EEL: What Is Sauce For The Good Is Sauce For The Gander

By Tony Erha

After my two previous interventions in the matter of Federal Government of Nigeria’s recently-launched Expatriate Employment Levy (EEL), via press statements, I have decided to pen this piece to advert the attention of those who are opposed to the implementation of the EEL, to a number of issues that obviously discounted their arguments.

The first fallacy that bodies such as Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), have strenuously bandied, is that the prescribed levies ($15,000 for directorate level expert workers and $10,000 for the other category) are exorbitant and would hurt their businesses.

Their position could not have been different. They would want the status quo to continue in their own selfish business interest and at the expense of national interest. The culture of circumventing the national interest has become characteristic, and, therefore, bold and genuine effort by the President Bola Tinubu administration to rewrite the narrative, is being challenged.

For ages, vested business interests have fed fat on the country and would still want the rape to continue. This cannot be the norm henceforth. I am happy that Nigeria has in the saddle a president with the political will to pull through things, especially treading the path where angels fear to tred. Having confronted the fuel subsidy removal behemoth, EEL is the least for him to deal with. EEL is to him a low-hanging fruit that should quickly be plucked and dropped in the kitty, while progress is made to other areas of potential revenue generation.

While the opportunity given to NECA and other stakeholders to engage with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to address their concerns from the business perspective before the implementation of the EEL takes off, is commendable, the celebration that attended government’s decision to allow for a little time for the stakeholders’ engagement, is uncalled for.

Whereas the opposition by NECA and co is personal, there is nothing personal in the implementation of the EEL on the part of the Federal Government. It is a patriotic duty to build resilience for the nation’s economy, strengthen national security architecture and support the labour force. On the economic front, revenues generated from the levy would go straight to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the REMITA platform where from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, it can be appropriated for development purposes. On the security front, data of expatriates collected will bolster security as tabs are easily kept on them and their activities; while on the labour front, Nigerians will benefit from jobs that are meant for them but which expatriates have taken up. If companies that hire expatriates do not want to absorb local talents, then they should be ready to pay for the consequences of their choices.

The situation in which local talents are discountenanced was much more poignantly painted by an industry expert and regional manager of Africa and Middle east of seabery, Abdennoulocalr Edouieb on March 12, 2024 at a meeting with steel stakeholders in the Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers (NIMechE) in Abuja where he declared that welders in the oil and gas as well as steel sectors of the Nigerian economy were all foreigners. He took the opportunity of the meeting to raise concerns about the lack of opportunities for local welders in a country with a population of over 200 million people. Edouieb explained that it was important to create a well-organised and structured sector that would not only include local specifications but also set local standards.

If Edouieb, who is not a Nigerian could clearly understand the present Nigerian situation that is not EEL compliant, the situation should now be clear to Nigerians that the Federal Government is toeing the right path with the launch of the EEL policy, which is sufficient enough to plug the significant loophole in the system, to wit: the grim reality that none of the foreign welders has the necessary licence to work in the oil and gas industry to train more Nigerians to boost the steel sector. These concerns are what the EEL has the potentialities to deal with.

In rounding off, I would like to address in comparative terms the perceived high levy that NECA and co see the fees listed in the EEL handbook as typifying. I do not agree that the levies are too high. Even if they are high, the philosophy behind the levy boils down to the same idea of replacing expatriates with the local talents: there are two choices to make-pay or not pay. Once a company decides not to pay, it means it has done away with the services of expats. Once that is done, the company discharges itself of the obligation to pay the levy. But if the company must retain its expat(s), then it should be ready to pay. It should priotitise, look at its books to appreciate the economics of utilizing expats instead of local talents via-a-vis its operating costs and profits.

I believe that more businesses will thrive with the EEL policy once companies adjust their cost bases of having critical expatriates only which the companies can afford, instead of also employing low skilled, low-paid workers. Besides, the levies prescribed are comparative to those that obtain in other jurisdictions. Very recently, the United Kingdom increased requirements for work visas for foreign health and care worker from GBP 18,600 to GBP 29,000 representing a 6.1 per cent increase. This comes as new rules will see foreign carers banned from bringing their loved ones to the UK from March 11, 2024 in a measure that the government hopes will bring down legal migration.

In fact the Home office figures showed that Indian (18,664), Nigerian (18,143) and Zimbabwean (15,279) nationals accounted for almost six in 10 (58 per cent) of the visas granted to care workers and home carer occupations in 2023. The policy was not aimed at any race, but rather all foreign medical workers. The EEL policy in Nigeria is being regulated for all foreign workers. I urge the Federal Government to quickly round off the stakeholders’ engagement and hit the ground running with the implementation of the EEL in the national interest as is being done in about 60 countries of the world; after all, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

 

Comrade Erha is the National Convener of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO)