Olumayowa Okediran: Marginalizing Foreigners Will Not Solve Nigeria’s Employment Issues

On Thursday, July 14, 2016, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila’s bill to restrict employment of foreign nationals in the country passed its second reading. According to Gbajabiamila, it is a necessary step to curb unemployment in the country. The bill, if passed, would mean violators who employ foreigners ahead of natives would pay between 1 million and 2 million naira.

This is not the first time natives of a country have initiated hostilities towards foreigners accused of stealing their jobs. In 1972, former Ugandan leader, Idi Amin gave foreigners 90 days to leave the country, and claimed he was putting Ugandans in charge of their destiny. In 2015 South Africans violently attacked foreigners and claimed the kwerekwere were stealing their jobs. However analysis revealed  that only 4 percent of the working population were foreigners.  A Kenyan economist also slammed South Sudan for creating restrictions on foreign workers. Of all these, Nigeria seems to be following in the footstep of Singapore who introduced Fair Consideration Framework that ensured Singaporeans were considered for jobs ahead of expatriates, after Singaporeans decried that they were losing jobs to foreigners.

It is only lamentable that while the Africa Union is pushing forward with its bid to open borders and allow free movement of labour and trade, a group of legislators in Nigeria think the best step to solve unemployment problems is to close its doors on foreign experts. While Hon Gbajabiamila may appear to be fighting for Nigerians, this only shows that representatives have failed as an arm of the government to inspire job creation across the country and are instead crying wolf that jobs are being stolen from Nigerians.

The government should instead look into enabling an environment for job creations and as well, look into the reasons Nigerians are deemed unqualified for these positions taken by foreigners. Look at the instance that the same is applied to Nigerians holding top positions outside the country and those people are forced to return home to compete for same jobs that the foreigners may have left, would this in any way solve the unemployment crisis?

Thus, the legislatives have to take concrete steps at improving job creation in the country. One of the most important ways is improving the standard of education in the country. Only few weeks ago, several of the country’s top universities were closed down due to one incident or the other. University undergraduates are not getting the best of education required to run modern companies. Some years back, companies cried out that Nigerian graduates were unemployable. Employers would never risk hiring incapable hands on the altar of patriotism. Zac Thomas, a British mobile app entrepreneur, who lives in Singapore, affirmed that running a business is about putting the best man in the job, and that universities and governments should have some better training schemes as Singaporeans don’t have the same level of experience as multinationals.

Asides this, poor attitude to work, poor work ethics and corruption are things some Nigerians generally battle with amongst some Nigerians who work for them- thus the decisions by employers who are burdened by the need to move their companies forward, to employ people who they believe would deliver results especially within deadlines. Do companies generally prefer to hire foreigners? There are a lot of Nigerian citizens who hold top positions in major companies in the country, which easily means that Nigerians who prove their mettle for such positions would get hired.

To aid job creation, Nigeria needs to expand its frontiers. Legislatives have to push for provision of basic amenities for industries to function at lesser cost, infrastructural development, removing legal restrictions to job creation and so on. Government may also review its tax laws to ensure foreigners contribute to the development of the country, and subsequently to job creation. This way, unemployment will be properly addressed instead of creating hostilities to foreigners. Taxes levied against small and medium scale enterprises should be reduced to enable them grow and hire more people. Government should also reduce the cost of governance. Nigerian lawmakers are one of the most expensive members of the parliaments to maintain. Such funds could instead be put to creating more jobs for citizens, if the legislators truly care about the plight of the unemployed.

Closing doors to foreigners will not solve unemployment problems. Instead, Nigerians must support immigrant entrepreneurs and even relax visa restrictions, else it might translate to blocking economic opportunities by blocking talents at the country’s borders.

Olumayowa Okediran is the Director of African Programs at Students For Liberty.