Civil society leaders and lawyers have lambasted the management of the Central Bank of Nigeria for secretly recruiting dozens of family members of top government officials, including children of ministers and a nephew of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday, the activists demanded the immediate withdrawal of employment offers secretly awarded by the bank over several months to hundreds of beneficiaries - amongst them family members of serving and past government officials.
According to news website, SaharaReporters, the CBN hired children and relatives of politically-exposed Nigerians without advertising the positions to allow other Nigerians apply, as required by law.
"What this thing has told us is that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others," said Achike Chude, Deputy Chairman, Joint Action Front.
"And this is what we see in virtually every aspect of our national life.
"This tells us once more that there are two Nigerias: a Nigeria for the rich, the powerful, and the influential, and a Nigeria for those who do not have privileges, who do not have what it takes."
Debo Adeniran, the Executive Director of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, said, "It is a manifestation of the old order whereby people of privileged class are given undue advantage over others."
"The Buhari administration must be seen to live up to its mantra of change and equal opportunity must be given to everybody."
The CBN had responded to the scandal by saying it did nothing illegal in hiring without advertising the positions, claiming the bank sought to employ "specialists" and therefore got a waiver to recruit without advertising.
The beneficiaries of the recruitment, according to a list released by SaharaReporters, include a nephew of President Buhari, daughter of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; son of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu; daughter of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na'aba.
Others include the daughter of Nigeria's Police Inspector-General, Solomon Arase; son of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Abdulrahman Danbazzau, among others.
Isaac Okoroafor, CBN's acting Director of Corporate Communications had told PREMIUM TIMES, that the bank got a waiver from the Federal Character Commission, allowing them to recruit with advertising.
"In the last two years, we have had cause to recruit specialists, and what the law says is that if we are going for that kind of recruitment we should apply for waiver, so that we can do targeted recruitment," Mr. Okoroafor said.
But Monday Ubani, former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja chapter, said those who were recruited without advertisements ought to be shown the door.
"The law says there must be a proper advertisement of vacancies for such positions and every Nigerian should be in a position to compete for such a very sensitive position. And it should reflect federal character," said Mr. Ubani.
Mr. Ubani also said the manner of the recruitment showed a faulty process and "that something is hidden."
"Why will you go and begin to head-hunt only big men's children into the banking sector? That is discriminatory, that is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. That is nepotism of the highest order."
Olanrewaju Suraju, Chairman of Civil Society Network Against Corruption, called on the CBN to make public the provisions of the law that allowed the Federal Character Commission to grant it employment waiver.
"It is the beginning of accountability in the process, though the response from the CBN is still very ludicrous in terms of saying that they are catchment areas under federal character and that they deliberately refused to advertise," Mr. Suraju said.
"It is a challenge to the current government to ensure that they probe the recruitment process and if it is found to have violated any of the extant laws, then they need to actually sack all those that are beneficiaries of the recruitment.
"Thereafter they should conduct a highly publicised recruitment process that gives access to every other person that is qualified."
Last week, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project gave an ultimatum to the CBN to withdraw the letters of employment it issued to the beneficiaries of the "seriously flawed recruitment process".
Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, SERAP, said the procedure for engaging people into public institutions is to make adequate notice and then allow eligible Nigerians to compete for positions.
"We are talking about equity, justice, and fairness to all Nigerians," Mr. Mumuni, a lawyer, told PREMIUM TIMES.
"It doesn't matter to me if the cousin of the president was eventually chosen, provided the process was fair and all other Nigerians were also allowed to compete on the same level.
"Why would it be that you want to recruit into a body as important as CBN and some Nigerians who are also equally qualified, even more qualified than those that were eventually selected will not know about it? That is short-changing an overwhelming population of Nigeria."
Mr. Mumuni said the waiver granted the CBN by the Federal Character Commission was a violation of the Constitution.
"The Federal Character Commission cannot be superior to whatever the Constitution provides," he said.
"The Constitution says you cannot conduct the business of the any institution of government in Nigeria in a matter that deprives some Nigerians the opportunity to participate.
"In any case, the Federal Character Commission itself is a creation of the Constitution and the Federal Character Commission cannot give a waiver that flouts express constitutional provisions. So that waiver is an illegal waiver."
SERAP had given the CBN a 14-day ultimatum to put in place a system of recruitment based on non-discrimination and transparency or face legal action.
"We have evidence that we had written to them, we have evidence that the letter is with them, all that remains is that we wait for them to react. But we won't wait for them forever," said Mr. Mumuni.
"Like we said in our letter, if nothing happens positively as we expected, in the interest of overwhelming majority of Nigerians, we would go to court and test this matter there.
"So they would come and put it as part of their defence, that the Federal Character Commission gave them a waiver, then we'll take it from there."