Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Employment racketeering: Nigeria’s worst kept secret

For some time now, news has been making the rounds that some unemployed Nigerians pay huge sums of money to secure employment in some Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government, especially at the federal level. Top on the list of these MDAs and paramilitary organisations are the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Prison Service, Federal Civil Service Commission, among others. The entire saga peaked with the compulsory retirement on January 15 of Mrs. Rose Chinyere Uzoma as the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service.  Media reports had alleged that the forced exit of Mrs. Uzoma was not unconnected with allegations of nepotism levelled against her. However, it must be noted that job racketeering is not a federal issue alone. It happens in state MDAs and the private sector too.
Senator Atiku Bagudu had during discussion on the floor of the Senate on January 16 said a statement credited to the dismissed Comptroller General of the NIS, alleged over 4,000 employment slots were approved by the Federal Government but were sold to job applicants while others were allocated to some personalities in breach of due process. He also noted that employment letters were offered for sale at the rate of between N400, 000 and N500, 000 through a syndicate operating in Gwagwalada and Karu. It will be recalled that a similar scandal rocked the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps sometime last year. Many senators had affirmed last week that some of their constituents were asked to pay in order to get appointments at some federal agencies.
Wading into the issue of bribery-for-job scandal, the Senate has mandated its Committees on Federal Character and Employment, Labour and Productivity to investigate these allegations of kickbacks in the employment processes in the NIS and other MDAs with a view to bringing the culprits to book. The joint committee was given eight weeks to conclude its assignment. The Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, has also set up an in-house investigative panel to unravel the allegations of sharp practices within the NIS.
Why did I say that this scandal is the worst kept secret? It has been an open secret for a long time now that jobs whether in the private or public sector in Nigeria are largely for sale. Less than half of the persons employed in most of the federal and state MDAs in the last decade could be said to have got the job on merit. More often than not, you must pay (in cash or kind) or must have been recommended by a very important person for your job application to be considered. Even in the private sector, the story is not any different. Most bank jobs are got not necessarily by those who passed the routine aptitude tests and oral interviews but those whose parents or the organisations they work for have fat accounts with the banks. Even teaching jobs have been on sale for long at least in Abuja. I have heard stories of those who paid to get teaching appointments. As it is with getting job appointments into some MDAs, so it is with getting promotion and choice postings, as merit counts for less while the ability to bribe, political party affiliation, and the VIPs one knows are of primary importance.
A scandal similar to what happens with employment is also playing out when it comes to getting admissions to tertiary institutions. I once had a nasty experience about 22 years ago. I had done the Polytechnic entrance examination to a polytechnic located in one of the South-West states. I scored 204 over 300.  The cut-off mark for out-of-state applicants was 203. Shouldn’t I be packing my luggage to go to school? Not so fast!  I was told that the institution, as a state-owned, was at liberty to pick and choose those to admit. My encounter with the Registrar of the polytechnic was very revealing. After listening to my story, he asked me to come back in two weeks’ time. On getting back, after a long wait, he told me to meet with his secretary who in turn asked me whose list my name came with. I naively mentioned my father’s name. He searched through the files containing list of names from commissioners, traditional and religious rulers, permanent secretaries and other political office holders. When he didn’t see any name like mine, he gave up. For three months, I was swinging back and forth to the institution without any success.  Meanwhile, indigenes of the state who had scores far less than mine had been admitted and started attending lectures before my name eventually got published on the discretionary list. I was then given three days to pay the tuition fees. To cut a long story short, I studied in the school for a semester before leaving for the university. Today, some scoundrels have perfected the act of selling admission letters to desperate and unqualified students.
I think the reason why bribery-for-job or admission-for-sale racketeering flourishes is due to the dearth of job and admission opportunities. In elementary economics, when demand outweighs supply, the price will rise. There are far too many persons seeking white-collar jobs than there are vacancies. Same with tertiary institutions’ admissions. The number of persons looking for admission is more than the universities’ carrying capacity.  For instance, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin said recently that out of the 64,121 candidates that qualified for admission into the university for the 2012/2013 academic session, only 8,098 students were offered admission.
Job drought apart, our diminished values and ethics also contribute to the untoward situation.  Though Nigerians are said to be highly religious, however, our religiosity does not always reflect well in our human relations. The rat-race to make money at all costs from even a calamitous situation is a worthy testimony of the abysmal level of our moral corruption. If some persons would rob accident victims and deny flood victims of their relief materials, how will they not cash in on desperate job seekers who want to be gainfully employed?
I agree that the bribe-for-job scandal should be investigated but are those investigating not also the culprits? Are they not the VIPs encouraging the heads of these MDAs to set aside rules and procedures and willy-nilly take their candidates? Who will clean the Aegean’s table? The issue at hand goes beyond the Senate probe. A select men and women of integrity should instead take on that responsibility. They could be from the three arms of government and the civil society. Beyond probe however, government at all levels needs to provide an enabling environment that will ensure that job opportunities abound and for those who may wish to set up their own enterprise, they have access to soft loans. Those collecting ‘blood money’ from hapless job applicants and admission seekers should remember the eternal words of the late Dele Giwa that “No evil deeds can go unpunished. Any evil done by man to man will be redressed. If not now, then certainly later; if not by man, then by God for the victory of evil over good can only be temporary.”