Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State hosted Chinese citizens the other week. They were representatives of one of the provinces in China. The visit had to do with an agreement signed by both parties. In the process, it was announced that the governor gave some jobs to his visitors. Giving jobs to foreigners isn’t the issue. Giving jobs that Nigerians could easily handle to foreigners is what I have a challenge with. The Cross River State governor signed out a job for a geological survey of his state to the Chinese. Is it that we don’t have geologists who can do this?
I was a secondary school student when I heard of a university course and profession called Geology for the first time. For the fascination it held for me, it was one of the courses I would have contemplated studying if I had been in the sciences. Incidentally, it was almost the same manner Political Science attracted me that I was attracted to Geology. There was this NYSC member in my school who taught us Government. He said he read a course called Political Science. So, I desired to read Political Science. Years later, he said to me that he had said I should not read Political Science but I did. I said it was because I loved the course. But Geology had fascinated me for a stranger reason.
One of my friends in secondary school had an elder brother who was a geologist. He gave us a ride in his car from school one day and that was how I met him for the first time. He was already practising, and was on his way to a site. How did he get me attracted to his profession? He was an avid reader of novels. The James Hardly Chase series, the African Writers Series (publishers of ‘Things Fall Apart’), Pacesetters etc. I was intrigued by a geologist who read novels. As a kid, I had always read every story book I could get. In primary school, I had read all the fiction work in Yoruba written by D.O. Fagunwa before I ever read the smallest English story book from cover to cover. I was taught how to read Yoruba in primary school. These days, it’s posh to not teach indigenous languages in ‘posh’ schools. In secondary school, I had continued this trend of reading everything and I persuaded my friend to bring his brother’s novels for me. I was faithful. He would bring it. I would read, return it, and he would bring another. If I didn’t complete the entire set of books under the African Writers Series and the James Hardly Chase series as of that time, I must be very close.
I recall this story on realising that the Cross River State governor gives our jobs to foreigners. The first thing that struck my mind was that Nigeria had been producing geologists for as long as it had been in existence. But when we have a job geologists can handle, we give it out. What has happened in Cross River State is another sample in a pattern, and I ask myself why we keep doing things the same way but expect a different result. What is so magical about geological mapping that the government has to import some exotic foreigners? I should think geological mapping is something any fresh graduate could handle, let alone eminent Nigerians who have distinguished themselves in this field.
Giving the job to such distinguished professionals isn’t where it stops. There are the younger Nigerian geologists and graduates in related fields who would have been brought on board to gain some field experience. This means funds are retained on our shores. If some technical equipment were needed for this job that we didn’t have, the Cross River State governor could have ordered for them. And if he wanted the guarantee that a white face (or other shades) must be involved, he could have had one Chinese brought it in an advisory capacity. But what we see in this case is that about nine Chinese were imported by the Cross Rivers State Government to handle geological mapping of the state. The number cannot stop there. Trust the Chinese. They would equally import chefs and gardeners, crediting the bill to the Cross River State Government’s account.
There are other angles to this matter. For instance, the question could be asked: Does it mean no geological survey of Cross River State has ever been carried out since its inception? I do not know this detail, but at least I’ve seen how some federal agencies regularly display mineral resources along with the names of the states where they’re obtained. The official claim is that there’s no state in Nigeria that doesn’t have certain quantities of mineral resources. Our officials make the same claim about other natural endowments with regard to what industry should be where, and the kind of agriculture that soil in different parts of the country can support. Also, I’m sure there’s a state agency in Cross River that has the same information. How do the federal and state agencies know what is where if nothing has been done before about geological mapping in Cross River State? What is new in the job that Ayade has contracted the Chinese to do? How much is he paying out in dollars at a time we mention recession?
These questions call attention to the harm we do ourselves as a nation, and it shocks that our leaders who should know lead in this. An agency in Abuja has the information that Ayade is paying to get. An agency in Cross River State also has the information. This meant our resources had been utilised in the past to get it. In the event, this latest contract amounts to duplication and a waste of scarce resources. Moreover, at these concerned agencies there are professionals who’re recruited and paid wages as civil servants to handle such issues. When they retire their huge pension is on our neck as a people to settle. Now that there’s a job for these civil servants to do to justify both their wages and pensions, the Cross River State governor is paying foreigners to do it.
This aspect brings up another angle about our culture of wasting resources. It’s about officials that we pay salaries in government agencies, but we don’t make them work for what they earn. In conversations, I point out that if a Nigerian sees houseflies having a carnival on the meat on the table of a meat seller in the market, there’s an official in a government agency who receives a salary to ensure that those carnivals don’t happen or that the meat seller is sanctioned, but he doesn’t do what he is paid to do. There are laws about the safety of food items and officials are paid to enforce but anyone could see how garri that Nigerians eat is exposed to houseflies and dust beside the road. I was surprised the other day when I saw Environmental Officers (from a federal agency that should enforce hygienic practices in the market place) defending their budget at the National Assembly. So they exist?
Recently, the European Union banned importation of Nigeria’s beans to Europe, insisting our beans contained chemicals that were too dangerous for human consumption. Note that the same is sold to Nigerians. I was at an event where the EU Ambassador to ECOWAS said banning Nigeria’s beans wasn’t just for the safety of European residents alone, but one measure to make our government realise that it’s feeding Nigerians with poison. Yet, there’s a federal ministry with a Quarantine Department (that should guarantee food that’s without poison), fully staffed with all manner of professionals and staff members who draw fantastic salaries and allowances.
On the whole, what has happened in Cross River State further calls attention to one of our leadership challenges – lack of commitment to wholistic approach to policies, how we run government. Our officials say they want to create jobs, but some of their actions are the direct opposite of what they proclaim. It’s baffling that at a time when everyone knows that buying Nigerian products and thereby create jobs are part of the solutions to our current economic challenges, giving jobs to foreigners is what many of our leaders are doing for reasons that only they can explain.