- How artisans from neighbouring countries took jobs away from Nigerians
By VINCENT KALU and VERA WISDOM-BASSEY
THE old cliché, ‘as you make your bed, so you lie on it’ appears to be playing out among Nigerian artisans who are grumbling over the preference being given to their foreign counterparts in the construction industry.
Over the years, Nigerian artisans’ failure to demonstrate high level of professional competence or skills, as masons, plumbers, carpenters, painters, laying of tiles and marble, plaster of paris (POP) etc, compared to their counterparts from some West African countries, including Ghana, Benin Republic and Togo, has become their Achilles heel that has not only put their jobs on the line but led to job losses, thereby worsening the unemployment situation in the country.
These foreign artisans have virtually seized jobs hitherto, done by Nigerians.
It is estimated that far more than N10 billion is being lost annually to the immigrant artisans, who have displaced Nigerians in the construction sector.
In some developed countries, governments, through the construction industry address youth unemployment, but that has not been the case in Nigeria.The country seems to have abandoned its most vibrant sector for employment generation to outsiders.
According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the nation’s unemployment rate rose to 12.1 percent in the first quarter of 2016. The NBS unemployment watch revealed that the actual population of Nigerians in search of jobs increased from 76.9 million to 78.4 million within this period.
The report further disclosed that the failure of government to meet its target of creating a minimum of 1.5 million jobs during the period and keep the unemployment rate constant at 10.4 percent before the end of December 2015 worsened the unemployment situation.
The unemployment figures are hardly surprising because the construction industry, which other nations use to reduce unemployment has been left to foreigners.
In this vein, many youths who should be gainfully employed in the construction sector have to look for other things to do, with some venturing into crime. The industry has become a beehive of activities and a money spinner for foreign artisans, who hardly pay taxes on what they earn. This is also a minus to the nation’s revenue that urgently needs a fillip also.
However, indigenous artisans have heaped the blame on their countrymen whom they accused of not seeing anything good in them, as they also noted that the use of foreign artisans by Nigerians amount to capital flight. They argue there is nothing they (foreigners) do on site that Nigerians cannot do if given a fair deal and improved condition of service. They accused the contractors of demonising and blackmailing them as being inferior because most of the time, their highhandedness is challenged.
A Nigerian contractor almost lost the contract for the construction of two duplexes in a South East state because he was being patriotic by hiring locals for the job. He went there and engaged artisans from that community, but after two months, he couldn’t make much progress while the owner of the project, an influential politician in Abuja, started doubting his competence.
The problem was that he would go to site to wait for the workers, and some of them won’t show up. Those who came were to take excuses for other schedules. When the contract was about to be revoked because of the snail speed at which it was going, he returned to Lagos and moved to site with Togolese workers and within a short period he covered the lost grounds and met the target. They set up a camp on the site, started work as early as 7 am and continued till dusk.
Preference for foreign artisans
The strength and rigour with which the foreigners carry out their works is amazing, and at the end of the day, they still deliver. Some Nigerian building contractors who hire them have excellent testimonies about the immigrants.
They are said to be thorough, level headed and demonstrate high level of professional competence.
On why they prefer foreign artisans to Nigerians for construction works, Prince Eme, a building contractor, said, “ these people – Ghanaians, Togolese and Beninoise, are very easy to manage at work site, unlike our countrymen. When you give them target for a day, or week or month, they will meet up the set target with excellent result to show for it. I have worked with them for over a decade, I’m very comfortable with them, because they are also honest and display a high level of integrity in their relationship with you, more so, their services are cheaper than our people”.
He noted that most Nigerian artisans are not on ground with what they do. They hardly concentrate to learn the trade; they are always in a hurry, and at the end, they come up haphazard jobs.
Engr. Martin Obioma, a stakeholder in the building construction sector expressed fears that craftsmanship is dying and in the near future, almost every aspect of building construction, including painting, may be in the hands foreigners if urgent action is not taken. He told Saturday Sun, “if you go to any construction site in f the country, more than 75 per cent of the artisans on site are not Nigerians.“
Commenting on professional competence of foreigners in construction works, Mr. Frank Eze, a Nigerian, based in Benin Republic said he used artisans from Benin Republic to build his house in his hometown, in the South-east.
He noted that artisans from other ECOWAS countries rely so much on Nigerians, and the free movement gives them the leverage to come over and make money, which they repatriate home without much ado.
He blamed Nigerians for creating such opportunity for them, saying “the urge by our own citizens to milk you given the slightest opportunity, has made many to prefer these foreigners. The charges by Nigerians are much higher than these foreigners, who are very much concerned in doing excellent jobs.”
