Though the presence of foreign workers or business people in any country has become a normal state of affairs in today’s world because of the advent of the global village and growing inter-dependence, when these foreign workers are found in certain type of jobs, it tends to be a source of worry.
The revelation last week, that Nigeria loses as much as N9 billion annually to foreign artisans or craftsmen from neighbouring African countries is an issue that should concern stakeholders in the economy. While it is not bad that artisans in the form of carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, electricians and technicians (refrigerator and generator technicians), painters, masons, tailors, etc., work in Nigeria and remit the sum quoted above to their families back home, it becomes a worry because it could mean that the number of Nigerians in this sector is on the decline. Nigerians in foreign countries in Europe, US and parts of Asia, as well as South Africa, also remit princely sums back home.
The issue of concern here is that artisans are professional middle level workers who are crucial to a nation’s economic development and are critical in passing skills in their areas of expertise to the younger generation in their societies. The huge amount being made by these fellow African artisans gives the picture that there are many of them in the various departments of artisanship mentioned above. This raises concern about whether there are still Nigerian artisans in significant numbers and secondly, whether the skill of the Nigerians match those of the fellow Africans from neighbouring countries.
The issue really is that there are a large number of foreigners mainly from neighbouring Africans like Benin, Togo, Cameroun, Niger and Ghana, who work in these trades and who are so good that they are preferred to their Nigerian counterparts. The result is that these foreign workers get more jobs and at times are ready to take slightly lower pay than their Nigerian counterparts. With time, the Nigerian artisan gets fed up with the competition and resorts to other business like buying and selling. The foreign artisan is thus left to have a field day and make all the money. The country loses enormously in the process. Artisanship provides thousands of jobs and leads to impartation of skills to younger ones in the trade, these are lost to Nigerians as the foreign workers, once they have a foothold in the country, send to their home countries for younger labourers whom they train in the necessary skills.
Part of the root cause of the poor attraction of artisanship or handwork as it is called, is the reduced emphasis on technical and vocational education in the country. In the colonial and post- colonial era in Nigeria up to the late 1970’s, the technical and vocational schools competed equally and shared pride of place in the educational system with the grammar schools. That time it was normal for a young person to seek admission to a technical or vocational school and from there to a Polytechnic or College of Technology.
The intention was to be an educated artisan or technician depending on the area of study and proficiency. It was fashionable then to see young brilliant people working hard for the City and Guilds of London Certificate.
Stakeholders in the economy and education sectors need to come together and find ways and means to rekindle interest in craftsmanship among our work force and reduce the current ravaging unemployment. To do this, they should enlist the expertise and cooperation of master artisans who did very well in their days and many of whom are now retired.