They Make Their World So Hard (II)

SIMONKOLAWOLELIVE!, sms: 0805 500 1961

SIMONKOLAWOLELIVE!, sms: 0805 500 1961

Simon Kolawole

For decades, the Nigerian government has regularly rolled out obnoxious policies to make life difficult for individuals and businesses. The expatriates employment levy (EEL) must rank among the top five. It is as silly as silly gets. Although it has now been suspended by the same Bola Tinubu administration that launched the ghastly policy, it should still not escape intense scrutiny because it was deceptively packaged as a patriotic policy to save Nigerian jobs, whereas it was all about money, money and more money. While the government definitely needs as much money as it can get in this dire situation, we seem hell-bent on shooting ourselves in the foot because of narrow thinking.

Everything about the EEL is absurd — the concept, the levy, the timing, everything. It was sugar-coated with a claim of “discouraging” companies from hiring expatriates for jobs Nigerians “can do”. It is a fee of between $10,000 and $15,000 per head. If you really want to protect Nigerian jobs, the right thing to do, in my opinion, is to place visa restrictions on certain jobs or sectors. In countries like Canada, the UK, and the US, jobs in which locals have competence and there is no shortage of workers are not eligible for work visas. We are just being half clever by the “job protection” claim. I reckon that restrictions can be subverted, but at least we should be clear in our minds what we want.

If our interest is to “discourage” companies from hiring expatriates for jobs Nigerians “can do”, why is there no exception to the EEL? Why is the levy to be applied on all expatriates, including those doing the jobs Nigerians cannot do? In a society where there is rigour in public policy process, that is a question that would have been asked, dissected and answered before the fanfare of the launch. The EEL contractor is a company owned by foreigners who, you won’t believe this, are also trying to do the job Nigerians can do. We may be deficient in many things, but it is not too much for us to build an IT system. In fact, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has the IT infrastructure in place.

But you know what? The contractors are charging us $95 million to “build” the IT infrastructure in a country that has captured the similar data multiple times through BVN, NIN, driving licence, population census, passport processing, visa applications, work permit issuance, etc. There is hardly information needed on expatriates in Nigeria that is not already in the custody of NIS: biometrics, date of birth, place of birth, nationality, name of employer, office address, home address, etc. Trust me, the NIS system will be core to this “new” thing. But trust some smart guys to think up another scheme for yet another company to collect similar data once again — for a fee of $95 million.

The most tragic aspect of the EEL is that at a time we are desperately crying for foreign investors to flood Nigeria with dollars to help save the naira and create jobs, we are telling them there will be a levy of $15,000 on every expatriate they bring. Imagine a Dutch investor coming to Nigeria to set up a dairy factory that will employ 2,000 Nigerians, but we are telling him that in addition to all his expenses on diesel, bitumen, water treatment, equipment, police, and so on, he will have to fork out an additional $1.5 million for bringing 100 expatriates, whereas he will not incur such costs going to Ghana, Benin or Rwanda. This is aside the $2,000 level per dependent that we are already charging.

I think there is a bit of arrogance that goes into policy making in this country. I can easily claim that the government is deliberately making life hard for individuals and businesses. I can also easily claim that the policy making process is devoid of rigour. But the truth is that we also have this arrogance about us: that Nigeria is the biggest market in Africa, that investors would always rush down here no matter how sickening our policies are. Apparently, our policymakers do not take stock of how our tragic policies have either been chasing away investors or discouraging them from coming here. We need to get the data and take a critical look at the ins and outs in the last decade. It is not pretty.

Nigeria is not the only country in the world (in case we don’t know). Investors have options. Those behind the EEL idea project that Nigeria will rake $13.39 billion from it. Let me even concede some ground by saying that maybe this revenue motive tempted the government to approve the levy, but is the $13.39 billion revenue even guaranteed? You want to “discourage” expatriates and at the same time raise $13.39 billion from “discouraging” them! You impose $15,000 levy to stop them from coming here and still expect to raise $13.39 billion from the same people who have stayed away? That is why I said I would like to be a fly on the wall when these daft policies are being considered.

Nevertheless, my position is not a blanket endorsement of the practices by some companies who abuse our immigration system by flooding Nigeria with low-skilled workers under the pretext of “expatriates”. The right thing to do is crack down on them by developing a robust system of checks. The problem is the collusion by immigration officials, but our ingenious way of addressing this is to place a $15,000 levy — or a levy of any kind — on ALL expatriates. In a battered economy that wants to attract the best of brains and the biggest of investments! I recall the Yoruba proverb about blocking your nose to patronise a dirty pap seller — only for him to start charging premium prices.

The fact that the Tinubu administration suspended the EEL after consulting with the critical stakeholders in commerce and industry confirms yet again another malaise with public policy process in Nigeria: lack of proper homework and prior consultation. Those behind the EEL had been peddling the idea for years. It was resisted by the Buhari administration. But they found willing tools in the Tinubu administration who helped them fast-track it and then unleashed it on the economy. Thank God the damage had not been done before Tinubu suspended it, unlike in the cases of petrol subsidy and exchange rate when the government only started asking questions after hastily firing its guns.

