Nigerian Medical Students’ Association Debate Series: Japa or Stay?


Shortly after announcement of the proposed brain drain bill aimed to stop the emigration of medical professional out of the Nigerian Health system, the Southwest Region Academic Board of the Nigerian Medical Students’ Association (NiMSA) hosted her big debate series with one of teams discussing the topic, “JAPA or STAY?”.

This academic – debate – event virtually brought together different medical students’ association representatives from various institutions in the southwest region of the country. Of which the LAUMSA (Ladoke Akintola University Medical Students Association) and BUAMS (Babcock University Association of Medical Students) teams argued for and against the “JAPA or STAY” discuss. During which the BUAMS team eloquently affirmed the resolution that, “To Japa, is better, than to Stay”.

“Emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind in the country that was deserted.” – Thomas Malthus, an English economist. In definitions: “JAPA” is a Yoruba slang that means “to run, flee or escape”. While “Stay”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means “to stop going forward, to continue in a place or a condition”. The term “Japa” is however now used to redefine the fast-rising emigration wave which has taken a firm root in the hearts of Nigerians.

A survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2018 revealed that 45% of Nigeria’s adults plans to relocate to another country within 5 years. Nigerians also ranked the highest, among people who desperately want to relocate to some other countries. The aetiology of Japa can be traced down to numerous factors which include lack of prosperity, the high cost of living, poor infrastructure, and mounting insecurity amongst many others.

One of the values employed by the debaters to elaborate their point supporting “to japa” was “prosperity”. Prosperity can be defined as a successful, or flourishing condition, especially in financial and mental respects. The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that one do not continue to stay where he or she is, and so, for an individual to be prosperous, it is essential that a conscious decision is made to not remain in one position. Hence, this leads to the value criterion of “emigration to developed countries with high standard levels of living”.

Emigration is not a new human experience. However, the most significant detail about the recent wave of emigration is the profile of the emigrants, they are skilled youths comprising of IT engineers, teachers, medical professionals, prominently medical doctors amongst many others.

Statistics from the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom showed that Nigeria has the third highest number of foreign doctors working in the UK with a total number of 9, 710 doctors as of April 2022. An adage says “there is no smoke without a fire”, so it would be unreasonable to conclude that individual decisions made by 9,710 doctors to migrate from a country – on the verge of crisis – is a bad call. Also, this recent emigration wave of doctors to other countries mirrors the happenings in other professional walks of life.

According to the BUAMS team speakers – who eventually won their round of the debate series, below are some of the contentions their arguments were based:

Contention 1: Migration to developed countries guarantees better income.

An article published by the journal of international migration and integration in September 2021 reported that Nigerian doctors earn below an average annual salary of about $12, 000 – which is much lower in the recent economic situation of the nation, while their counterparts in the UK and USA annually earn up to €36,000 and $59,000 respectively.

Nigeria is a country notorious for taking and never giving back, this is evidenced by the poor salaries, little or no incentives and even the ridiculous amount designated as basic hazard allowances for doctors who sacrifice their lives to save others. An average Nigerian doctor’ salary is barely enough to cater for their families, the situation is further worsened by the depreciating value of naira and high cost of living. Hence, there is no justifiable reason to remain in a country that provides inadequate and inappropriate salaries after a job well-done.

Contention 2: Emigration provides accessibility to adequate medical infrastructure which encourages medical innovation and improves work satisfaction.

The popular saying that “A carpenter is an ordinary man without his tools” goes to show that the positive impact of adequate medical infrastructure on the performance of medical doctors cannot be overemphasized. A notable example of this is Professor Onyema Ogbuagu, a Nigerian medical doctor who migrated to New York and is now globally recognized as one of the brains behind the invention of the famous Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.

In Nigeria, Doctors are handicapped in their abilities to diagnose patients and can only provide medical care at sub-optimal levels because they lack the basic diagnostic equipment. Countries like Canada and the United Kingdom where Nigerians migrate to, have sophisticated state-of-the art medical and research facilities that help promote their efficiency and change the face of medicine. Why then would you choose to remain in a place that makes you less than extraordinary?

Contention 3: The rapidly deteriorating state of the Nigerian health sector is another reason why it is better to leave the country.

The healthcare sector is severely underfunded due to the apathetic attitude of the government to affairs of the health sector. According to 2012 data analysed by the CIA World Fact Book, Nigeria ranks 109th out of 191 countries in terms of GDP proportion spent on health. The health sector has never been a priority for the Nigerian government and will never be a priority as they focus on other sectors like petroleum and agriculture, this is evidenced by an article published by the Premium times in 2021. The article reports the Federal Government budget for health for the entire country was a miserly $1.07 billion, an amount less than half of the expenditure budget for government hospitals in the UK.

Other countries have effective strategies put in place by the government for addressing the challenges of healthcare sector. On the other hand, Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa, is a country where the top government officials make promises to improve the health care system and then proceed to travel to other countries to obtain medical care because of the disgraceful state of the healthcare system. It will therefore be foolish to continue to believe in the empty promises of “a hope for a better Nigeria” that have been made to our forefathers, our fathers and now our generation – when there are opportunities to move to countries where the wholistic health of both doctors and patients are prioritized.

Conclusively, the team rounded up with the words of Ban Ki-Moon (former UN Secretary General), stating that, “Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future”. Choosing to remain in a crumbling system means settling for less. Hence, the team strongly affirm that “to Japa is not just better than staying”, it is the best decision we can make for our future and the future of the generation to come.


Editor’s note:
The BUAMS debaters that contributed to this article are Olawunmi Ololade Abigail, Atalabi Claire and Olayiwola Oluwadamilola Peace. The event was facilitated by Abdulhakeem Abubakar Tunde and Chukwuma Ernest (Regional Directors of the Academic and Quiz board), and co-moderated by Aishat Abdulmojeed (NIMSA SW Regional coordinator). 

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