Resuming after Christmas and New Year break on Wednesday, the Senate launched a clampdown on the Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) over alleged job racketeering scandal.
Anger and tempers flared up in the Upper Legislative Chamber as senators uncontrollably fumed over what they termed as a growing large-scale scam in the nation's public service.
Considering a motion sponsored by Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu (PDP, Kebbi Central) on "The Employment Irregularities in the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and other MDAs in Nigeria", the Senate directed its joint Committees on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs and Labour, Employment and Productivity to thoroughly investigate, within eight weeks, all recruitment exercises conducted by all the MDAs in the last two years.
But before reaching the resolution, various senators, while unanimously lending their voices to the motion, raised the alarm over the "frightening" trend of bribe-for-job escalation in all the federal agencies and parastatals, describing it as a time bomb waiting to explode.
Opening up the can of worms, Bagudu, who is also the chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior, revealed that the MDAs' employment slots were being allegedly sold in various places in Abuja for between N400,000 and N500,000.
Quoting the outgoing Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Mrs Rose Uzodinma, who had earlier been shown the way out of the Service on Tuesday, Bagudu said: "Over 4,000 employment slots were approved by the Federal Government, but the slots were being sold to job applicants, while some were allocated to various other personalities. Due process involving advertisement for interested members of the public to apply have not been observed. Employment letters were also allegedly offered for sale between N400,000 and N500,000 by the syndicate whose operation bases are in Gwagwalada, Karu and other places. The recruitment exercise favours some states of the federation, which is a total negation of the federal character principle."
Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba (PDP, Cross River Central), who relived his experience with his unemployed constituents who had repeatedly approached him for N500,000 each to buy jobs in Federal Government-owned agencies, said: "For me, it is not a hearsay because I was directly approached several times by my constituents for N500,000 for job offers in government agencies, but I declined because I couldn't imagine something like that happening in our country. The recruitment exercise has gone that bad in this country, and it is capable of producing substandard workforce.
"This kind of situation, if not checked, would cause dynastic poverty as only the children of the rich would be getting jobs, while the children of the poor would be shut out; and when the children of the poor are shut out, the implication is that we are planting a time-bomb which may explode any time soon. We should direct our relevant committees to investigate recent recruitments in all ministries, departments and agencies of government, and whoever is involved should be punished. Until we are able to punish people for this crime, the insecurity we have in this country today would be a child's play."
Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume (PDP, Borno South) was worried that well-qualified graduates were at the receiving end of the bribe-for-job scandal.
Ndume, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Millennium Development Goals, testified: "There was a boy from my constituency who graduated with second class upper in Geography and could not get a job for four years. He had been driving a taxi for someone here in Abuja before he came to tell me one government agency was collecting N200,000 from each job applicant.
"I did not want to give him the money because I couldn't imagine that kind of thing was happening, but he was begging me, saying that was the only thing needed to get the job and that if I didn't give him the money, the job was as good as gone. In the end, I gave him the money. When he went there to pay the money, they told him the charges had gone up to N400,000. He was honest enough to come back to me to return the money I gave him. I asked him 'what should I do again?' And he said he would be grateful if I should just give him the money to buy his own taxi which he is driving in Abuja today."
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu West) observed that the high rate of unemployment in the country was compelling helpless graduates to jump at job offers. His words: "The thing begins from graduates asking you to give them letters to the heads of MDAs for employment. This brings out one point; that is, a nation that is unable to create jobs in both public and private sectors will have this kind of problem over and over. We must look at what the heads of MDAs are doing in terms of recruitment, promotion and dismissal. Recruitment has become a mirage. Highly placed people now take advantage of their positions to manipulate the recruitment process in favour of their relatives, friends and associates' children. This is an opportunity for us as senators to take the initiative on behalf of our people."
For the chairman of the Senate Committee on Water Resources, Senator Heineken October Lokpobiri (PDP, Bayelsa West), the high unemployment rate in the country, coupled with the recruitment racketeering, is capable of aggravating youth restiveness in the country. According to him, "this is a dangerous trend in Niger Delta now. If you ask the youth in the area what they want to become, they would tell you they want to become militants because they know that those who went to schools were jobless".
In the view of the chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta (PDP, Niger East), "the employment racketeering in the federal agencies is a manifestation of corruption that has eaten deep into the fabric of our society. It is extremely worrisome that jobs are now meant for the highest bidders. Things have terribly gone haywire in our federal civil service.
"I wonder the kind of future leaders are we going to have if applicants have to pay for job offers. This is due largely to the indiscriminate granting of recruitment waivers to government agencies. Nearly all federal agencies are violating Sections 14 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution. And unfortunately, everyone, especially ministers and elected public officials, are guilty of this recruitment lopsidedness."
Senator Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu North), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Works, said the recruitment scandal in the various federal institutions "is a symptom of a nation that is failing. It is high time we recovered our public service from those holding it hostage, especially the Federal Civil Service Commission which is doing all sorts of disgraceful and embarrassing things in the recruitment exercises."
The vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Senator Boluwaji Kunlere (LP, Ondo South) said the job scam had reached a pandemic proportion which was already giving many senators a negative image to their constituents. According to him, "this trend has reached a level that many of us cannot walk freely in our constituencies because the constituents are expecting us to use our positions to get them jobs in federal agencies and parastatals, and when we ask them whether those agencies are recruiting, the constituents would ask you to buy jobs for them. They would tell you that your colleagues are equally buying jobs for their own constituents."
Senator Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi West), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), believes that the job scam underscores that "this country is drifting owing to the failure of the leadership, and we have to ensure that anyone found guilty of the recruitment scandal must not go unpunished.
In the opinion of the chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Chris Anyanwu, (APGA, Imo East), "the Federal Character Commission (FCC) is doing a lot of disservice to Nigerians by foisting mediocrity on the nation. Emphasis should be placed on merit. Also we need to have a whistle blowing department in every MDA. These whistle blowers would be the ones to expose recruitment irregularities. Unless we tackle employment racketeering, we would have social unrests as a consequence".
Summing up the senators' views on the issue, Senate President David Mark pointed accusing fingers to the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) for alleged complicity in the recruitment fraud.
"This is truly a serious thing in the land. We have to minimise it even if we cannot eliminate it. We can do this if the private and public sectors provide jobs for the unemployed. The Federal Civil Service Commission, charged with the responsibility of recruitment, is most guilty because they are the ones who should know the available vacancies and recruit accordingly. But there is real unemployment in the land which is leading to desperation by those wanting to be employed and by those wanting to take advantage of the situation. We can minimise it, if government and private organisations create jobs. As long as employment is limited, the desperation will be there.
"I want to recommend that those of you who have such experiences should go to our committees during public hearings to testify with your constituents who made the claims because I don't want people to be making general statements here. If any of you have been giving out letters, when you summon the MDAs, they will come with the letters and say you are the ones who have asked them to be biased, that is why I don't give out letters".