A series of revelations in the recruitment process of some federal government agencies raises troubling questions regarding the role of the Federal Character Commission (FCC).
FCC, the agency created to police the government's recruitment process to ensure that no region is marginalised in order to avoid lopsidedness and the dominance of some states over others in federal appointments.
Early last year, the Federal Road safety Commission (FRSC) was the focus of a sustained public outcry over its recruitment pattern. There were reports that the commission ignored laid-down rules to recruit personnel mainly from a particular group of states in the south-south region. Similar allegations surfaced with regards to the Nigeria Customs Service recruitment exercise. The FCC made the right noises about looking into the allegations; if it did, the result has not made any impact.
And the reasons are beginning to become clear.
Last month, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) was forced to defend itself by intense public complaints following reports that the 4,560 officers it had scheduled to recruit this year came mainly from the geographical region of its Comptroller General, Mrs Rose Chinyere Uzoma, whose retirement from service is imminent.
The scandalous nature of the recruitment pattern appeared to have embarrassed the supervising Ministry of the Interior where the minister, Abba Moro, announced that the exercise had been cancelled.
Though Mrs Uzoma denied that there was no exercise in the first place to warrant the government to cancel it, the details were leaked to the media. The details illustrate the seedy schemes that generally characterise recruitment processes in various government departments, and the influence politicians have over them.
In the NIS case, figures were assigned to key government offices, including that of the Minister of the Interior, and some individuals, including the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan. While the focus may have been on paramilitary agencies of the government, the recruitment patterns in them almost certainly mirror what obtains in other departments in the vast and extensive bureaucracy of government.
In one breath, Mrs Uzoma dismissed media reports of the recruitment scandal in her department, and in another, told members of the House of Representatives inquiring into the matter, that the NIS did not advertise the vacancies as it was statutorily required because it wanted to guard against 'unknowingly employing terrorists'.
She asserted that the fear of such a possibility, also made to the FCC, persuaded the commissioners to grant the NIS a waiver to disregard the federal character principle in the recruitment exercise.
Mrs Uzoma needs to shed some light on this point, whether it is NIS, or government-wide policy, that some regions in the country, have been mapped and labelled 'terrorist territories', so that citizens who hail from there must be excluded from its recruitment exercises. Mrs Uzoma should make that map public.
There is a dangerous and unhealthy tendency in government departments that suggests that those who head them skew the recruitment patterns in such a way to make indigenes of their area to predominate.
In the case of the NIS, as members of the National Assembly discovered, out of its staff strength of over 25,000 personnel, 1,190 are of Imo State origin; her husband hails from Imo, one of the smallest in size and population, of the 36 states of the federation; Lagos, the nation's commercial hub and the largest in population has just 400. Kano, the second largest in population has 350.
The scandalous involvement of the FCC in what is effectively recruitment scams calls into question the continuing stay in office of the present commissioners. Reflecting federal character in all government agencies has been a useful tool in maintaining some sense of fairness among the regions; if that principle no longer holds, or is being compromised, some remedial actions are called for. Each agency must maintain transparent rules of recruitment. Those who deviate from them should be sanctioned appropriately.