Migration Rate After COVID-19: Can Nigeria Keep Nigerians?


Wednesday, September 09, 2020   5:58 PM / by FDC / Header Image Credit: FDC Limited


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Migration of Nigerians is primarily of two types: emigration and rural-urban migration. The main reason for both types is to find "greener pastures" either in the city, mostly Lagos, or another country, most recently Canada. People want to leave their rural community or the country entirely because of underlying negative factors where they live. Currently, an estimated 20 million Nigerians live in the Diaspora. This is 10% of the total population (200 million). Meanwhile, the population of the metropolitan city, Lagos, increases annually by 3% (currently at 14.3 million).


In addition, the drive to leave the country has made some Nigerians take drastic measures resulting in loss of life. About 3,000 Nigerians in Libya died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, in 2017. Unfortunately, there are currently no adequate incentives to stop this trend. With over 50% of Nigerians below 20 years and the persistent rise in economic uncertainties - sluggish growth rate (1.87%), rising inflation(12.56%), volatile exchange rate (N475/$), high unemployment (23.3%) and poverty levels (42% of Nigerians live below a dollar per day) - the future remains bleak in rural and urban areas.


The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the weaknesses in the economy and further widened the gap between where the economy is right now to its potential. Will these trends continue postCOVID-19 and can Nigeria keep Nigerians?


What are the problems?

A wide range of problems cut across rural-urban migration and emigration.


1. Harsh living conditions - The standard of living including housing conditions, power, and water supply in rural areas does not compare to urban areas. Rural youths dream of a better life in the "city" and are willing to take their chances. The same dreams apply to city-dwellers who yearn for better living conditions by moving to an advanced economy. Factors that tempt them include exchange rate volatility, high food prices, insecurity, social unrest and to an extent, political conundrums. While some rural dwellers leave because of poor living conditions, some urban dwellers leave due to the high cost of living.


2. Fear for the next generation - Everyone wants a better life for their children, even the old woman living in the suburbs of the village. Most do not have a convincing and clear picture of where the country will be in the next few years. The uncertainty forces the decision to relocate to an advanced country or to encourage their children to leave the rural environs for the city.


3. Poverty and unemployment - The limited prospects of getting a job upon graduation continues to rise yearly. About 47% of graduates are unemployed from the total 500,000 that leave college every year and over 80 million Nigerians are considered poor.Hence, fewer job opportunities coinciding with high unemployment will limit the prospects for increased income to lift more Nigerians out of poverty.


4. Education - Rural dwellers leave their states to get better education in the city; meanwhile many others relocate/migrate to other countries to advance their educational qualifications. At the tertiary level, the emigration rate is estimated at 36%. This shows the need for a curriculum and educational facilities review. This is particularly important now that there is a shift to skill/experience/professionalism from theory/certificates.


5. Infrastructural development - The bad roads, poor electricity, no rail system among other underdeveloped infrastructure projects are major constraints to the ease of doing business in the country. Therefore, we find that MSMEs business owners really look forward to leaving the country to create opportunities elsewhere.


6. Institutional problems - Poor implementation of policies, misappropriation of funds, inadequate data and resource misallocation are impeding factors to the development of various states and the economy at large.


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Impact of emigration

The high emigration rate results in an increase in Diaspora remittances. Remittance inflows rose by 25% from $20.11 billion in 2016 to $25.08 billion in 2018. However, emigration can worsen brain drain across several sectors in the economy, especially the health sector. There is currently a huge deficit in the health sector as Nigeria has just a meager 74,000 registered doctors to cater for a growing population of about 200 million (registered doctors is 0.037% of total population). In addition, an estimated 2,000 medical professionals and doctors leave the country annually.7 Another impact of a high emigration rate is an increase in capital flight from the country. Between 1970 and 2010, Nigeria lost a staggering sum of $233.9 billion to capital flight transfers,8 which could have been used to increase the level of industrialization and in turn employment in the country.


Post-COVID-19: Will the migration rate spike?

It is not farfetched to say the pandemic has deepened the current economic paralysis. Thus, with the strong correlation between economic growth/development and the migration rate, there is high probability of the rate rising. In addition, research shows that one in three Nigerians considers emigrating for different reasons ranging from education to better job opportunities and business environments.9 Therefore, as more economies reopen and people adjust to the new normal to include COVID-19 in the long list of other viruses/bacteria humans currently live with, the emigration rate could increase significantly.


Can Nigeria keep Nigerians? - The way forward

Nigerians will stay in Nigeria if the pace of economic recovery quickens and there is a gradual halt to the disincentives that push Nigerians out of Nigeria and indigenes out of their state. Deliberate actions need to be taken by the government to improve the overall economy. A good way to start could be to address the huge infrastructural gap in both the rural and urban areas. Such focus could speed up rural development and in turn reduce the rate of rural-urban migration that ends up putting pressure on resources in urban areas. Improving infrastructure would also support the business environment. Educational and medical emigration could drop in the event of an uptick in the quality and quantity of educational and medical facilities. Once people perceive an improvement in living conditions they will stay and build the country. The broad goal remains sustained economic development but the process starts with the smaller pieces like fixing power supply, water, flooding, traffic congestion and ease of doing business


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