Home Interview Japa syndrome: Banks, telecoms lose IT professionals in drove
Interview - July 7, 2023

Japa syndrome: Banks, telecoms lose IT professionals in drove

…More epileptic services imminent

 

Adetunji Faleye, Godwin Anyebe and Amechi Obiakpu, all of MediaConsortium take a look at the wave of relocation of Information and Communication Technology professionals to foreign countries and how the brain drain is affecting the banking and ICT sectors.

The recent wave of Japa (a Nigerian colloquial for checking out of the country) Syndrome has begun to have colossal effects on many organisations and the nation’s economy. The most hit are the banks, Information and Communication Technology industry as quite a number of IT professionals have travelled out of the country for greener pastures in the United States, United Kingdoms, Canada and other western countries.

The same scenario occurred in mid-1980s when Andrew (played by actor Enebeli Elebuwa) in a national orientation advert during the military regime captivated the attention of Nigerians with his charismatic display of a frustrated character who lost hope in his country and slinging his travelling bag over his shoulder retorted, “No light, no water. Men, I’m checking out.” Though this was undeniably an advert then for national orientation, however, the reality of it has begun to hurt the country badly as thousands of Nigerian youths have left the shore of the country with many warming up to leave the country anytime the opportunity presents itself.

A recent PEW research survey reveals that about 45% of Nigeria’s adult population plans to relocate to another country within five years. Of the 12 countries surveyed from Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America, Nigerians ranked highest among people who desperately want to relocate to some other countries. In another study in 2021, it was revealed that seven in every 10 Nigerians planned to relocate whenever they have the opportunity.

A new report by the UK government also shows that 13,609 Nigerian healthcare workers were granted working visas in 2021. According to the UK immigration report released recently, Nigeria is second only to Indians in the number of visas granted to the ‘Skilled Worker – Health & Care’ category, with 14% (13,609) of the total. Recent official data from Canadian immigration sources indicate that 12,595 Nigerians relocated to Canada in 2019 alone.

The president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), Ken Opara, at an event recently, lamented that indeed, the impact of mass resignations of key Information Technology (IT) talents in Nigeria is beginning to tell on many commercial banks, as unresolved technical problems have started affecting service delivery.

Opara, said the brain drain development was not restricted to only the banking sector but was also a problem affecting talents across all sectors.

“They are moving in large numbers outside the country. We are experiencing a pull of people out of the industry to outside the country and these are the younger ones that we are supposed to hand over to after a period. So, succession planning is hindered, and productivity is lowered because these guys are the next generation of people. That is also slowing down activity,” Opara added.

Jim Chinasa, Managing Director of Hoop Telecommunications, a telecommunications service provider in Lagos said nobody envisages the level of brain drain the country is witnessing today. “Incidentally, I was talking to a colleague recently who heads one of the bank’s call centres, and because we also service some of the banks, we came to a conclusion that, in all of our disaster recovery, sustainability plan, no one ever saw this one coming. There was no one who saw this one coming not even the banks. We know that from time to time the banks will call us to a meeting to ask for our continuity plan, and disaster recovery plan, but never did anyone come with the scenario where an entire department will close down because they have mass resignation.

“It has been mass resignation of our best brains and hands and the impact has been massive. It is felt across different sectors of the economy. If you notice, banks’ services have nosedived, fewer hands to take care of more problems but, we will weather the storms.” He said.

Tony Nwakaegho, editor of Gentechnews, who has covered IT sector for years said, “A lot of bank customers have been expressing their frustration, and wondering what is wrong with Nigerian banks due to ATM failure to dispense money during some transactions at new generation banks.

“Something definitely not right because there are technical problems and unwarranted charges everywhere, and it shows a lot of incompetence, loopholes in the entire banking system.”

While the investigation by MediaConsortium revealed that the new wave of migration by IT professionals is fueled by unfriendly economic realities, poor working conditions and remuneration, and massive insecurity, sadly, the emigration of these professionals is disrupting activities of most banks, finding it difficult to cope with the reality. Epileptic service delivery customers are experiencing on daily basis from their banks is enough to show that all is not well with the banks’ IT department.

This has left many banks’ customers frustrated about their banking transactions and financial updates. Idowu Oluokun, a painter resident in Lagos expressed his frustration about the services banks render to keep customers informed of their spending.  According to him, “My bank sends SMS about my transactions three or more days after I might have done other transactions. And this makes it confusing and gives room for fraud within their system. How do you keep a record of your financial transactions when the bank that should send details to you fails to do so?” He asked.

