It was a rude shock to me reading (from SaharaReporters) about the sack of 84 Nigerians by ExxonMobil. And this is coming at a time when nations of the world are enacting tough immigration laws and policies to force out immigrants so as to create jobs for their hard-pressed citizens.
And here is Nigeria cowardly and ignorantly allowing foreigners take over their land. A colleague recently told me that most Nigerian laws favour foreigners to the detriment of our citizens and I think he was absolutely correct. Here in the UK, I have always asked my colleagues if Nigerian leaders ever read about immigration laws of other countries. I have always wondered if Nigerian ambassadors in these countries ever file in reports to the federal government about tough immigration changes going on in their host nations. If they do, then a company like ExxonMobil can never have up to 700 expatriates in its payroll. It is never done anywhere in the World! That amounts to an economic sabotage against the Nigerian state. And Goodluck Jonathan is sitting comfortably in Aso Rock calling himself President and offering bribe to Pastor Tunde Bakare. He must be the weakest President Nigeria ever had.
Let me start with the UK where I am very conversant with. In the last two years, the British government has been implementing the biggest immigration shake up in 45 years. That exercise was enhanced with the conservative-Lib Dem coalition coming into power a few months ago. The current slogan in the UK is: British Jobs for British People. And it is being enforced to the letter. In the period under review, the British government has closed down over 20 different immigration routes through which foreigners hitherto come into their country. And this closure is primarily targeted at immigrants from outside the European Union. Just last week, the British government announced that henceforth it will only approve 1000 (per year) highly skilled visas (HSMP or tier 1) for exceptionally talented non EU immigrants. This is a programme that before last week allowed hundreds of thousands of non EU immigrants to work in the UK; of which tens of thousands of Nigerians were beneficiaries. With this new limit, it means Nigerians would count themselves lucky if they can get up to 80 (per year) HSMP visas approved for them henceforth. And we are having a case in hand where ExxonMobil ALONE is having 700 foreigners in its staff list in Nigeria. Who made them Lord over us in our own country? Who approved those visas? How many expatriates of African descent are working in ExxonMobil USA and UK? There is no reason why the total expatriate strength in ExxonMobil Nigeria should exceed 100. Infact, in the light of the current global economic reality, the expatriate quota of ALL companies operating in Nigeria should be reduced by at least 50 percent so as to protect Nigerian jobs for Nigerian people. All the low income (menial) jobs that Africans hitherto do in the UK are now being handed over to Eastern Europeans because of the Lisbon treaty. Before an African gets any type of work in the UK right now, that employer must prove beyond doubts that there are no British or EU citizens who can do that job. Also that employer must show evidence that that job has been well advertised in many local and foreign media for up to three weeks. And Jonathan is thinking of 2011 presidency, he must be joking! We are all aware of the tough immigration policies being proposed in Arizona, USA which has dragged President Obama and the Arizona State government to court. The state of Virginia and many other states and cities in USA are now clamouring to enact similar tough immigration laws that would make life difficult for foreigners. We are all know how British Petroleum, BP attempted to sell off some of its pipeline assets in Russia in other to pay for the huge oil spillage damages in the Gulf of Mexico. And in Nigeria, we have oil spills everyday, with no meaningful compensation to the communities and the Nigerian government. And yet, our dear President Jonathan is from the Niger Delta where these damages are being done. All Jonathan can offer his people is to be bribing Pastor Tunde Bakare with 50,000 dollars when thousands of his people in the creeks have no clean water to drink.
Our plight in Nigeria is worsened by the compromising nature of the people that populate the National Assembly. For over a decade now, we have been talking about local content development. I appreciate some marginal progress has been made but I am saddened by the lack of drive and genuine commitment on the part of the legislators. The Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB which is expected to increase the momentum on the local content strategy is being politicised by these ‘’honourable’’ gentlemen. Sometime ago, there were media reports that the international oil companies, IOCs took a select committee of the National Assembly to Ghana all in a bid to influence the contents of a legislative bill. The Senate President, David Mark recently admitted the House is under pressure from the IOCs to water- down the provisions of the PIB bill. We have heard of different versions of the bill being circulated all over the place. That is exactly what is delaying the passage of the bill and activities in the oil and gas sector are stagnant because of the bill. And the remuneration package of this same ‘’honourable’’ gentlemen is almost bringing the Nigerian economy to its knees. So what else do they want before this bill can be passed? In the UK, authorities change the laws in just days and it takes immediate effect. But in Nigeria, unless and until enough ‘’Ghana must go’’bags are exchanged, nothing will move. I challenge the Nigerian senators to take a look at the local content policies of Angola, Libya, and Equatorial Guinea. Even Ghana of yesterday is currently blowing hot, threatening to enforce visa restriction on Nigerians. We all know what Nigerians living in Ghana are passing through. Angolan President once told the oil companies: ‘If you are looking for senior engineers, recruit our people, train them and make them senior engineers’. You dare not bring in foreigners unnecessarily into Angola. Recently in London, at Careers in Africa, Chevron and BP Angola came recruiting Angolans without experience and without any serious interview, giving out employment letters on the spot and hundreds of highly educated and experienced Nigerians present were just watching helplessly. They were all asking: where is Chevron Nigeria?