“Whatever opportunity that comes up, they make the best use of it knowing that they have to make money to take back home. And you would realize that the jobs Nigerians are rejecting, they are keen to take them up. If you give them job, they try to do it and deliver quality service. People who had engaged them once would like to use again based on the fact that they do quality and affordable job.”
Ibrahim Abdulwakeel Kola, a civil engineer noted that the foreign artisans perform better on site than the indigenous ones. He attributed this to lack of training schools that will help produce quality artisans, which according to him, is affecting the performance of indigenous artisans hence the preference for foreign ones.
“From my experience with artisans from other countries, I rate their work as excellent and far above what is obtainable from Nigerians.
“Nigerians, except they are well supervised like to cut corners. If he is asked to buy, let’s say 10 bags of cement to mix sand, he might buy seven for the purpose and this tends to reduce the quality of job done. Beninoise, Togolese, Ghanaians are more reliable and dedicated. I think with proper training and education, our artisans could improve,” he said.
According to Obioma, the situation has become worrisome as the rate of unemployment keeps rising, while the nation is losing billions of naira in foreign exchange.
“There is a lot of capital flight in this area, where many artisans from neighbouring countries like Benin Republic, Ghana and Togo flood Nigeria, take some of the jobs and send the money they earn back home to their people.
“This money would have been expected to work within the Nigerian economy. We estimate that nothing less than N10 billion is being lost annually to these people. By the time an artisan collects at least N4, 000 per day for the job he is doing, you can imagine what he will collect in a week, a month; and a year.”
Corroborating Obioma’s position, Chief Akiniyi Diya, a building contractor, noted that the trend is affecting the economy negatively because, “we have citizens that are supposed to have these jobs and the money that comes with them, but foreigners earn the money and take it away to their countries, thereby developing their economy while ours suffers. It is not good for the economy.”
He called on the government to lay more emphasis on vocational and artisan education for Nigerians. “Government should create artisans’ workshops where youths could be trained than the proposed N5, 000 allowance every month”, he added.
He observed that the problem stemmed from the fact that Nigeria is a certificate-orientated society. “Nigerian apprentices will hurriedly try as much as possible to take certificate from their masters, but the Togolese, Ghanaians, Beninoise are more patient in learning their trades.”
Local artisans complain
Saturday Sun visited members of Ifelodun Builders Association in Agboju area of Lagos. At the premises, Nigerians were on one side, and the foreigners on the other side.
Mr. Jona Itienue from Benin Republic, is the chairman of Ifelodun Builders Association for foreigners. He is married to an Igbo woman and has lived in Nigeria for many years. According to him, he had travelled to many states in the country to work. He also engages the services of other foreigners who travel with him to the eastern part of the country. He stressed that there is no part of Imo State that he had not worked. He said he is not only a painter but a site engineer.
Saying it as it is, a Nigerian artisan, Oluwatimi Adesoji, admitted that the foreign artisans are far better than their Nigerian counterparts and even more committed to the job. According to him, “as an artisan, I had the opportunity to work alongside our foreign counterparts. One of them, Koffi, a Ghanaian was my best friend before he travelled back to his country last year. I learnt so much from him while we were together at a building site in Apo, Abuja. One thing about them is that they take their time to learn the job and they are very diligent with the job. I don’t blame our local contractors for engaging them because as they always say, ‘a Ghanaian on site is equal to four Nigerian artisans’.
“I must also tell you that they work with time and strive to meet up with what is expected of them unlike some of us that think more of what we are paid than the target we are expected to meet”.
Mr. Cosmas Jacob, a plumber, however, disagreed that foreign artisans are better than Nigerians. While working at a building site along Airport Road, Lagos, Jacob noted that prefering foreign artisans to Nigerians will result in capital flight because there is nothing they (foreigners) could do on site that a Nigerian cannot do if given the chance.
“If you give us a fair deal and good condition of service we can do far better. We live here and this is our country, so how can somebody that just came to make his money do a better job than us? It is not fair; it is due to ignorance on the side of our engineers who sometimes due to unnecessary pride look down on us. All they do is issue orders and bark at you and when you resist, they disengage you from the site. It is really bad so to say,” Jacob bemoaned.
Taiwo, a bricklayer, complained bitterly about how they are now jobless because “these people from Cotonu, Togo and Ghana, are the ones Nigerians are giving jobs now instead of their brothers. They want us to die of hunger. Will it be better if we begin to rob? Please give us jobs, our works are not as bad as you people think”.
Like Taiwo, James Akpan, a bricklayer also complained of the preference Nigerians give the foreigners over their fellow countrymen. He appealed to Nigerians to have a rethink in the interest of the nation.
The Lekki Gardens’ building collapse in March this year shows the extent to which foreign artisans have taken over the construction industry in Nigeria. More of the over 40 workers that perished in the tragedy were artisans from Ghana, Togo, and Benin republic.