Viewpoint

November 16, 2023

That FG’s move to “secure” better employment opportunities for Nigerians

That FG’s move to “secure” better employment opportunities for Nigerians

By SUFUYAN OJEIFO

SECTION 14(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) declares that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.  It is this primary purpose that provides the basis for approbation of and association with government by the governed. 

Any government that fails to discharge this primary responsibility fails, as a matter of fact, in every other purpose.  Rationalisation: There cannot be a meaningful journey to any meaningful destination in the consideration of government and its policy options if the most significant questions of security and welfare are egregiously discounted.

With the daring onslaughts of Boko Haram insurgents  and their large-scale assassinations and acts of violence since 2009, particularly in the Northeast, until recently when some lull  crept into their operations; and,  bandits, kidnappers and militants alike in other parts of the country plying their evil trades, the gravitas of successive administrations from that intersection to deal with the issues has recorded serial markdowns. 

Citizens were compelled to consider state actors’ response to security issues as inadequate – and this is understandable – against the backdrop of thousands of people that were either killed, maimed, or, kidnapped. If one adds the destruction of critical public infrastructure facilities to the mélange of horror, the picturesque becomes ghoulish.

Recall how people were forcefully displaced and dispersed.  Citizens’ welfare took forced flights in the face of the burgeoning assault on both physical infrastructures and psychological wellbeing.  Thesis has established that it is only in the atmosphere of peace that welfare could get focused attention.  Not only was the government distracted amid the rudderlessness, the minders of the nation’s security architecture were not only rattled but remarkably disorganized.

The socio-economic condition prevalent in the country became a commixture of anxiety and fear.  The communitarian spirit was violated, and the basis of ethno-religious trust and harmony was vitiated.  Citizens, especially those who had the means, migrated from either the rural to the urban areas or vice versa, depending on the locations and circumstances in which they were confronted with the existential threat of insurgents, bandits and/or kidnappers and the targeted bombings of people and infrastructures.

Those who could run out of the country did so in consequence.  But now, even though the rate of emigration is high due to sundry other reasons, far away from insecurity caused by the insurgency, banditry and kidnapping in parts of the country, there is a conscious, deliberate and intentional effort being made by the federal government to overarchingly reverse the emigration trends. The President Bola Tinubu administration is considering a plethora of policy choices across the entire gamut of the economy to rekindle citizens’ confidence and trust in government and political leadership.

One of the policy choices or options that have been bandied in the media in recent weeks targets the expatriate working community in Nigeria whose current population is said to be about 150,000. Their presence is felt in all sectors of the economy, but it is more preponderant in such sectors as oil and gas, construction, telecommunication, manufacturing, and hospitality. 

The phenomenon of expatriate employment is cosmopolitan.  Foreigners are in Nigeria as expatriates working in companies in line with the terms and conditions of the expatriate quota granted the companies in which they work by the home government, just as Diasporic Nigerians are scattered globally working as foreigners except where they have obtained the citizenship of their host countries.

While there are a good number of benefits derivable from this expatriate employment, which many nations are enjoying, Nigeria has yet to fully explore the many potential benefits that the expatriate working community has to offer. As of now, the only source of revenue to Nigeria from the expatriate community is the Personal Income Tax prescribed by the Personal Income Tax Act (PITA) cap P8 LFN, 2007, as amended, which forms the legal basis for taxation of employment income.  It is within this statutory framework that the expatriates working in Nigeria are captured for this particular revenue net.  That law somewhat circumscribes the authorities. There are credible feelers about a new legal framework or executive order, which may crystallize to reinforce the policy implementation.

The Tinubu administration is set to activate, in good faith, this new policy that will designate the expatriate working community as a direct revenue source, largely distinguished from tax source. What this means is that apart from the Personal Income Tax that expatriates pay, they would be required to pay some fees, not taxes.  The policy choice would enable a new revenue stream for the country and also help to ensure that Nigerians have better employment opportunities in the country.

Although the details of the policy are still being closely guarded by the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service which are working in concert with a private concern to drive the policy from initiation to execution on Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis, there are feelers ratcheting positive public sentiments around the policy.  The revenue generation potential is quite significant at a time of dwindling value of the naira and the pressure on government to deliver on set mandates. For instance, $1.5 trillion, according to former President Muhammadu Buhari, would be needed to build and plug the nation’s infrastructure gap or deficit, over a ten-year period, translating to $150 billion per annum.  

Sundry revenue streams would be needed to build up the revenue base to fund the plugging of the huge infrastructure gap.

The policy implementation will focus on all sectors of the economy where expatriates work. Between the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria immigration Service on one hand and the private concern in the PPP arrangement that undergirds the policy initiation and execution on the other hand, there would be critical data sharing that would capture all expatriates more especially those who work in such sectors as construction, oil and gas, telecoms, manufacturing and hospitality.

Apart from the revenue that would be generated, which is the principal motive for the policy, there is the equally salutary aim of helping to secure better employment opportunities for Nigerian professionals in the companies, which are either wholly foreign, or joint ventures or indigenous companies that engage the services of expatriates.

The processes leading to the take-off of the policy and the processes thereafter, according to sundry media reports in the last one week, would not cost the Federal Government a kobo; which means in essence that the private concern involved in the PPP arrangement would spend all the money and an arrangement would be emplaced to operate the revenue generation project for a number of years before it is handed over to government.

It is significant to reflect on the expatriate working population of about 150,000, which sources close to the Ministry of Interior hinted about and which was referenced in the media reports around the policy.  An official of the Ministry had said that the number would grow and “as the number grows over time, every working expatriate will be accommodated in the revenue-generation net.” He said that the projection was that Nigeria, in the next twenty years, would have been well positioned to consistently attract, from this single source, into her revenue kitty about $1.5 billion annually.

Overall, the move by the federal government to secure Nigerian workers’ slots in the companies is to discourage expatriates from doing jobs for which Nigerians are qualified and thus help to stem the tide of brain or talent drain to foreign countries. This is quite commendable. In fact, the policy, if weighed both on the score or balance of revenue generation and better employment opportunities for Nigerians, cannot escape essential validation. In the main, it opens government to necessary commendations for thinking out of the box.

Ojeifo, journalist and mediapreneur, wrote via: [email protected]