Sunday, 1 May 2016
Bringing home Nigerian professionals abroad
Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu’s invitation to Nigerian scientists, researchers, and experts in various fields to come home as their country needs them desperately is most appropriate. That call issued at his meeting with delegations from the National Mathematical Centre, African Mathematical Union, and African Academy of Sciences should, indeed, be seen as a cry from the heart.
No one can fault the patriotic concern that motivates it. Besides he, as a high official of this federal republic, is duty bound to say and do all within his powers to raise his portfolio higher than he meets it and his call is in order. He even promises to ‘look for Nigerians and bring them back [because] all nations of the world are built by their own people and not by foreigners’.
The minister is right on this justification, but he knows too well, that it is absolute wishful thinking that government can force any successful Nigerian to come home unless the incentive is tangible and real.
First, the question must be asked: how well are the researchers, scientists and experts who stay back in the country treated by the system? What facilities and resources are available to them to work with in order to compete at global level? There is too little available to these men and women to enable them excel in their respective fields. It is regrettable Nigeria is at this time unattractive to anyone who seeks excellence in his field of endeavour with necessities as basic as regular electricity and water supply not available.
It is trite even to say that if the operating environment is conducive, Nigerians would return to this country in droves. Professionals need key requirements to function optimally. Top on the list is a steady supply of electricity to do just about any business they are engaged in, be they doctors to perform surgical operation, researchers to conduct experiments, academics to read and write books, information technology engineers to design new products. If Nigeria wants academics to return, where are the modern tools to work with? Where are the laboratories? And where are the libraries well equipped with up-to-date publications?
Dr. Onu was quoted saying ‘ …science, technology, and mathematics have very important roles to play in nation building [and] it is the absence of science and technology that has kept us where we are’. He is not saying anything new. Section (2) of the extant constitution says that government shall promote Science and Technology. Microsoft founder, Bill Gates posited recently that America’s large federal budget for research and development (R&D) has been the country’s ‘secret weapon’ to achieve the domination of the world in innovation and the production of goods and services. President Muhammadu Buhari promised N3b to a research foundation. Pray, what can such a paltry sum do? Such gesture, combined with the fact that a paltry N25.85b is allocated to the Ministry of Science and Technology in the proposed 2016 federal budget, and a meagre N369.55b to Education speak for a lack of seriousness to create the environment that can attract talents into the country. But education is central to advances in science technology and indeed every field of human activity. Alas, education is not, as it should be, the highest priority in Nigeria.
It is axiomatic that home is where the heart is. Nigerians abroad would be too happy to make to their fatherland the kind of unquantifiable contributions they are forced by a hostile home environment to give to other nations. Even now, they remit into the Nigerian economy billions of dollars each year. Much of this, of course, goes into the hands of relatives. This is a huge amount of money that a focused government could access to execute productive development projects with multiplying effects. But it is private money that people will only put at the disposal of a government they can trust not to misapply or misappropriate.
There are many examples of Nigerians who by choice returned with the patriotic zeal to do their bit for Nigeria; there are many others who were headhunted to come work in government. Too many have been badly burnt by the experience of working in Nigeria. The level of intrigues, corrupt practices, of hostile attitude, of meanness, of bootlicking, that pervade there operating environments are simply unbearable. Some go back in frustration while some come off badly burnt in career or financial terms.
Other reasons keep Nigerians in the Diaspora away. They are used to an environment where life and property are reasonably safe, where terms of contract are respected and the rule of law of adhered to, where government policies are largely consistent. They are used to a stable polity not dominated by political and financial corruption and where politicians play their game with maturity and with the best interest of the nation at heart. Not in Nigeria yet. Which Nigerian would return to a home country where salaries are not paid for months, the federal budget is so fraught with fraud and so long delayed?
No one, regardless of any sense of patriotism, will leave a society where things work for one where things don’t; where corruption in high places is a way of life. Certainly, most Nigerians would be too happy to return and build their country but the powers that be must be seen, without a shred of doubt, to create the right conditions for it. This is what Onu and the government he serves in should not only speak about, but act upon.