Leadership (Abuja)

20 January 2013

Nigeria: Moment of Truth About Jobs Crisis

opinion

Maybe it was a recruitment "scam" in the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) that led to the forced retirement of controller-general Mrs Rose Uzoma last Tuesday. Maybe, just maybe...The statement announcing her "pre-retirement accumulated leaves" (sic) did not, however, accuse her of any wrongdoing. She was due for retirement on March 6 and therefore couldn't have been "sacked" for not observing the federal character principle in hiring 4, 500 hands approved for the NIS.

Obviously, truth has been turned on its head. In spite of the "scandals" circulating since August about the selling of employment slots in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), especially in the para-military agencies, we are yet to see those that have been employed in the NIS.

But the situation is different in most other MDAs including the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Corps, the police, NAFDAC, NNPC and Nigeria Customs Service. Both before and after the breaking of the scandal, new faces have shown up in the nation's MDAs. And I say this authoritatively - because I too am involved.

I am not surprised that Mrs Uzoma has been chosen for this show. Few civil servants from the south-east have, after heading an agency of the federal government, earned the admiration of their compatriots. I do give a damn about other people's perception, but I won't be bothered if I'm accused of playing the ethnic card this time.

As long as it is the truth, I will continue to say it: for an Igbo to be considered half as good as other Nigerians, he must be at least twice better. Today, the Igbo are marginalised in almost all MDAs. The injustice of restricting them to just five states (out of 36) and 48 or so LGAs (out of 774) has been recognised by everyone. The political conference of 2005 recommended that an additional state be created in the south-east, but nobody has paid attention.

As a young man in the 1980s and '90s, I searched for a job in many of the MDAs, all to no avail. My greatest disadvantage in those days was the geopolitical zone I come from. I had no godfather or godmother. When vacancies were advertised, it was to satisfy the civil service rule and justify the positions that had been filled already. Rooms were filled with applications submitted by godfather-less candidates like me; they were later burned. People were being employed in those agencies every now and then but nobody raised a scandal or sacked the heads of the MDAs.

If this was not a conspiracy against the "whipping boy" of Nigeria, why did Senator Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi) raise his motion on Wednesday, a day after Mrs Uzoma was "sacked"? He entitled it "Employment Irregularities in the Nigeria Immigration Service and other Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Nigeria". Like other Nigerians, I watched on television that day as our lawmakers demonstrated the acceptance of corruption as a way of life in this part. On the floor of the hallowed chambers of the Nigerian Senate, somebody admitted that he had paid a bribe to get his constituent employed in a government agency.

The senator (Mohammed Ndume) was frank enough to say he paid N200, 000 for the job. Another (Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba) stopped short of admitting that he too paid a bribe: his people, he said, had made unsuccessful attempts to get him pay N500, 000 per job offer in government agencies.

Senate president David Mark was even more hypocritical: he asked those who had been approached to pay a bribe (excluding himself perhaps) to tender their evidence at a Senate committee hearing. Did Senator Mark mean he had not been filling the slots allocated to National Assembly members and other ranking officials?

My own unemployed relations have been all over me since last year and I have approached House members and senators to help them. And there was none that feigned ignorance about the slots s/he was given. A House member told me he had filled six slots given to him by the NSCDC some seven months ago. Somebody even came to me to demand a written note; they were told to get notes from media people.

As to the bribes ranging from N200, 000 to N500, 000, I have refused to pay anything to the racketeers. For one, I don't have the money; for another, I have sworn never to offer even N1 to anyone as a bribe. My job-hunting relations are not happy with me because they know other applicants who offered bribes and got jobs.

Senator Mark may choose to play the ostrich - bury his head in the sand - but every Nigerian has been aware of the bribe-for-job reality in almost all government agencies. The House of Reps, in December, and now the Senate have resolved to probe ALL recruitments in MDAs! And I wonder if they want us to take them seriously. How can they probe almost 1, 000 MDAs? And who is probing whom anyway? Enough of this insult on our intelligence.

The senators correctly analysed the job situation and corruption on Wednesday: "rising dynasty of poverty", "symptom of a failing state", "foisting mediocrity on the nation", "a scandal, a national disgrace", "leadership failure". But they should have remembered that the same situation in the employment market exists in contract awards.

As they must have discovered while supervising their constituency projects, no government contract is awarded to the company with the lowest/most reasonable quotation. Whether one is seeking university admission for his child, seeking land allocation in Abuja or contesting an election, one must dip hands in the cesspool of corruption.

I have no doubt that Armageddon lies ahead. Long before Boko Haram happened, we had been warning of the unemployment time-bomb. Now, corruption in all facets of our life is fast driving this country into the abyss. What kind of country are today's children going to live in?

Good governance can make a lot of difference. Let's realize that corruption itself is the greatest killer of jobs. Businesses that could employ millions of jobseekers are not being started or are dying because every Nigerian's eye is focused on easy oil money. There is no more dignity of labour here. I wish oil would dry up today so we could return to agriculture and to the industries. I wish politicians and the bureaucrats would stop stealing public funds so that Abuja would lose its attraction.

Armageddon may happen sooner than we expect because we have been burning our candle from both ends. Too many tertiary institutions are churning out too many unemployable graduates. The economy is contracting because the private sector that should create jobs and fund research is dormant.

See what Nigerian conmen have done to the stock market? Banks and other financial institutions are constantly dying or vanishing with people's deposits. Agriculture is still not above subsistence level. Is it any wonder that, for decades now, the only profitable business in Nigeria has been government? But how many people can government employ and for how long can the nation be sustained by oil wealth alone?

Heads of MDAs like Mrs Uzoma cannot resist the temptation to employ their kinsmen as well as the candidates of senators, permanent secretaries, governors and fellow DGs and CGs. In times of crisis, it's survival of the fittest. The poor and unknown are always at the receiving end. That is the truth we fear to embrace.

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