However, Victor Abiankem, an ICT consultant with Vic Ventures disagrees that the exit of IT guys within the fintech is responsible for the epileptic services in that sector. For him, no banking operations has a permanent epileptic service but temporal.

“The availability of experienced professionals in the country is enormous and that is why for me it is a case of one’s leaving is opportunity for several others to fill. Though we may feel it when these hands leave in droves but, not to the extent of lack of experience hands to fill in the positions. Nigeria is blessed with lots of professionals in different sectors and the fintech space is not an exception”, he said.

Corroborating Victor’s position, Nelson Ochonogor, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, DigiCulture, a technology consulting start-up and advisory services outfit that specializes in the berthing of start-ups, platforms and application for business growth and inclusion said, no organization will deliberately sit down and watch the brand they have built over the years go down.

“Yes, the japa syndrome is real, and good enough, we have smart hands in the country and generally in the world it has been identified that the Nigerian tech guys do a lot of things. To the fact that the things that people in India and China will do they will come back to Nigerians to say how did you guys do this. Our guys have been able to find a way around it in the contest on how it is done.

“Guys are moving out and there is a great impact in the country because skills are going out and a lot of things are happening and organisations are having difficulties retaining their good hands who are being poached. Be that as it may, the epileptic services in the fintech space may not necessarily be as a result of the ‘japa’ syndrome per-se but generally it bouys down to the infrastructure side of things, yes there is the skill side to it. And a lot of organisations are beginning to spend huge amount of money to upgrade their structures and the support services as well. Organisations have put in a lot of things in place to improve their services by running trainings, upgrading their infrastructures, bringing new hands, changing their work cultures and work dynamics among others.

Taking a slightly different route, Engr Joshua Onoja, ICT Consultant posited.

“I don’t have the statistics of the number of IT guys leaving the country, but if it is a thing of concern that they are actually in good number and that it will not affect the banking system is a lie,” he retorted.

“Firstly, to train a staff is not something that is done in 24 hours and it takes time. No bank has a permanent epileptic service- it comes and goes and could be within the period of resignation of some staff. We do not know how often they leave but if you train one person today and he leaves after three months, within the next three months another leaves- how frequent do you think the operation will be affected? And the banking system cannot say because of profitability factor it will train some people to be readily available should there is need for replacement when they ‘japa’ because who knowns who will be next to ‘japa’, he queried.

For Azeez Disu, a brand and marketing analyst, all is not well with IT departments of these banks. The services they render are an attestation that they are really struggling and need to take drastic action to revamp the situation.

He said, “For like almost a week I didn’t receive a credit alert in form of SMS or email after payment was credited to my account. I had to visit the bank to complain. They confirmed that payment was made to my account but, couldn’t explain why I didn’t get a notification. It was after I did another transaction at the bank that I got notification after a long time.

“Another case is the time it takes for a transaction to be delivered. You may send money in the morning and the person you are sending it to receives it in the evening or the following day. Their usual excuses are network issues.

“Recently, a bank had a network issue and all transfers made to its account holders from other banks failed. That affected most customers’ day-to-day activities including the bank’s businesses.”

Irregular transactions like these are an everyday issue with banks and no bank can be exempted from the massive effects of the departure of IT professionals from the country.

Unfortunately, there is no end in sight to this as many IT professionals and the youth have only one thing on their minds, and that is to relocate abroad for greener pastures.

More irregular transactions

This has made many analysts conclude that depositors should expect more irregular bank transactions as the country is witnessing an uptick in the number of skilled workers migrating to other countries. They say the matter may get worse because those who are currently in universities and other institutions of higher learning are also relocating to further their studies in Europe and the United States.

Experts have argued that if the resultant brain drain from the current Japa syndrome continues unabated, this will further worsen the situation for banks and their customers. Already, the shortage of skilled manpower in terms of software engineers, IT professionals continues to increase because they have lost fate in the country’s economy at a time Nigeria’s tech ecosystem is growing exponentially and banks are going more digital.

Unfortunately, some of these professionals are determined to migrate irrespective of any incentives given by their employers.

This is compounded by the nation’s inability to have accurate data and records of those leaving the shore of the country and project accurate improvements.

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