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Brain Drain


Why Nigerians Are Not Returning Home

Remarks by Emeagwali

Association of Nigerians in Montgomery, Alabama
October 10, 1999



Emeagwali

Thank you, Dr. Oranika, for the very generous introduction. It was an introduction my mother will believe. Even if I believed only half of what you said, I will be flattered. The truth is that I have failed and succeeded in many things.

Thanks again for the pleasant introduction.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Yesterday was my first day in Alabama. It is a pleasure to join you in this event. And I thank members of the Association of Nigerians, Montgomery for inviting me to join you.

My visit to Montgomery is a special experience. Montgomery is the birthplace of the civil rights movement. You gave us Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Today, you have invited another civil rights pioneer, Gwendolyn Patton, to speak.

Last weekend, Nigerians celebrated the 39th anniversary of our independence from Great Britain. I was in Washington, D.C. and joined the Nigerian community in our Independence Day celebration.

I was surprised at the number and caliber of people that turned out for the party. I said to myself: "It seems like there are more Nigerian intellectuals living abroad than within Nigeria."

We had three Nigerian governors who spoke that night. Each of the governors came to the United States to seek technical assistance from the World Bank and the IMF.

I found it contradictory that the three governors were seeking technical assistance from the World Bank but not from the Nigerian community.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Nigerians are the most educated ethnic group in the United States. Therefore, our leaders can seek technical assistance from Nigerians living in the United States. Sixty-four percent of Nigerians in this country has one or more university degrees. There are about 250,000 Nigerians living in the United States.

According to Dr. Emmanuel Oranika, half of the members of Association of Nigerians, Montgomery have masters and doctorate degrees. That is a reservoir of talents that Nigerian leaders are taking for granted.

We came to America to study. We planned to return home. But things got worse at home and we decided to remain in America.

It wasn't always like this. When Nnamdi Azikiwe arrived in the United States in 1924, there were only three Nigerian students in the entire United States. A hundred percent of those that came to the United States returned home. In fact, up till about 1980, most Nigerian students returned home

The widely held myth is that Africa is only exporting raw materials to the west. Africa is also exporting talented human resources to Europe and America. One million Africans are working outside Africa.

At the same time, Africa spends four billion dollars a year on the salary of 100,000 foreign experts. Yet, African nations are unwilling to spend a similar amount of money to recruit one million African professionals working outside Africa.

The problem is getting worse. One in three African university graduate live and work outside Africa. In effect, we are operating one third of African universities to satisfy the manpower needs of western nations.

One third of the African education budget is a supplement to the American education budget. In effect, Africa is giving developmental assistance to the United States.

There are more Sierra Leonean medical doctors in Chicago than in Sierra Leone. At the rate medical doctors are leaving Nigeria, we could eventually have more Nigerian doctors working outside Nigeria than within it.

We also need engineers to help provide constant electricity, clean water and safe roads. Here in Montgomery, one of the engineers that make sure that the people of Alabama has good roads is Dr. Emmanuel Oranika.

We also need scientists. We use science and technology to discover and recover petroleum. We use medical science to reduce infant mortality rate.

The world has changed a lot in the last fifty years. In today's world knowledge creates wealth. Therefore, we need people with brains, not muscles. Unfortunately, it is the best and brightest that can obtain visas to the United States. What is left behind is the least educated. This means that Africa will be getting poorer while the United States will be getting more affluent.

Put simply, Africa is exporting both natural and human resources. In the end, there will be no resources left within Africa. It means a slow death for Africa.

How can we reverse brain-drain? First, we build a data bank of Nigerians abroad. Then, we offer them meaningful employment and compensation that will entice them to return home.

Medical doctors cannot live on a salary of fifty (50) dollars a month. To make ends meet, some medical doctors raise poultry or manage beer parlor.

We need to change our national priorities.

We should stop spending one million dollars a day in fighting in Sierra Leone. One million dollars is greater than the daily salary of one million school teachers. While we are keeping peace in Sierra Leone, some teachers have not been paid their salaries for six months.

We must change our priorities be reducing our defense budget and increasing our education budget.

We must increase our investment in science, technology and education.

As we approach the end of this century, it is appropriate that we reflect on our legacy for our children. In the next century, it will be technological knowledge that will create wealth. Therefore, our legacy to our children will be the investments that we made on their education.

Thank you. You may ask me anything you like.


Emeagwali

Emeagwali dropped out of school at the age of 12, served in the Biafran army at the age of 14 and came to the United States on scholarship in March 1974. Emeagwali won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize, computation's Nobel Prize, for inventing a formula that lets computers perform their fastest computations, work that led to the reinvention of supercomputers. He has been extolled by Bill Clinton as "one of the great minds of the Information Age," described by CNN as "A Father of the Internet," and is the world's most searched-for scientist on the Internet.



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