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Nigeria's doctors reject 'brain drain' bill

Ben Shemang in Abuja | Okeri Ngutjinazo in Bonn
May 3, 2023

To prevent a mass exodus of doctors and paramedics from Nigeria, the National Assembly has proposed a bill to prevent health workers from leaving from the country for five years. But it has generated a heated debate.

Nigerian health worker examines a child
Many medics from Nigeria have left the country in search of better pay and conditions Image: ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

Nigeria has become a major recruitment source for health and social workers — something that concerns the Nigerian government.

Recruitment agents from overseas have turned hotels into recruitment centers where experienced and newly qualified doctors wait in line for job opportunities abroad. The exodus from the West African nation is known locally as "japa." 

In an attempt to block Nigerian-trained medics from leaving Nigeria, the country's National Assembly is considering imposing a five-year period of in-country practice before they are granted full licenses. 

Once the medics have received their licenses, they would then be free to pursue work abroad as physicians.

Nigeria's health minister, Osagie Ehinire, said that the proposed law would help handle the country's doctor shortage.

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But what about the doctors' freedom of movement?

Nigerian Senator Danjuma Laah says he sympathizes with the doctors; however, he feels that they have a moral obligation to remain in Nigeria.

"I see no reason why a doctor after graduating in Nigeria will leave Nigeria and go outside the country," he said. "Who is he leaving the country for? He is supposed to be in the country to salvage his people no matter the situation."

Many doctors in Nigeria call the proposed law discriminatory and an infringement on the rights of their newly qualified colleagues.

"Why are they [politicians] allowing their own children to go abroad; why are they themselves going abroad for medical treatment and all this? Are they not public servants?" asked Dr. Ayoola Williams, a consultant physician and cardiologist at Abuja's Wuse District Hospital.

Williams added that legislating against doctors' movement would violate their human rights.

Dr. Enema Amodu, a secretary general of the Otoneurological Society of Nigeria, told DW that the government should focus on improving poor working conditions to prevent doctors from leaving.

"Government needs to first of all put their money where their mouth is," Amodu said.

"The health sector is poorly funded, personnel are poorly paid, equipment are not available for us to work. So if the government addressed these things seriously, I think it will be able to reverse the brain drain and it will become brain gain."

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In recent years, an increasing number of doctors and nurses in Nigeria have left the country in search of better pay and conditions in Europe and North America.

According to the Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), six out of 10 doctors in Nigeria plan on leaving for greener pastures.

Experts say the exodus is being driven by a lack of funding and infrastructure, a shortage of medical kits and poor logistics.

The bill passed its second reading in the House of Representatives, however the proposed legislation is expected to be amended after some lawmakers opposed the bill, saying it was in violation of fundamental rights. 

This article has been adapted from a radio report that was originally broadcast on DW's daily radio show AfricaLink

Edited by: Keith Walker