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Growing concern as expatriates take over artisan jobs in Nigeria

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Some foreign artisans working at a building project site in Okota, Lagos


Before now, not too many foreign artisans were engaged in carpentry, masonry, tiling and other menial jobs in Nigeria. However, in recent times, there has been an influx of foreign craftsmen into the country. From Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Port Harcourt, almost all states across the country, they are working and making money, while Nigerian youths are busy searching for white-collar jobs that are non-existing or forthcoming.They are mostly from African countries like Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali and others. Some of them are from China, India and other Asian countries. Their numbers and influx across the country has once again raised the question of whether Nigeria’s expatriate quota system is still being obeyed or it has become business as usual.

Besides, one wonders why Nigerian engineers, building contractors and others prefer employing foreign artisans to their Nigerian counterparts. Several reasons have been adduced, which include lack of commitment of Nigerian artisans, poor work attitude, high cost of labour and others.It would also be recalled that in November 6, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, directed the Federal Ministries of Works and Lands, Housing and Urban Development to urgently prepare and present for approval and implementation, a plan of action for the speedy revitalisation and expansion of the nation’s vocational training centres.

Buhari gave the directive after being told at a meeting with the board of directors of a Julius Berger construction company that because of a shortage of competent construction workers and artisans in the country, many construction companies were being forced to bring in skilled workers from abroad.Observing that this practice was very detrimental to his administration’s commitment to boost employment opportunities for young Nigerians, Buhari pledged that his administration would move quickly to address the shortage of skilled construction workers in the country.But while Buhari government’s promise is being awaited, more foreign artisans are moving into the country on a daily basis.

Speaking on why he prefers foreign artisans, a civil engineer, Mr. Leonard Ohaga said that apart from having the expertise, they are humble, reliable and always affordable.“They are ready to work and stay anywhere without complaining. They can live in construction sites for months without disturbing. Nigerian labourers cannot try such situation. In short they will insult you, collect your money without doing your work.”

The Guardian investigation reveals that some of these artisans from Benin Republic and Ghana have bought lands in Badagry area of Lagos, where they have built their own houses. Some of them have adopted Nigerian names and have integrated into the society that one hardly knows that they are not Nigerians.It was also discovered that they usually operate accounts in Ecobank, because of its trans-West African policy, which makes it easier for them to send and collect monies in their home countries.

Foreigner Artisans Charge Less And Deliver In Time
From Tina Todo, Calabar

Project contractors and engineers in Cross River have said that foreign artisans have taken over jobs from Nigerian youths because they charge less and deliver on time.Some of them are also of the opinion that Nigerian youths are lazy to do menial jobs or skilled labour. A sub-contractor from the state, William Ilem, said foreigners, most especially the Togolese, have taken over the building project because they are more committed to work than Nigerians.

He said: “Let us take example from Cross River, precisely Calabar; it is safer and cheaper to bring people from Lagos down here to work, because they charge less and are reliable. This is applicable to the foreigners, they charge lesser than what Nigerians will charge you for a job. For instance, a Nigerian will tell you that to cast a pillar will cost you N1,000 but a Togolese or a foreigner will charge you just N500 and you will still get the same result. Sometimes they tend to be more perfect in what they do than the Nigerians who charged you more.

“Sometimes, Nigerians who traveled to their countries and saw their good works, bring them down to work in their construction firm or buildings.“Secondly, if you ask me, I will tell you that we Nigerians gave the foreigners the access to take over these jobs, because our youths are too lazy to do menial jobs. Take for instance, you bought a plot of land for N500,000 and the youth of that community demanded that before you start building you have to pay 10 per cent of the amount you paid for the land to youths. Meanwhile, you planned to employ them as iron benders, carpenters, masons and in other fields of work needed, but because they demanded money without working for it, a contractor will wants to look elsewhere for his workers and the ones available are mostly the Togolese who are always ready to work.”
 
Mr. Ilem said that technical colleges in the state are working.“Our technical colleges are still running. Right from JSS 2, a student in technical college is taught on how to lay blocks and do other skilled work. What can be done to bring our youths back on track has to start from the parents. They should know what skills their children are good at and then guide them through encouragement and financial support. Government should provide basic amenities like infrastructure in colleges and other tertiary institutions.On his part, a Togolese engineer who handles ceiling POP, Mr. Francis Amusu, said Nigerian youths are too money- conscious and not ready to do skilled or unskilled jobs.

