigeria is a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Flowing from the above, it may be argued that the human capital flight being witnessed in the country is, in a way, a consequence of the operation of the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitution and other legal instruments. In other words, the 13,609 healthcare workers who left Nigeria for the United Kingdom between 2021 and 2022 as well as thousands of other professionals were merely exercising their right to freedom of movement and would have been prevented or discouraged from doing so if such right was not guaranteed by these laws.

However, apportioning the blame for the human capital flight in Nigeria to the laws guaranteeing the right to freedom of movement is a simplistic approach which overlooks the myriad of factors which gave birth to this challenge and the others which sustain it. These factors are discussed below.


As with all other challenges facing Nigeria, human capital flight has underlying causes. These are discussed as follows


Self preservation, it is said, is the first instinct of man. In essence, every decision made, including the decision as to place of residence, and actions taken by people is primarily driven by the desire for survival. Thus, people are more disposed to move to places where their lives and property have a chance of being preserved from harm or injury.

For a long period of time, insecurity has been a seemingly unending battle fought by successive governments in Nigeria. Despite the efforts made and the huge amount of resources committed to these efforts, security in Nigeria has been elusive. On daily basis, many lives and valuable property are lost to insecurity. In 2021 alone, 10,366 people died as a result of insecurity in different parts of the country.

As a result of the kidnappings, terrorism, banditry and other violent crimes prevalent in many parts of the country, many professionals and skilled workers have left the country to reside permanently in other countries.

In many cases, these professionals and workers are deprived of job opportunities and sources of income due to the prevalence of insecurity and are therefore forced to leave the country in search of job opportunities.


Economic and career opportunities are indispensable needs of professionals and skilled workers. Through the income earned from their work and economic opportunities, professionals and workers are able to take care of their basic needs and those of their dependents. When these work and economic opportunities are not readily available, these professionals and workers tend to relocate. This has been the case with Nigeria, which has a high unemployment rate. The high unemployment rate coupled with high cost of living has continued to fuel human capital flight in the country.

Similarly, poor working conditions are also a contributing factor to the challenge of human capital flight in the country. Workers, especially those in the employ of the government, work under difficult conditions with little or no benefit. Those who work in industries which require protection against injury or exposure to infectious diseases are not supplied protective equipment. This is the case with doctors and other healthcare workers who are many times exposed to infectious diseases due to non-provision of protective equipment by the government. In addition to the lack of access to protection against risks, these workers battle with poor remuneration, unhealthy or unsafe work environment, among others. Poor working conditions play a key role in the increase in human capital flight, especially among medical professionals and workers.


Education has always been one of the most important needs of man. It has the potential to open the doors of economic opportunities for individuals and the gates of economic growth and development to the nation.

Nigeria’s educational system has been dysfunctional. Crippled by constant industrial actions (strikes), poor infrastructure, archaic curriculum and other challenges, many young people have abandoned Nigeria’s institutions of learning to pursue their education abroad. Most of these young people leave Nigeria with their wealth of knowledge, experience and skills to settle in other countries for studies, after which they remain there to pursue a career. In essence, Nigeria’s dysfunctional education system is one of the factors driving human capital flight in the country.

In the same vein, the poor conditions of Nigeria’s educational system also cause the brain drain of scholars, researchers and teachers in the various institutions of learning. Many of these professionals are poorly remunerated, deprived of a conductive environment for research and teaching, and denied career development opportunities. As a result of this, many of them leave the country to secure jobs in foreign countries.


Globalization, involving the development of an increasingly integrated global economy, is largely to blame for the human capital flight being witnessed in Nigeria as well as other developing countries. One of the hallmarks of globalization is the tapping of cheaper foreign labour markets by the developed countries. Through offering incentives such as visa programs, better remuneration and other benefits, developed countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have continued to draw highly skilled Nigerians away from Nigeria into their countries. Although globalization holds some benefits for developing countries like Nigeria, it has left the economy of these countries including Nigeria’s, stunted due to the deprivation of the human capital required to drive its development.


Human capital flight has dire consequences for the economy. It deprives the country of the contributions of the thousands of skilled workers and professionals who leave the shores of the country on daily basis for greener pastures. Human capital (labour) is the engine and live wire of every economy, whether developed or developing. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s economy has been deprived substantially of the contributions of these individuals. The adverse effects of this problem is not only visible with respect to economic indices but also on the standard of living of the general population. According to the World Bank, low human capital is one of the factors holding back Nigeria’s poverty reduction.

The policies and measures taken made by successive governments are largely responsible for the problem of human capital flight in the country. In particular, the unproductive policies and measures taken by the government over the years regarding the remuneration of workers, maintenance of security and policies affecting the education sector have resulted in poor remuneration of workers, insecurity and a poorly developed education sector, all of which are major drivers of human capital flight.

The government is, to a large extent, to blame for the challenge of human capital flight. This signifies the vital role which the government can play in tackling the challenge. The government can turn the situation around by adopting the following measures.

