Abdulgafar Habeebullahi has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. He is a medical student at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto and the prospective breadwinner for his relatives. He has a dream of becoming a doctor and helping his community, but he also has a plan of leaving Nigeria as soon as he graduates in pursuit of greener pastures. Because, he said, the country has no opportunities for him anymore.
“I love my country, but I don’t see a future here. I have so many responsibilities and expectations. I can’t let my family down. I have to get my license and look for a place where I will be well paid and respected,” said Habeebullahi.
His plan may be jeopardized by a new bill proposed by the Nigerian lawmakers on April 6th, 2023. The bill aims to curb the massive brain drain of medical practitioners from the country by mandating them to practice in Nigeria for a minimum of five years before being granted a full license. The bill has passed the second reading on the floor of the lower chamber.
Ganiyu Johnson, a lawmaker from Lagos and the sponsor of the Bill, argued that the law will help improve the quality and availability of health services in Nigeria, which suffers from a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria has one of the lowest ratios of doctors to population in the world, with only 0.4 doctors per 1,000 people. The WHO recommends at least one doctor per 1,000 people.
However, the Bill has been criticized for violating the rights and freedoms of medical professionals who want to pursue better opportunities abroad and for lacking the potential to address the root causes of brain drain, such as poor working conditions, low salaries, inadequate facilities and insecurity.
With this Bill, Habeebullahi feels his future is threatened. He says he feels betrayed by his country and his government.
“I was so unhappy when I heard about that Bill. They are trying to force us to stay in a place where we are not valued or appreciated. They are not providing us with enough resources or incentives to work here. They are not protecting us from violence or diseases. They are not listening to our voices or our needs. They are only thinking about themselves,” he said.
Habeebullahi is not the only medical student who opposes this Bill. Thousands of prospective doctors in medical school were shocked by the lawmakers’ Bill. Mutalib Jibril, a medical student from Baruten, Kwara State, worries about the bill’s effects on the health sector and the society.
He said: “The bill would create a lot of unhappy doctors, which is bad for our society. The medical profession is noble and it should be done with humanity, passion, and service. Forcing doctors to work in unsatisfying conditions would stop them from having these qualities. The bill would also cause unemployment and underemployment problems for doctors.
“Some doctors who go abroad to work come back with money and experience. They help the Nigerian health sector by setting up private hospitals that meet international standards. An example is the first cardiology hospital in Lagos.”
Tawfeeq Alao, a Nigerian medical student from Osun state said the bill is unpatriotic and violates the rights of medical professionals. He also said that implementing the bill will not solve the brain drain problem.
“The proposed bill is unpatriotic and a violation of the fundamental human rights of medical professionals,” said Tawfeeq.
He explained that the bill aims to regulate the brain drain of medical doctors. “To me, to be candid, that does not solve the issue of brain drain.”
He added that the government should create a proper environment for medical professionals to practice. “If there’s an enabling environment for medical personnel to practice, I believe people would stay back and contribute their quota towards ensuring better health care for the masses. In situations where we lack infrastructures, poor remuneration, poor working conditions, and a host of other factors, medical professionals will keep on going abroad for better offers.”
Lawmakers’ Bill violates the constitution—Expert
Kelechukwu Uzoka, a lawyer, policy advocate, and arbitrator based in Lagos, says that the bill would infringe on the right to freedom of movement and association of medical practitioners. He adds that the government should adopt a holistic approach to tackle the brain drain issue. He suggests that the government should improve the working conditions, salaries, and infrastructure for medical practitioners, as well as provide opportunities for training and development. He also says that the government should engage with the medical community and other stakeholders to find solutions that are acceptable and beneficial for all parties.
“Any legislation that aims to protect national interests must also respect individual human rights. The bill would contravene Chapter 4 of the 1990 Constitution as amended and various international human rights conventions,” he says.