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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

How rising emigration affects engineers, undermines national development

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By Chinedum Uwaegbulam

With economic crisis worsening the brain drain syndrome, the engineering practice seems to be the worst hit, as many of the tech experts are leaving the country in droves to fulfill occupational and professional aspirations.

The World Bank report on migration in Nigeria revealed that the unemployment rate rose five-fold between 2010 and 2020, from 6.4 per cent in 2010 to 33.3 per cent at the end of 2020, significantly affecting youth in their quest to find gainful employment opportunities.

The labour market in Nigeria has not kept pace with the rising working-age population, significantly worsened following the 2016 recession and COVID-19. Large numbers of educated youths are unable to realise higher economic returns from investing in their human capital.

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The report “Of Roads Less travelled: Assessing the Potential of Economic Migration to Provide Overseas Jobs for Nigeria’s Youth” finds that less than one per cent of Nigeria’s population is international migrants, a much lower share than their peer countries. The number of first-time asylum seekers from Nigeria to Europe peaked in 2016, with nearly 40,000 Nigerians arriving in Italian shores, before subsiding in late-2017.

Remittances from abroad are important for Nigeria’s development, and amounted to five per cent of Nigeria’s GDP in 2019, but the cost of sending remittances to Nigeria has remained high.

However, the country has made significant recent improvements to its managed migration framework and continues to draw on the support of stakeholders for policy-making and implementation.

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There are concerns that the recent professional signatory of the Washington Accord (making Nigeria the second African member of the body) by Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) may also promote more emigration.

The Washington Accord signed in 1989, under the International Engineering Alliance, is an international multilateral agreement between bodies responsible for accreditation or recognition of tertiary-level engineering qualifications within their jurisdictions that have chosen to work collectively to assist the mobility of professional engineers.

“The most notable stimuli for migration by Nigerian engineering professionals are the enhanced opportunities for potential migrants, such as opportunities for higher income, improved living conditions, a better working environment, improved research facilities, and opportunities for professional growth and development,” according to Prof. Joy Ezeilo, Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Person.

Ezeilo, who was guest lecturer at the Charles Mbanefo memorial lecture organised by the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Abuja branch on ‘Rising Emigration of Professionals and Impact on Nigeria’s Development, a case study of engineers,’ listed factors fuelling emigration as adequate salary, proximity to professional colleagues, improved work environment and greater research opportunities.

Other factors that cause emigration in an unstable socio-political and economic environment include, pessimism about prospects for professional development, unemployment, underemployment of professionals, under-utilisation of skills, economic hardship, intolerable working conditions, and disenchantment with the political regime in the home country.

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Ezeilo said: “Nigeria’s latest brain drain is happening in its tech industry. It follows a decade of triumphs for the ecosystem, which has recorded several startup and tech hub launches and attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Like most economic migrants, much of the growing departure by software engineers is linked to quality of life and earning power, as well as professional growth.

“As Nigeria’s economy has slowed over the past years and its political class consistently fails to deliver a better quality of life for citizens, middle-class Nigerians across various professions are increasingly looking to migrate, in search of economic opportunities. It’s a repeat of the brain drain in the 1980s and 1990s when scores of Nigerians moved abroad to seek greener pastures amid brutal military dictatorships.

“Nigerian banks are consistently facing brain drain as tech experts resign in droves for greener pastures abroad. Bank customers across the country have had cause to complain about poor services by lenders, especially with regard to tech application delays and outright failure.

“Funds transfer among customers in some cases now takes an upward of many hours to either drop in the receiver’s account or be reversed to the sender. This is occasionally related to emigration of tech engineers originally working in those banks.

She said the benefits and challenges of emigration to Nigeria’s economy are diverse. With regard to benefits, they send remittances back to Nigeria, which contributes to improvement of standard of living of some Nigerians and structural development; migrants contribute to foreign currency reserves and GDP through sending foreign currencies to Nigeria. Moreover, they get gainful employment in foreign countries.

