Featured Nigeria Notes Wole Olaoye

The Third Slavery

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EditPro | Lagos Metropolitan newspaper By Wole Olaoye

Have you heard the news? About 727 medical doctors trained in Nigeria relocated to the United Kingdom between December 2021 and May 2022. As of November 2021, 8,983 Nigerian-trained doctors were working in the UK. That figure has now jumped to 9,710. Nigeria is the country with the third highest number of foreign doctors working in the UK, coming behind only India and Pakistan.

Similarly, over 7,256 Nigerian nurses migrated to the UK between March 2021 and March 2022. This follows a steady pattern, showing that there is a serious cause for concern. Between March 2017 and March 2018, about 2,796 Nigerian nurses migrated to the UK, while 3,021 Nigerian-trained nurses relocated to the UK between March 2018 and March 2019. Between March 2019 and March 2020, a total of 3,684 Nigerian nurses migrated to the UK while in 2020, around 4,310 Nigerian nurses moved to the UK between March 2020 and March 2021 despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic at the time.

Again, the Uk’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) indicate that, of all foreign-trained nurses registered in the UK, Nigeria occupies third place behind the Philippines and India.

As of 2020, Nigeria had a doctor-patient ratio of 1:2,753, in sharp contrast to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s minimum recommended ratio of 1:400 or 600. The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of 83 nurses per 10,000 patients. However, Nigeria, with a population of 200 million, has a nurse-population ratio of 1.5:1000 or 15:10,000.

Medical professionals of every kind of hue and competence are emigrating to climes where they are assured of a conducive working environment, modern facilities, living wages and career progression.

The political elite who are in a position to stem the tide, opt, instead, for medical tourism to Europe, America, Asia or the gulf states where they offload tons of hard currency to consult the same doctors they contemptuously chased out of Nigeria. Not a few of our political notables are mortified when they discover the identity of the specialist treating them abroad. “Oh, I’m proud to know you’re a Nigerian!” Many health professionals tell such stories with a tinge of anger.

The President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Professor Innocent Ujah, decried the high emigration rate of doctors of Nigerian extraction to foreign nations, pointing out that over $1 billion was being spent yearly by Nigerians on medical tourism. Imagine if that money had been spent on medicare at home.

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The positive side of such emigration is not just the professional satisfaction our human exports derive from their workplace; there is the added bonus of being able to remit huge sums of money back home to help the extended family or even invest in various schemes.

The World Bank projects that diaspora remittance to Nigeria will hit $29 billion in 2022.

Even so, any country that wishes to make progress cannot close its eyes to the emigration of its highly skilled workforce. It is akin, pardon the comparison, to the trans-Atlantic slave trade of yore which depopulated Africa of its strongest men and women and dislocated the people’s way of life.

The professionals are even a favoured group when compared with the unskilled who simply want to escape the sheer misery of their circumstances. Those unskilled ones are so desperate and vulnerable. They are the millennial slaves forced by socio-economic circumstances to flee their homeland, begging to be dehumanised by cold-blooded hosts.

Only the other month, the death of 23 Africans (or 37, according to Walking Borders) trying to cross from Morocco into Spain sparked global condemnation. They were part of the 2,000 migrants, mainly from Sudan, who tried to cross the barbed-wire fence at the militarised border into the city of Melilla. Social media videos showed bodies of victims with bullet holes, shot by the Spanish border police; others were cudgelled to death by baton-waiving Moroccan police.

All the appropriate diplomatic soundbites were immediately unleashed as if it could bring back the dead or redress the homegrown contradictions that chased them out of their homeland. African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called for “immediate investigation” and for excessive force to stop. He lamented “the violent and degrading treatment of African migrants attempting to cross” and reminded countries of “their obligations under international law to treat all migrants with dignity and to prioritise their safety and human rights”.

The United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the deaths of “at least 23 African migrants and injury of at least 76 others” was the highest number of deaths in a single incident over many years of migrants heading from Morocco to Europe through Melilla and Ceuta.

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After all said and done, the panacea for preventing such wanton cruelty is to remove the cause of mass exodus from many African countries. The political elite in Africa must now wake up to the reality that their quest for individual happiness at the expense of the majority of their people is futile. If they don’t correct the situation and build a better society while they can, their children will inherit a future of untold misery. We can learn a lesson from Nigeria where millions of youths without formal education, without any skill whatsoever, have found solace in crime. Perhaps the trend of reverse migration of our diaspora brothers and sisters will help us rediscover our mojo.

We must begin to hold our leaders accountable. The children of the poor you fail to educate today will be the undoing of your well-educated children tomorrow.

To rewrite the African story, we must reinvent Africa. In spite of our collective under-achievement and refusal to shed the manacle of the coloniser who still sees us as commodities to be sold and bought, we have now arrived at a point where we are condemned to either die or thrive. The indication that I see is that we have chosen to thrive — and the basis of my optimism is, ironically, the same young people we have refused to bequeath a better world to.

Check behind the headlines. African youths will not toe the consumerist path of their parents. Being cyber-natives, they are citizens without borders. They are networking with their counterparts all over the globe. Their peers from other cultures and climes, too, are finding out, more than their parents were ever willing to concede, that human beings are the same all over the world and that the bogey of the super race was invented in order to justify historic monstrosities.

Africa is often described as “the new frontier” for global growth. Five of the world’s fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa. The continent has also made substantial progress in entrenching democratic processes. Dr Malancha Chakrabarty of the Observer Research FoundationAfrica, notes that “Africa has about 600 million hectares of arable land and the world’s youngest and fastest growing population—together, these provide an ideal base for sustained, long-term growth”.

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Earl Lewis admonishes us to understand that the third slavery is not about physical chains but more about economic fetters that reduce the humanity in our people and render them vulnerable to discrimination and perennial poverty. Underemployment and casual labour may put bread on the table for a while but it cannot be the key to our young people’s future.

“Through forced labour, involuntary servitude, and myriad forms of human trafficking an estimated 27-40 million persons endure some form of slavery today—a number which is likely to increase…
“According to some estimates, G20 nations alone import commercial products worth $354 billion (US) annually from supply chains populated with individuals ensnared by The Third Slavery. Estimated profits from human trafficking alone reach as high as $150 billion annually, with approximately $100 billion in the sex industry and $50 billion in forced labour. “

It is dangerous to have our best brains in medicine, computer technology, engineering and the other specialities outside our shores without a dedicated programme for replacing them.
When we get to the stage where the number of professionals emigrating to foreign shores is higher than the number being produced annually by our various institutions, we will wake up and smell the coffee.

If we make our countries liveable, we have a chance of instigating a reverse migration of our key professionals. The Saudi royal family used to patronise the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria in the 1960s. We must re-enact those glorious days.

While there is a positive side to professionals emigrating to other countries in pursuit of better life and fulfilment (with a multiplier effect of remittances to the home country), the export of unskilled labour to other continents can only lead to what Afrobeat creator, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, famously called “Sorrow, Tears and Blood”.

  • Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on wole.olaoye@gmail.com, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021

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