Nigeria is one of the powerhouses of Africa. That fact is undeniable. Located on the oil-rich Atlantic seaboard of the continent, the country is among its largest offshore markets along with Angola. Its mining, manufacturing, telecom and services sectors are booming. Its largest city, Lagos, is set to grow by 82% by 2030, at which point it will house almost 17 million people. Not only that, it is also a political and military peacemaker in the region, along with the likes of South Africa and Ethiopia.
When you listen to Nigerian expats, however, they don’t mention these statistics. They mention rampant corruption, poverty, political instability, terrorist activity, ethnic strife and the confusion of a middle class that is only just emerging and realizing how unimportant their wellbeing is to their political class.
It’s no wonder, then, that this new, educated middle class is scrambling for the opportunity to get an education, a job, and a life abroad. Nigerian emigrants like computer scientist Philip Emeagwali, chemist Babatunde Ongunnaike or athlete Bobby Ologun have found success and notoriety elsewhere in the world. Even outside of these leaders in their field, thousands of qualified men and women, in the oil, computing and finance industries principally, have brought their value and performance to companies and countries of the world, bringing the strength of the Nigerian Brain Drain to foreign countries.
All of them say the same thing: Nigeria is on the right track economically. Its investment programs, such as the SURE program, pour millions of naira into infrastructure, utilities, housing. Development is happening, at a decent pace for the first time in decades.
However, as long as corruption and palace politics besmirch the country’s reputation, the Nigerian diaspora will have no incentive to return and the country will lose valuable talent that could push it to become an African superpower, or even a global economic and industrial power to be reckoned with. This, more than economic issues, is what has kept the Brain Drain going strong, and every time a new instance of corruption is revealed – such as the $50 billion of oil revenue that went missing in late 2013 – the Nigerians still in the country get one step closer to leaving.
Nigeria needs the keep its development programs going, as that is the basis of a healthy country. But the new middle class is not satisfied simply with trickle-down economies. If it wants to become a force for the 21st century, it is transparency that Nigeria needs.