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Academics discuss brain drain at Nigeria International Book Fair conference

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Academics discuss brain drain at Nigeria International Book Fair conference

It appears the organisers of just concluded 23rd International Conference of the Nigeria International Book Fair, which ran between May 9-11, 2024 determined from the outset not to allow any dull moment, going by the vibrancy of discourses, and the intellectual rigour and enthusiasm that defined the discussions of the various themes of the three-day conference.

The second day of the conference witnessed a robust intellectual engagement on the topic : Addressing the Brain Drain Crisis in Nigeria. Though originally set to be a key note speech by Professor Florence Obi, vice chancellor, University of Calabar, her inability to attend, moved the topic into a panel session, where experts dissected with clinical efficiency and intellectual rigour the issues around brain drain.

Setting the tone and tenor of discussions was a brief welcome address by the chairman of the Book Fair Trust, Mr. Dare Oluwatuyi, who expressed delight at the impressive turnout of stakeholders, called for a partnership with Tetfund to sponsor future programmes.

The chairman of the Panel session, Professor Jide Owoeye, chairman governing council of Lead University, Ibadan, said the theme of discussion is most relevant given the headlines the ” Japa” syndrome ( travelling abroad to seek greener pastures) has grabbed lately, which underscores the challenge of the phenomenon.

He enjoined the panelists to come up with different perspectives on why people ( professionals and artisans) leave the country in droves.

He stated that the phenomenon is not limited to Nigeria, but made binary analysis that some countries have benefitted from it on one hand, citing the case of China, while others may not have had rosy narrative about it since it denies them necessary manpower; however, he left it to the panelists to make informed judgments as to the place of Nigeria in the Japa saga, whether the country has benefitted or not from human capital flight.

He specifically mentioned the academia as the social category that has suffered the most from the syndrome, adding that the reason can not but be economic.

The moderator of the panel, Prof. Yakubu Ochefu, Secretary General of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities briefly looked at the problems, allowing members to give their thoughts.

The first speaker, Prof. Slyvester Odione Akhaine of the department of Political science, Lagos State University, did not disappoint those, who have followed the trajectory of his career right from the late 80s as human rights activist, as he took the analysis from the class conflict theory tinged with Marxist polemics.

For Akhaine, brain drain is negative, and part of the continuing exploitation of third world countries by imperialist centres, who use the resources of the periphery to develop their countries.

It’s a colonial narrative, he said, where those, who succeeded to the positions vacated by colonial powers, helped the later to continue to exploit resources of the colonized.
According to him, the first wave of Japa syndrome occurred in the 70s when the military regime brought inhuman policies, which led to students unrest, forcing many lecturers to leave the country.

He stated that the imperialist powers used Nigerian leaders as stooges to suppress consciousness, and some lecturers, who taught students to imbibe the spirit of enquiry, and who were viewed as antagonistic to government’s policies were victimized.

The second wave of Japa syndrome, according to him, occurred during the General Ibrahim Babangida era, where radical lecturers like Patrick Wilmot, Omafume Onoge, Bala Usman and others were harassed, and in the case of Wilmot, deported.

He said what we are currently witnessing is the third wave caused by abandonment of responsibility by government. He located the cause of the current wave of migration of professionals to the West in bad leadership, saying the class of Fourth Republic is the worst in the political history of the country.
He noted that what we have is a neocolonial state being governed on the basis of received concepts from the colonial powers, adding that at the core of it is benefits for the ruling elite in the country; as they connive with former colonial powers and their institutions, such as Bretton Woods, to siphon resources from the periphery to the centre.

He said the National Assembly members are not interested in lawmaking that will benefit the people but chasing IPO and contracts.
In her own measured but important take, Yemi Adamolekun, an activist and executive director of Enough is Enough, in an anecdotal style, gave a brief description of life at University of Ife, where she grew up, and using visuals to describe what has become of the great Ife. She bemoaned the worsening condition of universities and noted that only when universities achieve financial autonomy can the the idea of reviving university system have meaning. She called for a paradigm shift, where university authorities will leverage on alumni network for better funding.

She noted that there are quite many courses that can not be studied in the country because of lack of facilities and structure, wondering what will become of students, who want to pursue such a career.

