The signing by President Muhammadu Buhari last week of an executive order to improve local content was a significant move in the government’s efforts to diversify the national economy and improve its overall health. The proclamation was entitled ‘Presidential Executive Order 5 for planning and execution of projects, promotion of Nigerian content in contracts and science, engineering and technology.’
According to presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, the executive order is expected to promote the application of science, technology and innovation towards achieving the nation’s development goals across all sectors of the economy. Shehu said, “The president, pursuant to the authority vested in him by the constitution, ordered that all procuring authorities shall give preference to Nigerian companies and firms in the award of contracts in line with the Public Procurement Act 2007. The executive order also prohibits the Ministry of Interior from giving visas to foreign workers whose skills are readily available in Nigeria. It however notes that where expertise is lacking, procuring entities will give preference to foreign companies and firms with a demonstrable and verifiable plan for indigenous development, prior to the award of such contracts.”
Even though Nigerians individuals and firms have over several decades shown promise and creativity in many areas, their potential was held down all this while by Nigerians’ unquenchable preference for foreign goods and contractors. Officials at all levels of government seem to believe that foreign products and foreign personnel are always better than local ones. There was no plan on the ground to gradually give a chance to local producers and contractors to improve on their skills. This depressing state of affairs continued over several decades. This commendable step taken by the president will finally begin to give local producers a chance to improve their skills and products without stifling competition from foreign firms.
It would also protect jobs for Nigerians and create avenues for others. Since our industrial sector is dominated by foreign firms, they often prefer to procure expatriate workers even when there are qualified and skilled Nigerians to do the job. There should be a database for skilled Nigerians so that they can be accessed anytime the need arises. In this respect we urge the labour unions and professional associations to take this window of opportunity to enhance their skills in order to fill the yawning gap. Vocational centres that are moribund more or less should be used in training middle-level workers to an acceptable standard.
Enforcing this presidential order will require the utmost vigilance by all enforcement departments of government as well as security agencies. The Nigeria Immigration Service will have the main job of allocating expatriate quotas only where there is demonstrable need. In order to be able to do so effectively it must improve its own skill in this respect and resist corrupt temptations by, especially, foreign-owned companies. Certainly, the need for skilled expatriate workers exists in many high tech, industrial and even service industries but expatriate quotas should be given only with limited time spans and appropriate plans for Nigerians to acquire the same skills in the shortest times possible. Active collaboration with professional associations is required in order to help determine the need for foreign skills.
On the other hand, crooked businessmen could collaborate with foreign firms and serve as fronts to try to circumvent the order by presenting foreign goods as locally made ones. Given the porous nature of our borders, efforts must be stepped off to combat this likelihood.
This order on local content alone will not achieve all the desired effects unless it is complemented by other measures designed to improve the educational and technical quality of Nigerian workers. One of the quickest ways to acquire world class skills is to gain the experience in foreign work places, which government could encourage in a systematic way. Similar programs are also needed to bring local producers up to speed. They need a lot of support and encouragement to be able to fill the local content void.