The first measure which the government should adopt in solving human capital flight in the country is the guarantee of security of lives and property. The security of life is the primary duty of the government. To tackle the menace of insecurity and through this means curtail human capital flight, the government is encouraged to take strategic measures. These include the adoption of effective defense strategies, effectively organizing military operations and ensuring the judicious use of funds allocated to the security and defense sectors. Through the adoption of these measures the government will eliminate insecurity which will in turn create an environment for the economy to develop and thrive. A thriving economy will incentivize skilled workers and professionals with career and employment opportunities and discourage them from leaving the country permanently.

It is also recommended that the government should provide higher salaries, allowances and other benefits to workers in Nigeria. The current salary scale is poor and unsustainable. Also, the government should put in place measures to ensure that workers have access to better economic and career development opportunities, safe and conducive working environment and better facilities. The effective implementation of these measures will tackle human capital in two ways. First, it would help keep the skilled workers and professionals, especially healthcare workers, who may be considering leaving the country in pursuit of better remuneration and working environment. On the other hand, it will attract qualified workers and professionals from other countries who may be interested in working in the country. It may also attract Nigerian workers and professionals in other countries who are ordinarily interested in working in the country but for the poor remuneration and working conditions.

Also, the government should develop the country’s educational system. This can be achieved by increased funding and supervision of the institutions of learning, modernizing the curriculum for schools, guaranteeing better working conditions for the academic and non-academic staff, and provision of adequate facilities. Taking these steps will help to reduce the number of academic staff who leave the country for permanent settlement in other countries.

Lastly, the government should adopt effective monetary and fiscal policies which will drive economic growth and development in the country. A thriving economy will provide skilled workers and professionals the economic opportunities and other incentives which they may want to seek in other countries.


The government has taken several measures to tackle the issue of human capital flight in Nigeria, most of which have failed woefully. The most recent of these measures is the initiation of the process to enact the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act (Amendement) Bill, 2022, which would prevent medical professionals from being issued full licenses until they have worked for a minimum of five years in the country. The bill, which has passed second reading at the House of Representatives, is aimed at curtailing medical professionals from leaving the country immediately after studies.

The provision of this bill appears to be in conflict with Article 12 (2) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the right of every person to leave his country. It also appears to be in conflict with section 41 of the Nigerian Constitution which makes it unlawful for any person to prevent a citizen of Nigeria from leaving or entering the country. However, section 45 allows the enactment of a law which may restrict the exercise of this right in the interest of public health, public morality, among others. It may therefore be argued that the bill does not violate the provisions of Section 41 since it is being made to prevent the public health crisis which may result from the mass exodus of medical professionals and workers from Nigeria. Although this fact may establish the validity of the bill, it is the writer’s opinion that the bill does not hold the permanent solution to the problem of human capital flight.

The bill does not address the issues of poverty, unemployment and poor working conditions, which are the key factors driving the mass exodus of medical and other professionals from Nigeria. Unless these issues are effectively dealt with, the problem of human capital flight will continue to linger. Particularly, doctors and other medical professionals may choose to practice in Nigeria for the five years stipulated in the bill and leave in their numbers afterwards. It is submitted that the rights of Nigerians will be protected and public interest better served if the underlying issues are solved and the bill jettisoned.

Moreover, the bill may, in addition to proving ineffective in solving the problem of human capital flight, create other problems. The enactment of the bill and its implementation may dissuade many people from studying medical courses. Thus, in trying to solve the problem of mass exodus of medical professionals, the bill may end up causing lack of interest in medical courses and, in turn, the shortage of medical professionals in the country.

Nigeria has a large number of people who are capable and willing to work yet lack access to employment opportunities. Frustrated, many leave Nigeria to seek opportunities elsewhere. It is therefore recommended that the government should take decisive steps to develop the economy and provide access to employment opportunities. This will ensure that the country does not lack the human capital to drive the economy.


With the dawn of each day, Nigeria loses a huge chunk of its human capital to other countries. The economy has been adversely affected by the loss of labour caused by human capital flight. The health sector has also been affected. At the moment, Nigeria lacks a sufficient number of health professionals and workers to provide healthcare services to the people. The interest of the public in the sustainability of the health sector is, in a way, at conflict with the right of the medical doctors to leave the country.

The solution to this problem is the adoption of measures by the government which protect the public interest and at the same time, do not unnecessarily and unlawfully restrict the right of medical doctors and others to leave the country.

It is recommended that the government should adopt and implement effective measures to develop the country’s education system, tackle insecurity, and guarantee better working conditions and benefits for the workers and professionals in the country. The implementation of these measures will help curtail human capital flight, prevent public health crisis, and expedite Nigeria’s economic growth and development.



Africa Polling Institute, ‘Deconstructing the Canada Rush – A Study on Motivations for Nigerians Emigrating to Canada’ Retrieved from—Tours/Deconstructing-the-Canada-Rush—A-Study-on-Motivations-for-Nigerians-Emigrating-to-Canada/56359 on April 4, 2023.

Lukman Abdulwahab, Opeyemi Abdulwahab and Others, ‘The COVID-19 Pandemic and Health Workforce Brain Drain in Nigeria’ (ICIR Nigeria) Retrieved from, a%20poverty%20threshold%20of%20%241.90 on April 5, 2023.

World Bank. (2022). A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigeria Poverty Assessment 2022. Retrieved from on April 5, 2023


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