“Conversely, many engineers are largely unemployed and software experts are constantly harassed as ‘yahoo-boys’ by security agencies. The National Bureau of Statistics reports that out of over 187,000 tech professionals, over 28 per cent of them are unemployed, while 27.6 per cent of them are under-employed. Also, the skills acquired by them working in foreign countries are theoretically beneficial to Nigeria if they are subsequently recalled and reabsorbed into the country,” Ezeilo said.

The Emeritus Dean of Law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, traced challenges facing the profession to poor funding for engineering education, aging/obsolete equipment, difficulties in recruiting and maintaining high-quality trainers/teachers, as well as attitudes of employers of engineering personnel.

“The budgetary allocation to the universities, polytechnics, and technical colleges dwindled, and as such the appropriation for the engineering faculties nose-dived, with the result that no new equipment has been purchased over the years. The sets of equipment that are available in the institutions are those that were purchased in the early days of these faculties. Apart from the fact that they are very old and obsolete, many of them are no longer serviceable.

“Nigeria currently possesses a good reservoir of engineering personnel that is grossly under-utilised in our ministries, parastatals and private sectors. This has given rise to intellectual frustration and consequential degeneration into a destructive attitude that has become the bane of our society. In Nigeria, engineers are known to be vast in theory and seriously deficient in practice. They are also under-employed, working in sectors other than core engineering. The effect of this societal perspective by Nigerian engineers has been largely consequential on the economy.

“Employers of labour do not employ fresh engineering graduates because of their near-zero practical experience. They shy away due to the investment required for the training of these engineers. Even during their undergraduate days, they find it difficult to get placements for industrial training.”

She recommended the adoption of public and private partnerships using the triple helix model. “This would mean the government working with COREN, experts in the academic and through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and relevant MDAs to identify and negotiate with some countries on skills partnership that is targeted to transfer skills and work exchange for engineers within an agreed framework.

“It could be for three or five years to empower selected beneficiaries to travel, earn money, gain skills and return to the country. This will be executed in such a way that the government and COREN is the guarantor. That will be the solution not a legislation to prevent Nigerians whether health workers or engineers from travelling,” Ezeilo said.

According to her, “Nigeria needs to adopt the ‘Global Skill Partnership’ model as a matter of emergency to the sectors of health care, construction, and ICT/software tech engineers. The Federal Government needs to engage top destination countries for Nigerians, including Canada, United Kingdom, United States of America and others such as Japan, Germany, France, Sweden, Finland and other countries in the global south (China, Brazil, South Korea).

“Also, measures such as the creation of massive job opportunities and the decentralisation of the system of governance to help improve service delivery, particularly at the grassroots, will help address the challenge of emigration by engineering professionals in Nigeria and overall reduce poverty”.

She further said that training Nigerians, especially the youths on modern engineering strategies and use of technology, will help increase efficiency, open more business and employment opportunities, as well as stop the need to leave the country at all costs.

“The government should holistically revamp the education sector. The constant bickering between government and university dons should be addressed immediately. This country cannot survive with the level of brain drain occurring among professionals. The best breeds of lecturers (doctors, nurses, engineers) are leaving the country because of the government’s ineptitude towards education.

The practical training currently undertaken by engineering professionals cannot and does not adequately prepare engineers for industrial work and it should be supplemented with further industry-based training. The form which this industrial training should take is well articulated in the COREN blueprint on Supervised Industrial Training Scheme in Engineering (SITSIE).

“This scheme provides for two years (inclusive of the NYSC year) of industrial training for all engineering personnel after graduation. There is no gainsaying the fact that the training of engineering personnel at all units is enormously expensive, requiring a combination of huge expenditure on the payment of salaries and allowances of teaching and non-teaching staff. Teachers, who are charged with the responsibility of training engineers, should be specially treated, as are the engineers in the industry.

Ezeilo said the government has a big role to play in curbing the increasing number of engineers emigrating to other countries, “there should be incentives to create an investment climate conducive to foreign investment so that more industries can be created to absorb engineering graduates.

“We urge effective enforcement of the local content policy. This will ensure that jobs that can be done locally do not get outsourced abroad or contracted to foreign corporations and foreigners. Also, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) should strictly enforce compliance to expatriate quota across the country. This would improve the skills of the engineers in the country, open more spaces and make them competitive even within the country.” (Guardian)

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