In the days and weeks following disengagement leave granted former Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mrs. Rosemary Uzoma, there has been a media buzz about corruption in recruitment process into many government establishments in the country. The Minister of Interior added to the news when he informed the public that the CG had to be sacked over allegations of recruitment fraud, poor management of promotion procedures among other misdeeds in the NIS. I can imagine how the Minister for Interior would have called and offered her opportunity to voluntarily retire or be embarrassingly kicked out. In Nigeria, many people don’t get kicked out of responsibilities for corruption, except the person has done something “substantially” offensive to the powers that be or is too powerless within the social circles that matter.
Given my experience with how government institutions work, the Immigration boss did not recruit people who had no one to back their applications. She probably recruited people recommended from the National Assembly, the Presidency, Heads of sister establishments and related institutions. For this singular reason, she deserves the fate that befell her, because I’m sure in handling such recruitment she would have bypassed a graduate from poor and non-influential background, but without any political patronage. So, I will not mourn her exit. I only wish same decisions would have been extended to all other heads of government agencies because they are very much in same boat. In fact, the retirement of the CG as against dismissal could have been made possible by those whose children and relatives she favoured. So, to that extent, she is still a beneficiary.
Following the sack of the CG, there have been allegations by many who complain that they had been asked to pay the sum of N500,000 to secure jobs in Immigration and other government establishments. These accusations are not false. Last year, during the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps recruitment, a family member who had applied for placement was asked to pay N200,000 or obtain a letter from a National Assembly member representing us. Since I couldn’t settle for paying the required sum, I tried to secure appointment with the National Assembly member but it proved quite cumbersome. The aides to the parliamentarian clearly asked me to pay to obtain the letter. Needless to say, I drove away and informed the family member to forget about the job. Before then, I had another experience with the Federal Civil Service Commission concerning their issuance of forms for prospective employees to fill out and return for possible placement.
The procedure for obtaining the form was punitive as one was expected to queue outside the gate under the scorching sun for hours before being called in. If you didn’t want to do that, you needed to pay a retinue of people from the security men to the office clerks to get the form, and it was no guarantee that you will ever get called for test. People have filled out the forms for up to ten years without being called, yet the Commission keeps issuing appointment letters to others on some criteria, mainly through patronage. In fact, when I succeeded in seeing one of the commissioners to get the form, I was asked to backdate the date of reception since the form was not for public issuance as of the time I was being given one. By that experience, I knew chances of the family member being called for a test was highly unlikely.
I once asked a friend whose aunt was well-placed in Government why she hadn’t secured a good -paying job using the aunt’s connection. She revealed that the aunt actually do help people from their community to get employment, but demands and collects a fraction of their salary for the first one to two years as reward. She revealed that she had done it to her brother and she wasn’t ready to submit to such slavery. Such cases are not uncommon. There is another which involved a family member who was rounding off her Masters degree in the UK. She flew into the country upon being shortlisted for an aptitude test into a government agency. After successfully scaling through the two stages of test and oral interview, she was asked to get a member of the corporation’s Board of Directors to support her application. That was after spending non-reimbursable expenses on flight to come to Nigeria. Needless to say, she lost the job and though it was in the public domain that the recruitment process in the organization was fraudulent, the head of the institution is still serving.
The corruption which has characterized recruitment into public service is endemic and is the seed that breeds the future of the country. Unfortunately, I can say without mincing words that the future is bleak, except people resent the system and revolt against it. I don’t believe getting a job should be seen as a miracle if merit is allowed to work. Sadly, it has become a miracle, especially for those from low socio-economic background. I have seen Nigerians pay several amounts or use unwholesome means to secure a job and the next Sunday, they are jumping up in the church to give testimony of a miracle. They are no different from those who cheat in exams and thereafter boast about their academic credentials. I have seen situations where ministers, parliamentarians and well-placed public officers use their influence to get placement for their wards and these wards come into the organization and display arrogance. In fact, some have been placed on positions they do not have requisite qualifications and experience to handle, thereby dragging competence in the mud.
There are numerous tales of recruitment corruption in Nigeria perpetrated by heads of public corporations. It is going to continue because the parliamentarians have failed to do their jobs of oversight function and rather settle to use their political clout to garner those positions for their cronies. They sell these slots through their cronies to third parties. I know of recruitments into watchdog organisations, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which were done mainly through political patronage, thereby making it impossible for total allegiance to the mandate of the respective organizations.
When I talk about recruitment, I am not referring to executive positions only, but lower cadre and mid-level grades. There has been talk about slots for the President and First Lady in many government institutions. I know people who have utilized these slots and from the way it has been arranged, they have been slots controlled by the aides of these public officers, from the special advisers, special assistants, “personal assistants to special assistants to the special advisers,” etc. The slots range from recruitment to scholarship awards, whether it is direct Federal Government Scholarship or those awarded by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) or Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).
Over the years, I have come to accept the valid reasoning that the process of recruitment into an organization determines the organization’s resilience and ethical culture. I have told friends and relatives who care to listen that when you notice that the process of recruitment into an organization is fraudulent, know that in the course of working for such organization you will be faced with ethical dilemmas. Being prepared for such moments helps one in making choices and taking responsibility for those choices. I have interacted with many organizations and people and I’m yet to be proven wrong. Organizations that have had established history of ethical resilience have fallen in standards because a chief executive officer, along the history of the organization, greatly compromised in the recruitment process, and entrenched a culture of issuing letters of appointment to people in the kitchen based on expected benefits or political, ethnic or religious affiliations, without test or interview.
In fact many are done without any meaningful background profiling to determine suitability for employment on certain positions of trust or claims of credentials. The change in culture has remarkably been validated by incidence of fraud and drop in work standards in many organizations in Nigeria. We should express worry about this state of affairs. If the people who hold the country’s future are being subjected to riding on the back of fraudulent recruitment process or, put more nicely, on political or socio-economic patronage, we cannot expect their future decisions to be free of ethical flaws. It will be a real miracle if it happens otherwise.
Viewed from a vantage point I want to assume that most of the best hands may be drifting into the private sector, where there is more appreciable level of merit-based competitiveness and diverse skill sets are recognized and encouraged. This leaves the public sector to be incrementally dominated by children of the powerfully connected, who happen to be indolent at best since they have hardly worked hard to get to where they are. Unfortunately, these are the people the future demand for development and growth would saddle with the responsibility of championing government reforms.
It is clear that with the increasing entrenchment of oligarchic-aristocracy in public sector recruitment, the future of this country has been mortgaged as the circle is bound to continue. Change has often been successfully driven most times by those who have become fed up with the system on the throes of exclusivity, which beneficiaries of the fraudulent process clearly lack. This is not a task to be left to the corrupt and clueless leadership of modern day bureaucracy. People must put pressure at every point on institutions to be open in their processes. We must use every means available to bring attention of this problem to public knowledge and develop a social conscience, voice and engagement platforms that would wage war against this impending danger.