A study by the International Organization for Migration indicates Nigeria is a popular destination to migrants in the sub-region. At the same time, the study finds an increasing number of skilled Nigerians are emigrating abroad in search of employment.
Nigeria's National Population Commission shows the number of immigrants residing in Nigeria has more than doubled in recent decades and now stands at nearly one million.
The study shows the majority of immigrants in Nigeria come from neighboring West African states.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, says Nigeria is a magnet for Africans in the sub-region because of its vibrant economy.
"It grew from 5.5 percent in 2004 to about 6.4 percent in 2007. This is basically due to the oil sector, which remains the primary engine of growth in Nigeria. Those migrants from the sub-region are also attracted by the growth in the informal sector of the economy, which is linked to the overall growth in Nigeria. And, those less skilled migrants or unskilled migrants continue to be employed in the informal sector in Nigeria," he said.
While more people are heading for Nigeria, the IOM report finds more people are emigrating from Nigeria. And, it says, this trend is set to continue.
A 2000 census indicates more than one million Nigerian nationals live abroad, mostly in Sudan, followed by the United States and the United Kingdom. Many Nigerian emigrants also settle in neighboring Cameroon and in Ghana.
The report says most of the people emigrating are highly skilled professionals, such as doctors and dentists. It says many Nigerians also go abroad to study and few of them return after they have completed their education.
Experts call this exodus of skilled professionals a "brain drain."
Chauzy says this brain drain contributes to the loss of valuable skilled people in Nigeria. But he says Nigeria benefits from the remittances sent back home by its nationals abroad. He says remittances are overwhelmingly used to improve the lives of families left behind.
"There is evidence that some of that money is used to create small businesses and, obviously, create wealth and employment in Nigeria. The report recommends, however, that the Nigerian government works more closely with the Nigerian Diaspora to make sure that they can contribute more in terms of skills, in terms of knowledge that could be transferred or should be transferred to the country to promote its development," he said.
The Central Bank of Nigeria notes a dramatic increase in the flow of remittances to the country from $2.3 billion in 2004 to nearly $18 billion in 2007. This represents 6.7 percent of GDP.
The United States accounts for the largest portion of official remittances followed by the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Spain and France.