“That is why I prefer working with foreigners especially my people from Togo.”He, however, said there are a few Nigerians working with him and are committed to work. In his words: “People say we come here to steal their jobs, but I don’t believe that because the field is open to anyone who shows interest and commitment in our kind of job. And again, Nigerians are too money- conscious. They want money, but they are not ready work. I have few Nigerians who are good but they are rare to find.”A Fabrication and Welding Engineer working in Calabar, Ayodele Badewa, said most Togolese in Nigeria have taken over construction jobs, despite their shabby way of delivering jobs and contractors preferred them because they charge less.          

Badewa said: “Foreigners, most especially Togolese, are taking over most of the construction works in Nigeria because one, they are many in Lagos and secondly, contractors preferred them, not because they do the job better than us, but because they collect peanuts for jobs and this exercise is affecting core professionals in the building industry.

“Most of them are not professionals in the job. What they do is that, they go to sites where labourers are needed, they work for six months, learn the basics and the next thing is they start to collect cheap jobs. The Chinese and some people from Asian countries are more technically oriented than most Togolese.“Another thing is that, if you look at the situation of the country, youths of these days are not ready to work, while the foreigners are ready to do any work. You don’t blame contractors for employing foreigners who are ready to work for even less the money. When you asked most Nigerian youths to go and acquire skills, they tell you they want to go to school.”Badewa, called for the restructuring of technical schools in the country. He said it would encourage youths in venturing into skilled and unskilled labour. He noted that as a former student of Government Technical College in Okiti-pupa, Ondo State, he later became an engineer.

‘Nigerian Artisans Are Unreliable, Dishonest, Lazy’
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure

“A prophet is without honour in his hometown,” Mr Niyi Ayeye Okikiola said while expressing his frustration at the rising attitude of some rich people in the neighbourhood who build houses and estates, but prefer to ignore local masons and engage the services of expatriates to work on their sites.Okikiola, a tiler and aesthetic mason designer who resides in Okitipupa, complained to The Guardian that in the last five months, he had not gotten any work to do, though there are several constructions and buildings going on in his area.

He lamented that the owners of these sites prefer to employ people from outside the community, state and even country to work on their sites rather than encouraging the folks around, who could even do the works better than the foreigners.“Sometimes ago in NDDC quarters, the rich people living in that part of the area brought in a whole lot of expatriates to work there. Most of the houses there were built by foreigners; from the foundation to the beautification, designs, artistry to designs were handled by people outside this community.”

Okikiola, who is a National Diploma (ND) holder from one of the Nigerian tertiary institutions, noted that the influx of the foreigners on sites have increased tremendously as most of them will go back to their various countries to bring their relatives to work in this area.“They see our community as a gold mine to make money. And the worst thing is that most of them, if not all, don’t have the kind of knowledge and expertise we possess in this work. When you visit most of the sites to assess our works and theirs, the difference is significantly clear. Very clear; but a prophet is not respected in his hometown.”  

Mr Toluwalase Akinmolayan, a bricklayer in Akure metropolis, recounted his sour experience with the employers of labour in the area, stressing that the unchecked activities of the illegal immigrants and expatriates from Niger Republic, Ghana, Togo and other African countries have made the industry unattractive and unprofitable for many Nigerian bricklayers.

According to him, most of the illegal expatriates are from neighbouring African countries, whose currencies are less valuable to the naira and makes them to be at great gain even when they charge less for the services. They have more patronage, because of the huge difference in charges.“The job which we ought to charge N2000 per day, they make it so less and worthless that they take as low as N800 and still go back to their countries making so much fortune. This, over the years, has caused many employers of this same labour to patronise them at our expense. Because of this, many of them have also become sudden contractors here in our backyard. They engage many of us to work on their sites because they have excess jobs at their disposal,” he said.

However, Mrs Gloria Okey, the Chief Executive Officer of Uptown Estate, pointed out that most of the local masons and bricklayers are unreliable, dishonest and lazy. She added that they oftentimes put their employers through unpalatable experiences in the course of rendering their services.Okey Igbodo, a civil engineer and construction expert, disclosed that hardly can you find an honest one among 10 Nigerian masons. They are a bunch of liars and fraudsters. When they charge you for materials, they make sure they make mind-blowing profits from the contract by providing substandard materials for your work.”Her words: “This at large is responsible for the rising incidents of building collapse in the country today. As a businesswoman and employer of labour, do you think I will be motivated to employ such labourers? Who then blames me if I get cheaper and more reliable labourers irrespective of their creed, tribe and nationality?”

President of Movement for the Survival of the Underprivileged (MOSUP), Mr Dappa Maharajah, stressed that the various associations monitoring the conducts and deeds of the masons should embark on active reorientation so as to improve on the attitude and conduct of members to work. He noted that the continued influx of immigrants to the industry does not mean well for the economic growth and prosperity of the country since the profits made are taken out of the country. He described it as a big shame to the country as the size of the illegal alien population has become so large and increasing by the day, due to the porosity of the borders.

