By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
THE issue of the upsurge in expatriates and expatriate quota abuse in Nigeria has remained topical in the nation’s employment system. Organised labour, civil society groups and other concerned Nigerians have continued to see the increase and abuse as not only an economic crime, but also compounding the employment crisis in the country.
In this interview, Mr. Femi Mokikan, the Executive Director, Human Resources, 7UP Bottling Company Plc, gives reasons for the increasing intake of expatriates in Nigerian economy. Excerpts
WHAT is your take on the recurrent issue of expatriate quota abuse in Nigerians?
The issue of expatriate quota, if you allow me, I will speak generally. I know I was at Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, NECA, and I was chairman, Human Resources Committee for a while, and this issue featured prominently to a point where we even had to go to the Federal Ministry of Labour in Abuja. Initially, the idea was, no expatriates, then later it became these expatriates should not do particular kinds of jobs.
I do not think there is any economies in the world that can say do not use other nationalities. So, that one is not what anybody is talking about. I think the question people usually ask is; why should expatriates be taking on jobs that Nigerians can do? I think our educational system in this country has not helped us too.
I am speaking as a Nigerian; I am also speaking as an employer of labour that is operating in an environment that is extremely competitive, an environment where technology changes as you blink you eyes. That is why such areas where we used to pride ourselves as being capable as Nigerians, we now have to ask ourselves, how well can Nigerians do this?
When investors bring in their money, they expect maximum returns. Even though it would cost a bit more, they would rather get an expatriate than a Nigerian who will give minimum returns. I think that is what is happening in the area of expatriates’ employment generally.
How will you respond to those that claim 7UP Bottling Company is one of the companies that abuse expatriate quota?
You know when you want to gain relevance or become popular, just think of one big man, and say something bad about the person to attract attention. That is the kind of thing we suffer in 7UP.
Here is our manpower report, we generate this every month. This is for September 2011. You can see consistency. Take example, this is April, May, June, to November. Last month we had 53 expatriates and this month also, it was 53.
Before then, we had 51, 51, 50, 55, 58. What is our total staff strength in December? We had Three Thousand, Seven Hundred and Fifty-Eight. Out of this we have only 53 expatriates. I do not think by any standard that 53 out of over 3700 is too much.
I am a Nigerian and part of my primary challenges here is to promote as many Nigerians as possible. If I give you a breakdown of this, you will find eighty to ninety percent of them in engineering. Why, because, in the engineering section that was where we had the biggest challenge before.
Engineering today has moved from pneumatic to electrical electronics. Most things are electrically driven, including the trucks we use. Everything today is electronics, you just press buttons. You go to the production line, you just see buttons.
But as we are upgrading those technologies, we also need the people. For example, we moved from diesel powered generators, because we thought diesel was becoming something else, so expensive. So, we moved to gas, not that we did a conversion, we bought brand new generators.
Of course, we do not have the technology in terms of the personnel. But as installation was taking place, kidnappers came. In fact, when we first started hearing of kidnappers, we got a mobile policeman. The kidn
appers killed the mobile policeman, carried his corpse and put him inside the vehicle, poured petrol and burnt it.
After that experience, the expatriate, till tomorrow, where he is, if he hears ‘Ni’ he will not wait for ‘geria’. The next opportunity we had to bring the expatriates to Lagos, they did not stay. They were still doing installation, we had not even finished, they just left and we were back to square one.
We went to Egypt to see if we could find expatriates there, none of them wanted to come. We devised another strategy to have quarters within the premises so that whoever that is coming, he will enter that place. It is like you are going to a concentration camp.
During the interview, we told them that their supermarket and everything was programmed. We also made it a point of duty to let them know that they must be ready to teach Nigerians. Some of them were not willing to transfer this knowledge. Those ones just like some Nigerian managers who will also not want to teach others for fear that if the student knows too much, he may take over the job.