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She agreed with Akhaine on the issues of frosty relationship between the academia and the ruling class, saying the solution is for universities to seek alternative funding.
In a reply to this, Akhaine raised the poser: what is the role of government, if they can not fund education? He noted that the successive governments have had a predatory relationship with the people, without a single benefits for them.
In his own take, Prof. Ayo Ayodele of the department of English, Lagos State University, concurred with much of the analysis of Akhaine, saying since he was young he has been hearing of the phrase: the future belongs to the young people , but now as an adult the future has not come down to his generation.

He said the failure of the country is systemic, as people in power are averse to education, adding that they are always threatened by the intellectual.

“To Japa out and make name and money and come back to join the ruling class is an aspiration of many youth, he noted, saying it’s desperation of anyone, who wants to run away from bad rubbish.” It’s capital flight of professionals, not only academics but carpenter and artisan.”

He stressed that the important thing now is to think of solutions, in terms of investment in education, infrastructure and electricity.”
Prof. Ochefu gave a new angle by introducing what he called iron law of unintended consequences. According to him, those, who travelled abroad have contributed to the development of the economies of other land , saying the iron law of unintended consequences is that through remittances back home they have also helped their home countries.

But Prof. Akhaine quickly pointed out that the remittances sent home is only to take care of school fees and family upkeep and not for investments. His argument is that Nigeria is a failed state with high level of insecurity, where no sane mind will invest money. In six years alone, seven army generals were killed between Lokoja and Okene road.

Puncturing the law of unintended consequences, he noted that the diaspora transfer is attractive because of exchange rate disparity.” In the 90s it was not like that, then many Nigerians wanted to come back to Nigeria,” he said.

Adamolekun wondered what role Nigerian government is playing that it can not fund education, saying education is public good that should not be neglected. She stated that it’s not a wise decision in today’s Nigeria to send one’s children to public schools because the facilities have collapsed.

She admitted that she attended unity school but can not send her children to any of the unity schools now because of decrepit conditions and condemned undue emphasis on university education, saying creativity should be encouraged, that everyone cannot go to university, advising universities to harness the power of alumni association.
Prof. Ayodele shared Adamolekun view on looking inwards, beyond government that has proved irresponsible over the years. “Let us as a nation begin to develop policies that can help us”, he said.

Reacting to the various positions canvassed, Prof Owoeye said that no matter what happens, “many of us will not travel in spite of the challenges.

“We have insecurity and other challenges abroad also, we have violence and insecurity too . Only last week, there was shooting incident in the United States “, he noted.
Continuing, he stated that “here in Nigeria God gave us everything. We say we don’t produce, but that’s not true. There are many products produced in Nigeria. Nigeria is producing.

It’s the current structural adjustment program that is creating difficulties.
The same thing is happening elsewhere. People can not pay school fees of their children. The fact that you read law doesn’t mean you will practice it. Education is just to help you discover hidden talents.”
Bright Omokaro, President of Nigeria library association, said those that benefited from free education, have now destroyed the system, “they are now saying we can not fund education.”

In his own contribution, Prof. Victor Adeoluwa, lead speaker at second session said it’s not enough to always blame the leaders, saying the people are also guilty, given that the leaders come from among the people. He said those, who are leaders today were youth forty years ago. He cited the work culture of many Nigerians, saying beyond bad leadership, the people are lazy and wicked. Citing his own experience as a leader, he noted that Nigerians abhor good people.
“Many, who left Nigeria wanted to come back home but because of insecurity they cannot.
“People don’t come to work at 8 am, and if they come they will be talking instead of working. Nigerians don’t like leaders, who do the right thing.

Politicians are behaving the way they are behaving because of pressure from the people.

Adamolekun said everything rises and falls on leadership. Everybody in the room is part of the Nigerian elite, she stated.
“Think of leadership in terms of influence and not in terms of appointed or elected leaders. We have to think of our leaders as people we can hold accountable. We all have responsibility to this project Nigeria”, Adamolekun submitted.

Concluding the discourse, Owoeye said that the dominant culture of a country is the culture of its leaders, “it is this that others want to copy. The ruling elite will soon abandon education. Irresponsible elite will soon abandon funding education. As number of private universities are more than public universities.”

He said the task now is to put pressure on politicians to do the right thing. He noted that private universities have no structure, and that if government abandons funding of public universities, education will collapse, as many will not be able to afford private universities.

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