Criticism has arisen regarding a bill introduced by Nigerian lawmakers to prevent locally trained medical and dental professionals from practising abroad for a minimum of five years. Opponents have referred to the bill as being poorly conceived, ill-timed, and infringing on fundamental human rights.
They also consider it hypocritical, given that the lawmakers voted against a 2019 bill that would have prevented politicians from seeking medical treatment abroad. Medical experts, legal professionals, and Nigerians have all voiced their opinions against the bill, pointing out that it is impossible to force medical professionals to stay against their will.
They suggest that the government address the reasons that continue to push medical practitioners abroad, such as poor working conditions and low salaries. The only way to address the brain drain effectively would be through a complete overhaul of the healthcare system, including higher salaries and better working conditions, to make it more appealing for medical professionals to stay. The current healthcare system is grossly underfunded, with less than 8% of the national budget assigned to health.
Medical experts, legal practitioners and several other Nigerians say the bill is obnoxious, ill-thought-out, ill-timed, and even illegal, as it negates the fundamentals of human rights.
They also say that it smacks of hypocrisy as the lawmakers had in 2019 shut down a bill trying to restrain politicians from seeking medical treatment abroad.
To address brain drain, a lawmaker from Lagos, Ganiyu Johnson, sponsored a bill which has passed the second reading in the House of Representatives, which seeks to amend the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) Act to prevent Nigeria-trained medical or dental practitioners from being granted full licences until they have worked for a minimum of five years in the country.
The President, of the Guild of Medical Directors, Olufemi Babalola, said the bill was ill-thought-out and not a workable solution to address the issue of brain drain, but the government should rather focus on addressing the problems that continue to spur medical doctors to leave the country.
He decried that doctors suffer poor working conditions with miserly salaries, yet legislators who earn in millions and even seek medical care outside the country want to cage them against their wishes.
“It is an ill-thought-out bill, you cannot force somebody to stay against his will, we are not running a totalitarian government. Medical doctors are not different from other professionals like engineers, accountants, architects or whatever. They should be free to make a choice concerning their career and life prospects.
“If the Nigerian government is not ready to remunerate them up to the standard that is obtained in the UK, and US, then they cannot hold them down by force.”
According to him, “The solution is very simple.” He added, “If you want doctors to stay here, you improve their salaries, and working conditions, making it attractive for them to stay. If you do that, and they refuse to stay, that would be a different story. But for now, you’re paying them so poorly. A graduate medical doctor earns maybe $250, and in the UK, you can earn 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, so why should he stay in Nigeria and suffer, when his colleague in the UK is doing much better?
Babalola also noted that the law, even if passed into law cannot be implemented because it fails the legal test, and the factors needed for its implementation are not in place. “I don’t see how you can mandate somebody to practice when the person did not sign a bond”, he explained. “I don’t see it working in practice. If you pass this law, it will be challenged in the court, all the way to the Supreme Court, and I am sure that it will be defeated in the court of law.
If you want to implement this law, you will have to give all medical students scholarships and make them sign a bond to stay. Do you want to cage doctors you did not train and did not know how their parents managed to pay their school fees to be earning slave wages? No court of law can uphold that. If they want to do that, all doctors interested in the five-year bond should have a scholarship and sign the bond, then they are obliged to stay. But, if you have not done that, and their parents struggle to pay their fees, who are you to say they should stay when there are other options? So, it is just a waste of time. They know what to do but don’t want to,” the President said.
For Adaobi Onyeche, a Public Health expert, the bill will not solve Nigeria’s brain drain problem because most Nigerians leaving the country are the most experienced and have over five years of experience, who are even more critical to the health sector. Onyechi pointed out that the brain drain problem is largely fuelled by multi-faceted problems facing the sector for decades and cannot be addressed with a single “obnoxious decree.”
According to her, Nigeria needs a comprehensive health sector reform which must include best practices from what is obtained in other climes where Nigerian doctors often migrate too. “Let us give them what they are looking for in the UK, US, Canada, and the rest. I think that is a very simple solution that makes sense,” she said.