‘Govt Should Make Technical Education A Top Priority’
From Lawrence Njoku Enugu

Amokwe Street junction and Achara Layout are always occupied by various skilled and unskilled labourers, who are looking for daily-paid job. These artisans, who include masonries, painters, and carpenters among others are mainly Igbos. Majority of them have, however, advanced in age. They are called Ogbommanu people in Igbo language meaning roving labourers.

The situation is the same at the bridge junction, Abakpa, linking Enugu/Onitsha highway as well as the flyover roundabout at Trans-Ekulu, Enugu. In these places, these artisans are seen displaying their tools to any passerby and requesting whether he/she is interested in hiring a labourer to work on his property.There is always a struggle for a suspected customer who approached them for jobs. There are ones among them, who go for days without finding anything to lay their hands on. Yet, a visit to several construction sites indicates that many of the persons working there are non-Nigerians.

In fact, at one of the five-star hotels located at Independence Layout, it was discovered that the tiling and other finishing works are being carried out by Ghanaians. It was confirmed that the labourers have been at the site since work started there and they using Nigerians as errand labourers. An architect and supervisor of the project, Chinedu Ike, told The Guardian that they are better in terms of delivery and finishing, stressing that at any point in time, you cannot compare their level of delivery with our Nigerian artisans. You can see that here, our own people are the ones mixing the cement, organising the tiles and handing them over to the foreign artisans. They will give a design that will suit your building, such that is not obtainable here”.

He stated that since he met the group of boys whose ages range between 25 to 30, they have followed him to every building project he is handling, adding that it gives him more confidence to work with them than our local experts”.Ike explained that the level of finishing being carried out presently has not been effectively mastered by our people, adding that “as an expert, I expect that anybody working with me should also bring his own ideas to enable us have a perfect job, because, my idea and knowledge alone are not always enough”.

One the foreign craftsmen who called himself Lampthey and spoke through an interpreter, said he actually passed through a building technology
School at Accra, stressing that what he was taught has always guided him.He explained that there are four other boys under him and that they always analysed any work given to them to enable to make the right decisions. He said he had been in Nigeria in that last two years and has worked for different people, stressing that the level of appreciation demonstrated by people had always gotten him more jobs.

But the owner of a building recently completed on Charles Street in Trans Ekulu, John Isa, said he employed an indigene of the state to build the beds in the rooms as well as other carpentry works. He stated that the design of the bed and other furniture were chosen from a hotel in Abuja. He said he returned and showed the pictures to the furniture maker, who assured him that he was capable of handling it.“You can see for yourself that he did not disappoint. He gave me exactly what I wanted. Initially, I was scared that I was about losing my money, but he assured me that he could handle it and he relocated to this compound to do it.

“I sincerely feel that our people have the capacity to do some of these things. The only problem is that their fee is always on the high side. Some of them, who charge moderately at times use inferior materials to work for you and that is where the expatriates have advantage; because they will tell you what they want to do and go ahead to do it,” he said.

He, however, suggested that priority should be given to technical education in the country to enable them lift the business of skilled and unskilled labour.
‘The Influx Of Foreign Artisans Is Disturbing’

The President-General of the National Union of Civil Engineering, Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECFWW), Amechi Asugwuni, in this interview with COLLINS OLAYINKA reveals what the union is doing to combat abuse of expatriate quota and casualisation

What is your view about the influx of expatriates in the construction industry?
As a union, the massive influx of the so-called expatriates in the construction sector is very disturbing. But unfortunately somebody has been saddled with the responsibilities of curbing such influx. When government fails in its responsibilities, other stakeholders begin to help and that is why people ask union what it is doing about a responsibility that is solely that of government.

What steps have you taken to register your displeasure about this development?
What we need to identify here is to identify the issue and also identify who is responsible in this direction. The Federal Government has a role to play. You and I know about the local content policy and it is the responsibility of government to implement the policy but unfortunately, Nigeria has a lot of laws that are never implemented. The local content law is at the mercy of employers. But they have muscled out the potency of the law, believing that no penalty would be meted to them.

The argument of some of these companies is that Nigerians lack competence in certain areas of operation to justify bringing expatriates into the country. Is this claim justifiable?
As far as I know, every company has its own area of competence. To the best of my knowledge, no company employs a person without carrying out the necessary test to justify that such a person can do the job, which he is meant to execute. So, it is taken for granted that a company that has standard has minimum basis for employment. The union has always encouraged companies not to compromise on their standard, because reputation has nothing to do with profit; it is the integrity of projects that enhances the names of companies.

