Rt. Hon. Victor Udofia, Chairman, AKHA Committee on Security, Youth & Sports
OnThursday, Last week, the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly passed into law a bill to create and regulate employment opportunities for indigenes in corporate organizations operating in the state. The law, among other things, requires investors and companies to employ not less than 80% of Akwa Ibom youths at various levels of the workforce . In this interview, Rt. Hon. Victor Udofia, the member representing Ikono state constituency in the House and lead sponsor of the bill, speaks on the new law and other issues connected thereto. Itoro BASSEY was there.
You were the lead sponsor of the job creation bill recently passed into law by the House. What motivated you to come up with this bill, what is its general overview?
I came up with the bill because of the marginalization of Akwa Ibom youths that I observed in some corporate organizations operating in the state. At the time I served as Chairman of the Committee on Niger Delta during my first term as lawmaker representing Ikono between 2011 and 2015, I ran into one of the contractors handling a road project in the state while on an oversight function. There, I noticed that about 90 per cent of all the workers on site were not indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. Out of curiosity, I asked some questions and I learned that some were from Lagos, some from Rivers and every other place in the country. What that situation meant was that the contractor hired workers from other states to come and work in Akwa Ibom. Yes they were Nigerians, but then we the host state of that particular company were created in the composition of the workforce. Honestly, my mind became troubled from that very moment and I vowed to do something about it, something that would reverse the trend. But because we are in a democracy, I knew that many of the things we would want to do have to be backed up with enabling laws, particularly when they have do with enforcement. There and then, I decided to put up the bill which has now been passed into law. We could not have folded our hands and watch things continue the way they were. I sincerely want to thank the speaking Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Onofiok Luke; my colleagues who were co-sponsors: Sir Udo Kierian Akpan, who is the House Leader, the Chief Whip, Hon. Emmanuel Ekpenyong; Deputy Leader, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Ime Okon; Rt. Hon. (Comrd) Friday Iwok, the Paramount Ruler; Nse Essien, the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Security, Youth and Sports, my committee; Sir Nse Ntuen, and Usoro Akpanusoh for making it happen.
You said that you observed Akwa Ibom youths suffering marginalization in some companies operating in the state before you brought up the bill, at what percentage was this happening at the time?
We have construction workers, manufacturers, production companies, including oil companies and their servicing partners working in the mother companies such as Addax Petroleum, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. Inside Mobil alone, there is a platform that houses over 40 oil servicing companies and you would not believe that most of those companies are paying their taxes to Rivers and Lagos states; and at the end of the day, in Akwa Ibom State where they are doing business, we don’t get anything. These are also some of the reasons I cooked up the bill. I took pains to talk to my colleagues and we came up with it in a comprehensive manner such that it would see the youths of Akwa Ibom having what is known as the Right of First Refusal in terms of employment. In order words, if an Akwa Ibom person has the Right of First Refusal during an employment process, it means that he or she would have the right to decide whether or not to accept to work before such offer is given to someone else. That is the thing. It was so painful to see some oil companies operating in Akwa Ibom state and the people, majority of them working there are not our sons and daughters. In fact, it was almost after a fight and serious negotiations that Totalfina had to make the first manager from Akwa Ibom. That was during (former Governor Godswill) Akpabio’s time, they tried to call the then Deputy Governor Nsima Ekere to talk to me because I was in their company premises. And I said no, you cannot be exploring our oil and then at the end of the day we don’t have a management staff who is from Akwa Ibom. To me, it was unacceptable, it was unheard-of, they could not do that in Rivers or Lagos state, it was not right. So we said we’re the People’s Assembly, if we cannot rise to say no to this injustice and barbaric act, who will? This law will now give the new ministry of Labour and Manpower Development the powers to exercise their statutory functions vis-à-vis the companies that are not complying with with the local content law. And what does the local content law says? It says inter alia that the indigenes and community people where a business concern is established should be given a chance to exercise their Right of First Refusal. How would you feel if a company comes to your village and with 80 per cent of non indigenous staff? That would be a terrible development. I can assure you that His Excellency Governor Udom Emmanuel will be glad to give assent to it because he is a father of all and a youths-friendly Governor. The law will take a lot of Akwa Ibom youths off the streets.
Does the law have teeth to bite those companies that may refuse to adhere to it?
Well, I know that people have different ways of reacting to issues. But then, we must appreciate the fact that every law that is made must also have penalties and ways of calling people to order. The law to create and regulate employment opportunities for Akwa Ibom indigenes in corporate organizations operating in the state is not an exception; it has teeth to bite defaulters.
If we want to look at this law in terms of number of employment per given time period, how many persons do you think would be employed in the major and minor companies operating in Akwa Ibom State?
There is something called casual and non-casual staff within the workforce. We have a lot of casual staff in most of the oil companies in our state. These casual staff are temporary workers, those employed irregularly and who can be dismissed at any time without benefits. What this means is that when a contract is given to Mr. “A” representing Johnson & John Nigeria Limited, for example, if the person is a Yorubaman, Rivers or Bayelsan, he comes in and employs few persons from Akwa Ibom and make them casual staff, while the regular and senior staff are from other states. And when you ask such a person to explain why he had done that, he tells you; ‘oh! these people are from Akwa Ibom now’, that is the casual staff. But we know they’re not the real staff on Mobil, they’re not the real staff of Adam, and so on. What we’re are saying is that, as long as you have a space for 20 workers in any particular company, Akwa Ibom persons should be given 80% slot. Here, 50% of the casual staff must have to be staffed and then 30% of the senior management staff must come from Akwa Ibom. Again, if you’re a company operating in an oil bearing community and you want to hire a pipeline welder, the law says you can go ahead to hire someone from elsewhere only if there’s no pipeline welder in that community. That’s a professional job. But within a space of two years, you would be required to train pipeline welders from that community so that at the end of their training, you can then employ them to fill up the gaps or slots.