Over the last few years, Nigeria has been on a steady decline. The economy faced the worst recession in four decades last year, the Naira continues to weaken, the labour industry bleeds, and insecurity is at an all-time high. Africa’s giant is the poverty capital of the world and the capital of out-of-school children in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is, therefore, no surprise that the World Bank’s latest report on the country is somewhat dispiriting. 

The report is in three parts. “The first part examines the broader labour market structure in Nigeria, as well as the economic and demographic context, to identify specific drivers of increased migratory pressure in recent years, before hypothesizing that the recent surge in irregular migration is a direct result of worsening joblessness combined with a lack of regular channels for youth to find employment in other countries.” 

The second and third part examines the trends and patterns of international migration from Nigeria, how developing countries are increasingly using international migration as an employment strategy, and how there is a lack of an organized structure that promotes better migration management. Here are 10 things you should know from the report:

Less attention is being paid to Sustainable Development Goals

The report points out that, regardless of the topic of migration receiving extensive limelight in recent years, little attention is paid to policies that help Nigeria realize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on facilitating safe, orderly and regular migration. It goes on to state that Nigeria is both Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy. Nigerians are not only creating a vibrant and dynamic society within Nigeria but are also leaving their footprints across the globe in diverse fields ranging from medicine to movies, and from literature to diplomacy. Also, Nigeria is reaping dividends from the success of its diaspora. These benefits come in the form of remittances that equalled five per cent of Nigeria’s GDP in 2019 and in the form of investments in Nigeria and transfer of skills and technology from returning migrants.

Nigeria is currently experiencing the worst unemployment crisis in its history

According to the report, Nigeria is currently experiencing one of the most severe unemployment crises in recent times. Between 2010 and 2020, the unemployment rate increased fivefold, from 6.4 per cent in 2010 to 33.3 per cent in 2020. The rise in unemployment rates has been especially severe since the 2015-2016 economic recession and has further worsened as COVID-19 led to the worst recession in four decades in 2020. Women are also particularly vulnerable in the Nigerian labour market. In comparison to 46.4 per cent of the male population, only 40.6 per cent of women are fully employed. And the proportion of people who are fully employed in rural areas is significantly lower than in urban areas.

Unemployment is a motivator for migration.

It was stated in the report that a combination of rising unemployment, booming demographics, and unfulfilled aspirations puts increasing pressure on young Nigerians to migrate overseas in search of gainful employment. Multiple surveys show that the number of Nigerians looking to emigrate abroad is high and increasing. The proportion of Nigerian youths planning to leave the country permanently increased from 36 per cent in 2014 to 52 per cent in 2018.

The number of irregular and forced migrants is skyrocketing.

When compared to other Sub-Saharan African countries or benchmarked globally, Nigeria’s share of international migrants is significantly lower. On the other hand, the increase in the number of forced and irregular migrants from Nigeria is a cause for concern. Despite the recent increase in irregular migration, the proportion of international migrants in Nigeria’s population is much lower than in Sub-Saharan Africa and globally. One significant trend in the data is the steady increase in the number of Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers. The proportion of Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers increased drastically in the last decade from 27,557 in 2010 to 408,078 in 2019. 

The majority of Nigerian migrants intend to travel outside of Africa.

According to the report, the majority of international migrants from Nigeria remain in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the proportion of international migrants to Europe and North America has increased significantly since 1990. However, the proportion of Nigerian migrants among international migrants has decreased in Sub-Saharan Africa while increasing in Europe and North America. In 2019, the proportion of Nigerian migrants moving to other Sub-Saharan African countries remained high (42 per cent), but it had decreased significantly since 1990. However, in 2019, the proportion of Nigerian migrants in Europe and North America increased to 31 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively.

Migration is for the rich, as it were.

According to the report, international migration in Nigeria is primarily available to well-off Nigerians from southern states. The top 5 Nigerian states with the highest proportion of households having at least one family member as an international migrant in the last three years are all in the southern regions of Nigeria. It is not surprising that the relatively prosperous southern states report a significantly higher proportion of households with international migrants compared to the northern states. This is because international migration is costly, it requires families to spend upfront capital that few families in the poorer regions of the country can afford. As the poorer Nigerian states catch up to the richer ones in the future, international migration from Nigeria would likely increase.  

While remittances are important for Nigeria’s development, the cost of sending remittances to Nigeria remains too high.

Following the data from the report, remittances sent by Nigerian migrants totalled more than US$25 billion in 2019, which made Nigeria the sixth highest recipient of international remittances globally. However, despite the importance of remittances to the Nigerian economy, the cost of sending international remittances to Nigeria has remained high over the last decade. 

The cost of sending international remittances to Nigeria from Africa, Europe, and North America is well above the SDG target of three per cent. More remarkably, costs are higher for intra-African corridors, presumably due to burdensome regulations, lack of competition, and low financial access. Reducing the cost of sending remittances to Nigeria directly benefits Nigerian households as it provides more resources for them to invest in their households and the economy.

The need for Nigeria to better leverage regular migration

Per the findings of the report, Nigeria has made significant recent improvements to its migration framework and continues to draw on the support of stakeholders for policymaking and implementation. The policy seeks commitments from the government to several identified challenges, including data management on the diaspora and remittances; the inability of the diaspora to exercise voting rights in Nigeria; national security concerns; high remittance costs; inadequate infrastructure; agreements to avoid double taxation; a lack of a framework for the transfer of skills and technology; and a lack of integration frameworks for returnees. Various technical working groups such as the Labor Migration Working Group, and the Migration Working Group offer platforms for stakeholders to come together, discuss issues, and propose actions to improve the migration management framework.

Current programs are not taking safe paths for overseas employment.

The report specifically points out that a large number of the current programs are not geared towards making use of safe, orderly, and regular channels that provide overseas employment opportunities for youth. The report provides an assessment of the Federal Overseas Employment System in Nigeria. 

The first stage is pre-decision when workers decide on whether to migrate based on the understanding of the costs and benefits of migration. The second stage is pre-departure when workers who pursue the decision to migrate obtain necessary legal documents, take up measures to improve their employability (skills) and awareness, and complete logistical preparations for migration including obtaining the necessary finances to secure migration. 

The third stage is during migration when migrants are employed in destination countries. The fourth and final stage is post-return when some (but not necessarily all) migrants decide to return to Nigeria, either voluntarily or involuntarily, upon the end of the necessary legal permits to stay in destination countries. 

 Expanding legal pathways for migration could be beneficial to Nigeria.

The report extensively states that Nigeria’s institutions are well-placed to promote managed migration approaches that help create opportunities for prospective Nigerian job seekers to find employment internationally and can be supported to help design schemes that increase the return on human capital investments for Nigerian youth. 

It is important to acknowledge the growing migratory pressures in the Nigerian economy and to recognize that managed labour migration can be one of many jobs strategies that can help unlock unrealized gains for the country’s economy. What is needed are systems that, alongside preventing irregular migration, can facilitate safe and orderly migration to enable youth to find overseas employment and help Nigeria to benefit through remittances and transfer of skills, technology, and investments.

Written by David-Duke N. Ndukwu

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