This ExxonMobil saga reminds me of my days as a process engineer with an engineering design company in Victoria Island, Lagos. After my recruitment test and interview, I was asked to go for medical examination. On the medical reference form I was given by the company, what I saw there were just basic tests like malaria, typhoid fever and urine test. Behold, there was a secret standing instruction to the hospital to conduct HIV test on all applicants. I came to know about it when I eventually became friendly with the lab scientist who casually told me one day that my HIV test was negative. He did not even know it was supposed to be a secret. In due course, the said company will have to explain to me, through my solicitors, why they ran HIV test on me without my consent. And we had hundred of expatriates in this same company who never went for such test, thus working with an unknown HIV status. The moment they are flown into the country, they start work and start sleeping with our girls in and outside the office, trust Nigerian girls with money and promise of visa. In this same company, internet access was given to the expatriates 24 hours a day, both at home and in the office. But we the locals, it took God before we were given access for just one hour a day (break time, 12 noon to 1pm). The company’s understanding was that locals would abuse it and would not concentrate on their work. But we saw these expatriates on many occasions watching pornographic materials in the office during work hours. As a Nigerian, if you go to the human resources department or accounts office to request or complain about something, you will be treated with levity, but any request or complain coming from a white skin is treated with dispatch. Infact a Nigerian manager can sack a Nigerian just because a white skin complained about him/her even without proper investigation. What an inferior mentality! I am glad I never took any rubbish from my Irish direct boss in that company. I then felt like a hero when I eventually travelled to the UK and saw the way the whites treat our people like s**t. That gave me that joy that I never allowed myself to be rubbished in my father’s land. Can you imagine a situation where a so-called expatriate without any university degree is earning two million naira every month, lives in Ikoyi or Victoria Island, has a brand new car with a driver, security, gardener, cook, travels to his/her country every three months all at the company expense. And the degree-qualified Nigerian working directly with him/her earns less that 70,000 naira per month, lives in Ajegunle, enters ‘molue’ every morning to get to work. An Italian expatriate in that company once told me that Nigerians were slaves in their own country, and that Nigerians were too afraid to lose their jobs, that was why they could not protest against anything in that company. He felt so bad but he said there was nothing he could do. He told me in confidence that they (expatriates) were out- rightly stealing in Nigeria considering the fat wages they earn. If I ever return to Nigeria, any expatriate that tries nonsense with me will eternally regret it.
The most painful aspect of all is that many of these white skins are doing jobs that even un-educated Nigerians can do. Can you imagine an American in that company working as an accommodation manager? His job description was to scout for flats in Victoria Island and Ikoyi for the expatriates in that company, then discuss with the property owners. That was what brought him into Nigeria with a work permit. Another one called himself a security manager. All he was doing then was to send out emails to Nigerian born personnel telling them to avoid going through Oshodi or Agege because of reports of violence he probably heard over the radio or television. The expatriate sending out those ‘’security reports’’ had never been to Oshodi or Agege. Many of these white skins also work as chef on the rigs and canteens of multinational companies. Can’t our people be trained on how to prepare continental foods? Some of them call themselves project managers. All they do is sitting down and be updating excel spreadsheet containing list of deliverables and updating project progress report. Can’t our people use excel spreadsheet? Can’t our people write reports? A friend told me how he saw an expatriate changing a dead light bulb on a rig. Apparently, that expatriate came into the country as an electrician. What a country! The immigration officials who connive with these foreign companies must be investigated and sanctioned. Every year, there are tens of thousands of technically and professionally experienced Nigerians who graduate from American and British top universities. Can’t they be recruited in thousands and be used to replace many of those white skins milking us dry. There are many skilled Nigerians working abroad who are ready to return home if they are guaranteed of job offers. What is the government doing about this? Everyday, hundreds of our people are deported from these countries, most of them well educated. The jobs they can do have been taken over by foreigners.
