I’d just like to say that Lagos has enough expats. We see them, overpaid and overfed, establishing little colonies, disparaging the local culture, food and customs, and earning three times what they would at home.
The fact foreigners have to be paid three times as much to work in Nigeria as their home countries indicates conditions there are harsh; how much of an uplift on their salaries does Vienna represent? Other than a few die-hard fans and sex tourists masquerading as office workers, people’s only interest in going to Nigeria is for professional advancement and money. The reason expats show no interest in the local culture and don’t integrate is because they’re not there for that. You might as well complain that doctors don’t socialise with patients, or diplomats cheer the local sports team.
There are qualified Nigerians who know the terrain and can do their work just as well or even better.
As is often the case with such criticisms – environmental groups and oil companies spring to mind – she is broadly correct without realising why. The reason expats are brought to Nigeria is a lack of local competence. At first glance this might be interpreted as Nigeria having no civil engineers so foreign civil engineers must be hired from abroad, but it’s more complicated than that. Competence isn’t just about doing a technical job but also having the organisational and managerial skills to get a decent civil engineer hired and working. And that’s where Nigeria struggles: it doesn’t matter how many good civil engineers you can find in Nigeria if the prevailing culture allows managers to hire their relatives regardless of competence. This practice generates competence gaps in the organisation which cannot be filled by locals for two reasons: firstly a local already holds the position, but he’s the managing director’s idiot nephew. Secondly, they’re not even aware of what the position entails, nor where to find a competent local. So the cry goes up that they must hire a magic expat, and this is especially true when the organisation in question is partnered with a foreign entity.
Now they still don’t know what the position entails and even less of an idea of what a competent expat looks like, so they hire someone who is either cheap (and therefore useless) or recommended by the foreign entity. In the latter case, the recommendation often comes not as a result of competence on the individual’s part, but because he or she has shown the deference towards the hierarchy necessary to advance in a modern corporation. In short, Nigerian companies lack the ability to recruit and retain competent Nigerians and when they turn to expats for help they hire charlatans or get fobbed off with an expensive corporate drone who adds no value. Meanwhile, as Onuzo says, there are qualified Nigerians who can do a better job that don’t get a look-in.
I’ve often said that rather than complaining about the numbers of expats working in Nigeria, people should concentrate on their quality. The trouble with that is you can’t impose quality standards on expats without doing the same for Nigerians. Only if you did that managers wouldn’t be able to hire their relatives, which is so hard-wired into the culture it’s practically an obligation. So really, the expats in Nigeria – their numbers, quality, and behaviour – are a symptom of the place and the culture. If Onuzo had realised this when she wrote that paragraph, she might have written a half-decent article.