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At a time most advanced economies are locked in wild embrace of economic nationalism, the executive order signed by President Muhammadu Buhari last week is certainly a step in the right direction. Titled, ‘Presidential Executive Order 5 for planning and execution of projects, promotion of Nigerian content in contracts and science, engineering and technology’, it seeks to give fillip to the quest for local content development in critical national projects while ensuring that those jobs for which local expertise are available are not taken over by foreigners.
The proclamation is quite explicit – ‘‘procuring authorities shall give preference to Nigerian companies and firms in the award of contracts, in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007.’’ On the hiring of expatriates, it says – “Consideration shall only be given to a foreign professional, where it is certified by the appropriate authority that such expertise is not available in Nigeria’’. As for cases where local expertise is lacking, the proclamation mandates a verifiable plan for indigenous skills development prior to contract award. In all, the executive order bars the interior ministry from giving visas to foreign workers whose skills are readily available in Nigeria. Ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs), are, going forward, expected to engage indigenous professionals in the planning, design and execution of national security projects.
We see here the broad issues underlying the order as flowing from the primacy of our national interest. First is the need to preserve available jobs for our nationals, particularly in those fields where local labour is in abundance. Second is the quest for a sustainable path to a future in which our nationals not only cease to be passive players or bystanders but are helped to acquire the leading edge in global competitiveness and consequently in the earning power. Third is the need to shun the culture of wholesale importation and consumption of foreign technologies without local value addition, in the absence of appropriate provisions for skills transfer in our contracts and procurement processes. It also addresses the exclusion of indigenous expertise in the formulation and execution of strategic national projects.
That the executive order seeks to address those extant lacunas is what makes it so important at this time. It is in fact, long overdue.
But then, just like any other law, the order alone cannot be enough. If it were all about law and regulations, the rigorous rules of the expatriate quota process under which firms operating in the country are required to justify their hiring of foreign nationals would ordinarily have been adequate to keep illegal aliens at bay. That is certainly not the case. That even low paying unskilled jobs – including domestic ones like drivers and cooks – have not escaped the deluge of immigrants – notably from Asia shows how broken our immigration system is.
We can say that also of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act 2010 which, although specific to the oil and gas industry, seeks precisely the same broad objective of boosting and deepening indigenous participation in the nation’s development process. That the law has remained largely inchoate, would serve to demonstrate the yawning gap between the nation’s aspirations and the reality.
Finding the will to implement the order is therefore key to its success. In all, we consider the executive order broad and comprehensive enough. A country where two-fifth of youths are out of jobs should know better than subordinate its strategic interests to the shenanigans of foreign interests.
What is required now is the will to match the objectives with direct action through effective monitoring. For once, the Nigerian government must show the resolve to get companies operating in its environment to live up to their commitments under the law and in accordance with global best practices.