The EEL apart, we generally live with many contradictions. We want the economy to grow, to tackle poverty, and to reduce crimes by creating jobs. We want businesses to boom. Yet, we subject them to the harshest environment with all kinds of levies and using thugs in uniform to extract taxes from them — as if it is not bad enough that they are buying diesel at N1,600/litre to power their offices and factories. We chase street vendors off the road without providing an alternative, like an organised location for them to do business and feed themselves and their families. We treat them as mosquitoes and cockroaches. We destroy shanties and provide no accommodation for the homeless.

In my previous article, I focused on the hardship the government has been inflicting on Nigerians since 2010 over biometric captures for SIM registration, BVN and NIN. My conclusion was that some of the stress Nigerians are routinely subjected to — in the name of “linking” BVN to bank accounts or NIN to phone lines — could have been better managed through the use of smart phones or portals on the websites of banks and telcos. But there seems to be this almost sadistic satisfaction some people in government enjoy from seeing Nigerians queueing up in the sun and under the rain and getting extorted as a result of directives and policies that are clearly not well thought through.

In the past, I wrote a series of articles on the traumatic processes Nigerians go through in trying to get a passport. I am glad that the stress is being reduced, although there is a lot of exaggeration and social media buzz on how easy it is to apply for a passport from your laptop. In reality, it is still hellish, just that if you know how to play the game, you will experience less pains. For the passport officials, the worst crime you can commit is to pay online. You will be properly humiliated at their offices. My niece who committed the offence said all who paid online were asked step aside at the Ikeja office for trying to be “wise”; only those who came with cash were attended to, and promptly.

I have a friend who has been trying to change one data error in her passport. It was not her fault that the wrong name was inputted, but she was ready to make amends all the same. After paying the official rate of N67,000 online without seeing result, she was asked to pay an additional N250,000 to get the correction done. In addition, she will have to travel to Abuja, even though on social media, the official line is that you can correct passport data from the comfort of your kitchen. Another official of the passport office said he can help her get it done in Lagos but blamed her for paying online. “The money has gone into TSA,” he told her, while asking for N200,000 to start all over again.

Having reflected extensively on our oppressive system and how it is impacting negatively on Nigeria and Nigerians, I am forced to conclude that we don’t know what we are doing — even though we speak highfalutin jargons, wear designer attires and play the part. There is no sincerity of purpose in many policies and actions by the government — and this is not just at the federal level, as we are wont to lament. There is no genuine intention to solve problems in many cases. There is no rigour in the policy process in several instances. A lot of public policies are motivated by what Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the former youth and sports minister, calls “carica-chop” — a caricature of caricature.

I will close today by throwing this challenge at our policymakers at all levels: take time to think through what you conceive as policies. There may be hidden costs — financial and human — to which you are blindsided. Consult widely to know the impact on the stakeholders, the economy and, most importantly, the people. Research and run the numbers. Test the ideas. Get yourselves organised to avoid duplications. Government needs money, no doubt about that, but do the benefits outweigh the costs? Should the people’s misery be aggravated all the time? Must they make our world so hard that every day we have to keep on struggling and fighting and panting to survive?



The senate on Tuesday suspended Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central) for alleging that the 2024 budget was padded by N3.7 trillion — although he tried to clarify by saying he was only questioning the details. I knew he was not going to get away with the allegation as his colleagues would viciously go after him — not when he too couldn’t prove his claim. However, I do not, for the life of me, believe that the whole fiasco is about accountability. When legislators fight like this, it is usually about money — who got and who didn’t get. Those who understand the shenanigans and intrigues in the corridors of power will not applaud either Ningi or his colleagues. Sameness.


There are moves to de-criminalise attempted suicide in Nigeria. It is currently punishable by one-year imprisonment. Hon Francis Waive, a member of the house of reps, is sponsoring a bill that will remove the imprisonment. On the good side, he wants therapy. On the bad side, he prescribes compulsory community service for at least six months. Even if we know nothing about mental health issues such as depression and panic attacks, do we think any human being, under normal circumstances, would want to commit suicide? I hope mental health practitioners and campaigners will not miss this. It speaks again to the way we make laws and policies in this country. Antithetical. 


Senator Orji Uzor Kalu was jailed for 12 years in 2019 over allegations of fraud amounting to N7.1 billion when he was governor of Abia state between 1999 and 2007. After spending some nights in prison, he walked free as his conviction was nullified by the Supreme Court on technical grounds — that the trial judge had been elevated to Court of Appeal before he delivered the judgment. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) tried to start the trial afresh, but the Court of Appeal has blocked the move — again on technical grounds, saying the record was not “properly” transmitted in line with court rules, and that it was not stamped or “properly” signed. Nigeria!


Maybe I should start something called “Oronsaye Watch” to keep Nigerians updated with the drama surrounding the inevitably doomed reform. Since the directive by President Bola Tinubu that the report — which proposes streamlining dozens of governmental bodies through mergers — should be implemented, I have lost count of the number of new agencies being considered to be established by the National Assembly. On Wednesday, I read that there is a bill to set up a mining bank. The following day, there was another one to set up maritime bank. We play too much in this country. What next? A bill to set up a rat commission and another to establish Isi-ewu Bank? Wonderful.

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