It is time to check the abuses as many companies are undermining the country’s economy

The federal government recently announced that it was looking into the abuse of expatriate quota by many companies, especially in the oil and gas sector. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige made the announcement after a meeting with the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria as well as some contractors in the oil and gas sector. He said the President Muhammadu Buhari administration will “check the abuse of the nation’s immigration/labour laws” while pledging that “the displacement of qualified Nigerians by foreigners will soon be a thing of the past.”

This is heartwarming because local capacities that exist and which hold prospective job opportunities for thousands of Nigerians are arbitrarily and unlawfully filled up with expatriates by some firms in the oil and gas sector. The concern is not just that Nigerians are denied the available opportunities in these areas, but many companies actually exceed their legitimate quota. The abuses range from the deployment of unqualified personnel to the re-designation of individuals in a manner not consistent with their training and skills in order to give them undeserved positions.

However, heartwarming as the idea of such intervention may seem, we believe that the net should be spread much farther and deeper. The abuse, misuse and misapplication of expatriate quota are the norms in almost all sectors of the Nigerian economy by many of the foreign companies operating on our shores. There are repeatedly reported cases of companies in the food and beverages industry engaging technicians and paying them as engineers. This is in addition to placing them over their professional superiors as supervisors and bosses, simply because the latter are Nigerians.

Much more rampant are cases of foreign firms that bring in all categories of personnel, from cleaners, drivers to specialised skills, in the name of using the expatriate quota. Meanwhile, the law provides for skills and capacities that may be difficult to source locally or which may actually not be available in the country. The abuses are rampant yet the practice has not attracted enough attention from labour and trade unions to become a major industrial relations issue, perhaps because of the fixation with fighting only government policies.

What the critical stakeholders must not forget is that the nation faces a frightening youth bulge at the moment. This is in addition to graduate unemployment, a prevailing national economic downturn that is not helped by the global economic environment. These are not the times for abuses that impact directly and visibly on the nation`s ability to deal with routine matters of human capital deployment for national development. This is unacceptable even in the best of times, but moreso at such a period as this in the life of the nation.

The relationship between unemployment, crime, social tension and national development is such that anything that detracts from the ability of the nation to keep the citizens gainfully employed should be treated as economic sabotage. In this regard, the subsisting abuse of expatriate quota should be viewed as a serious economic crime and treated as such by the relevant authorities.

While the federal government must go beyond the oil and gas sector in dealing with this issue, we urge further that the authorities also make public details of what categories of skills are not covered by the expatriate quota, what constitutes abuse of such expatriate quota and the long and short term penalties that may apply in cases of default. These measures will spread awareness about the abuse and also help in curbing it.