‘They Are More Committed And Sincere’
By Tobi Awodipe, Maria Diamond and Blessing Owolabi

Nigerians seem to be divided on the use of immigrants and foreigners for projects and jobs. Muinat Atunnise is the CEO/Creative Director of Atunnise Clothiers and she says the only reason she would use Nigerians is “just because I want to be patriotic.”Atunnise contracted some Togolese builders when she wanted some repairs done to her home.

“Their attitude to work is very good. When they did the work the first time, it wasn’t to my satisfaction and I called them back. Note that at that point, I had paid them their complete money and they had gone and I didn’t know where they lived so I couldn’t even go and drag them there. Yet, without any grumble, they came back immediately and corrected it, without collecting a kobo and were even apologetic. You can’t try that with many Nigerians. After abusing you, they will ask for money for something they didn’t do well to begin with.”

“I will say it over and over again, their work ethic is excellent and they are very honest. One bag of cement was one bag of cement. I didn’t know where they lived or came from as we did all our business on the phone; these are things you can’t try with most contract workers. I am sorry to point out, most of us are very entitled, we don’t believe we need to work hard to get something. When I was looking for workers, I went through an agent and he scammed me. Eventually, I gave up and decided to stick with the Togolese men.”

This is a feeling shared also by Kamorudeen Adesina of Kappy and Sons Enterprises, a building contractor based in Lagos. According to Adesina, he has been on both sides of the divide and he says he prefers to use the foreigners as they deliver value for money. “I was making use of Nigerians and I can tell you conclusively that a lot of them don’t really know what they are doing. Even the ones that said they went to school and have a degree fumble a lot. The ones that learnt work informally are not better off either, as they obviously didn’t learn work properly before gaining freedom. If these are the quality of our graduates, I’m really afraid for the future. Almost weekly now, we hear of building collapse and this is due to the quacks that are getting involved, the quacks outnumber those of us that are genuine. Everybody is attaching ‘engineer’ to their name, better go and find out whether it’s a nickname or he is a real engineer.”

“Our local workers lack a lot of skills, are very lazy. Everybody wants to be oga (boss), nobody wants to be omose (apprentice) and we are seeing the results today. When I have a project, I try and gather as many workers as I can, depending on the client’s budget and after moving to site; the first thing they start asking for is money. The moment you give them advance payment, you will begin to hear, “I want to go and see my mother in the village, she is not feeling fine” and all manners of stories.”

In the same vein, Emeka Mowette, a student of Welding and Fabrication Engineering in Yaba College of Technology said: “Nigerian government is to blame for job expatriate crisis in the country, because they have refused to provide enough facilities in technical schools. Architect Kenneth Anadi, a graduate of Architecture Technology from Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State, said most of the collapsed buildings in Nigeria today is as a result of quack Nigerian engineers putting up buildings with inferior materials.

We Are Doing Our Best To Weed Out Illegal Immigrants, Says Nigeria Immigration
From Kanayo Umeh, Abuja

The Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) said the service is working assiduously to check the influx of foreigners into the country.The NIS PRO, Mr James Sunday, who disclosed this yesterday in an interview with The Guardian, explained that the controller generals of custom in all the states of the federation have been put on high alert to weed out any immigrant without consistent travel papers and trustworthy means of living.Sunday assured that the service was committed to ensuring adequate documentation of foreigners living in the country, and called for support from all stakeholders.“It therefore behoves all citizens to be vigilant and report strange faces in their communities to security agencies for proper investigation,’’ He also noted that the NIS would continue to adopt proactive security measures to ensure the safety of Nigerian.

‘It Is A Case Of Who Pays The Piper Dictates The Tune’
From Anthony Otaru, Abuja

Speaking to The Guardian on the issue a former Senior Staff of CCE& C, a Chinese Company, Engr. Onifade Ojo, said that his former company always prefers to recruit Chinese nationals in line with their home policy of job creation.

“They employ more of their nationals than Nigerians because they are cheaper in terms of salaries, and don’t forget, they also do this especially when the contract is under concessioning agreements, where the bulk funding of contract comes from their companies or country. They also do this because they are scared of unionism and strikes.’’Corroborating, a union leader of Dantata & Sawoe Ltd, Mr. Njoku Okoli informed The Guardian that his company prefers to give employment to its nationals especially at the management level.Similarly, Abdul Azeez of Setracto Nigeria said that other sentiments such as tribe, religion as well as competence are considered for employing staff.”Many of the foreigners we have are not better than Nigerian staff, but because they were recommended by management, owners of the company, they were better placed.’’


In this article:
Leonard Ohaga
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