I have always asked my colleagues in the UK whether, we as people of Nigeria, have any common sense. The white people think Africans have got no common sense and sometimes I am tempted to believe they are right from what I see happening in Nigeria. The expatriates in Nigeria are paid in dollars and worse of all; the money is not even domiciled in Nigerian banks. Their salaries are wired out of Nigeria into their home banks and they just check online to confirm the money is there. This is because they have no confidence in our banks but they have confidence in our crude oil. What they receive in Nigeria is just an allowance for their feeding and womanising affairs and this capital flight is putting our banks and economy into much stress. Can any Nigerian working abroad tell me if his/her wages has ever been paid directly into his/her Nigerian bank account by the foreign employers? We need to enact a law that would force expatriates to be receiving their salaries through Nigerian banks. I am not sure this is captured in the Petroleum Industry Bill. That would greatly strengthen our banks and help us reduce liquidity crisis. The British government utilizes this method to strengthen their banks. Anybody who wants to extend or apply for visa inside the UK must maintain an account balance of at least 800 pounds everyday for three months otherwise the visa would be refused. In foreign policy, it is a case of use what you have to get what you want! But in Nigeria, it is a case of use what you have to ignorantly and brainlessly bless foreigners. I still remember reading a media report where a frustrated Venezuelan ambassador to Nigeria openly harassed Prof. Dora Akunyili and told her that Venezuela wanted to see the resources of Nigeria being used to better the lives of Nigerians. The ambassador angrily told her that Nigeria cannot leave foreigners to be running their oil and gas sector. The ambassador educated her on how university education had become free in his country since Venezuela took charge of their oil and gas resources and put foreigners at the back sit. The current hand writing on the global wall is: To your tent oh Israel. No nation is currently ready to shoulder any unprofitable responsibilities. And that’s why the British and American public are pressurizing their governments to bring back their soldiers from Afghanistan. Similarly, Nigeria should reduce the resources it is committing in peace-keeping operations across Africa. Any African nation that plunges herself into any war or crisis should take full responsibility. We can save some tens of billions of naira from such reduction which can be channelled into railway projects in Nigeria. After all, what has Nigeria gained from the big brother role we played for Ghana, South Africa, Angola and many other African countries?
I have a problem with the NLC, TUC, NUPENG, PENGASSAN, and above all, the Nigerian journalists. While I appreciate and commend the efforts of PENGASSAN and other petroleum trade unions in the perennial labour ill practices in Nigeria, I must observe that the agitations are hardly sustained for tangible results to be achieved. I have always observed that after two or three days, the protests fizzle out with half-hearted promises by the operating companies which are hardly kept. Sometime last year, about 400 workers from Italy and Portugal came into the UK for a contract work in a refinery. Despite the EU treaty which allows those workers to work in the UK without visas, the British trade unions staged and sustained protests until those workers left the UK because they felt very unsafe working in that site. I watched them on the television leaving the UK. I have not seen such persistence in the Nigerian trade union. Though the minimum wage of 18,000 naira has been approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, I am still watching to see how the NLC would follow up the effective implementation. Nigerian workers are still being carried to work in trailers by construction companies. The NLC needs to move from the level of barking to biting. I have the biggest problem with Nigerian journalists and the media in general. They have been so complacent in exposing the foul plays in our immigration system. Perhaps they think immigration is not a major issue worrying Nigeria. May I remind them that it is. Here in the UK, the British media plays a key role in exposing immigration lapses and constantly puts heat on the government to tighten up any loose end on immigration. At least once in two weeks, the British media must report about illegal immigrants from non EU countries, the statistics of non-EU citizens in the UK, net immigration figures, number of foreign criminal in UK prisons, number of work permits issued last year, the type of work non EU immigrants do, the number of non EU immigrants doing jobs that British people can do. And as a foreigner, when you read these things, there is this psychological trauma and sense of shame you feel. And those media reports indirectly incite the British Citizens with the resultant effect being an increase in hostility and discrimination. I have never read such statistics from the Nigeria media. I want to see the Nigeria media report regularly on the number of foreigners in Nigeria by industry sector and by nationality. I want to see the reports of foreigners who overstay their visas in Nigeria, I want to see Nigerian media report the official expatriate quota of every organization employing foreigners, the companies that violate it, by how many people, what punishment are they supposed to be meted with, which company has been punished, which company has not been punished, a list of jobs by companies that Nigerians can do which foreigners are doing. All these will help government extract more value for its oil and gas resources. In the UK, there is a policy of naming and shaming immigrants who run foul of immigration laws. The immigration officers who arrest illegal immigrants go with hidden cameras and videos. Everything during that operation is secretly filmed with the full face of the immigrant. These videos are played without restriction in British stations and are also posted to websites like YouTube. If President Jonathan is not a weakling, then there must be heat on foreigners in our own country. I am challenging Sahara Reporters and Nigerian Masterweb to spearhead this investigative assignment for the betterment of our father land. Nigerian jobs for Nigerian people! God bless Nigeria. I rest my case.
Chukwuemeka Nudum is an Engineering Consultant in the UK. He could be reached at: [email protected]