How can the brain drain be turned into a brain gain – Ade Sawyerr

How can the brain drain be turned into a brain gain – Ade Sawyerr


Ever since the 2011 census figures were released there has been some much talk of immigration.  The talk has now turned toxic as one minister in government puts it and some of think that this probably is the time to have an intelligent debate on the issue devoid of the unreasoned emotion and noise of political prejudice.

No one wants to focus on the positive aspects of the contribution of immigrants to the diversity of the often drab British life, or the great moves towards integration and the enrichment of the British culture.  No one complained that Britain was a small island when its empire spanned the world and it had dominion over all and sundry, but now that only a small proportion of that empire wants to come to Britain suddenly everyone is complaining about the size of the island and the fact that the whole empire cannot fit into it.  But Britain is alive and well today because of the contribution of foreigners to the economic cake even though there is resentment when it comes to sharing the cake.

The complaints that too many people in this country have mother tongues that are foreign undermines the appreciated fact that Britain gifted the whole world the English language and as a child in primary school before our independence I was forced to speak, read and write English at the expense of my own mother tongue. But when the talk moves to the other complaint that foreigners come to benefit from our health and educational system then the truth must be told that without foreigners, these systems would not exist because it is the same foreigners who support those same systems. Indeed the honest in the immigration debate, Diane Abbott of Labour, Vince Cable of LibDems and Boris Johnson of the Conservatives all recognise that contribution that foreigners have and continue to make to the economic and social fabric of the British system.

But what is seen as a gain to the British economy is seen by some as a drain of intellectual capital from countries desperate for development.  A case in point isNigeria where a larger proportion of Nigerians who came into Britain at the start of the last century must have come to study. Most of these lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants, architects, teachers, academics and politicians who had trained in theUnited Kingdom went back as professionals to help in the development effort and help steer the country to independence.  Even those who had come as economic migrants did well enough to return home.  After independence an even larger number came over with the objective of an academic or professional qualification. Again most went back after their qualifications.

But from the mid eighties it would seem that a lot more of Africans, Nigerians included, are staying over rather than going back home.  Indeed a large number acquired their qualifications in Nigeria and decided to come over to Britain to work based on the attractive packages available to them in sectors such as health and education.

The Nigerian Diaspora in the UK has grown significantly over the past few years. Recently released figures from the Office of National Statistics on 29th August 2013, estimate that there are over 180,000 persons who list Nigeria as their country of birth.  The approximate distributions around the countries are 6% in Scotland 2% inWales whilst Northern Ireland is less than 1%.  The rest live in England and 55% of these reside in London, 8% in the Southeast, 8% in the East, 7% in the Northwest, 6% in Yorkshire and Humberside, 3% each in Southwest, West Midlands and East Midlands and 1% in the Northeast.  The areas with the largest concentration of Nigerians are Southwark and Greenwich with over 10,000 each, Barking and Dagenham 9,000, Bexley and Manchester with over 7,000 each, Newham, Enfield, Hackney, Lambeth, Lewisham and Croydon have over 5,000 each followed by Essex, Thurrock and Bromley with over 4,000 each.

The figure of 180,000 could easily be doubled if we add the second and third generation of persons born in this country to Nigerians who have a connection or affinity to Nigeria.

The available evidence is that whilst most of these people are here because there are better job opportunities in this country, most yearn that they are able to go back home to contribute to the development of their country.  There are a lot who have to work here whose experiences are riddled with episodes of unfair employment treatment but who persist because of the lack of alternatives.

There are also several second and third generation Nigerians who will be willing to go back to the land of their origin to help in the development effort.  There wish may be due to the opportunities that they envisage there or may be due to the fact that they are not valued here what with the constant refrain against foreigners in this country despite the fact of their being born here.

The financial influence of the Nigerian Diaspora also cannot be underestimated because Central Bank of Nigeria claims that as much as $21 billion flows into the country from Nigerians abroad.

Clearly there is a need to formulate policy for effective mobilisation of funds, skills and technology transfer to ensure that what has been referred to as the brain draincan be transformed into the brain gain but this cannot be done without informed research.  It is important to know what the issues are, what the push and pull factors are, what incentives are needed and whether indeed the structures and mechanisms put in place will be self sustainable.

The research, itself of essence, needs to be a mixed methodology one if it is to capture all the important variables that will promote this transformation into the braingain.

Ade Sawyerr is partner in Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides consultancy, training and research that focuses on formulating strategies for the social and economic development of black and ethnic minority, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. He also comments on social, political and development issues.

If you are a Nigerian health or education professional and want to participate in the debate and share your views:

Please contact Maxine James at or leave your comments on the issue at or  to participate in the survey and download a leaflet telling you more about the issue or you may fill in the survey at


2 thoughts on “How can the brain drain be turned into a brain gain – Ade Sawyerr

  1. In her glorious days, Great Britain, with her colonies and dominions overseas, blasted and blared to the whole world the sinews of their pride in enslaving others throughout the world.
    Please, the opportunity must be created to get those doing the menial jobs and being subservient to ordinary Britons, to sing back to their modern day enslavers who are now complaining of aliens saturation of their “small island nation”, this beautiful song of our colonial past in Africa.

    “When Britain, fi–r–s–t at heaven’s command,
    Ar-o-o-o—o-o-o-o–ose, Arose from out the-e azure Main,
    Arose from out; arose from out the azure Main;
    This was the Charter! The Charter of the Land!
    And guar–dian a- – – – -ngels sang this strain;

    Today, we are the voluntary slaves that hanker after their menial jobs, so that Britons shall never, never, never be slaves. Let them be happy !!!


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