“Nigeria will know no peace until the son of a nobody, can become somebody without knowing anybody.” – (Attributed to Mallam Aminu Kano)
Days ago, an image made the rounds on the social media said to be that of Usman Bello Kuma, the House of Representatives member for Akko (Gombe) who facilitated the recruitment and sponsored 75 constituents into the Police Training School, with some of the cadets. I’m not aware of a police recruitment, most likely because being uninterested I never paid attention, but I’m concerned that if only 1 local government area (Akko) has 75 cadets, how many did the police recruit, and how many did the other 773 local governments get? Or did the Akko candidates get by far the highest scores in the recruitment tests?
The other thing that bothered me was that even in recent memory ‘There Was a Country’ where recruitment for anything at all was openly advertised. Interested and qualified persons applied, they went through the process and the best were retained without knowing anybody. It was that simple. This included school admissions. Today, it’s virtually impossible for this to happen with government jobs of any kind, including the useless N-Power, which by the way is not a job. It is impossible to be retained without one among the owners of Nigeria nominating you.
Job slots are secretly shared among National Assembly members (with the committee chairs of both chambers taking the lion share, as was with this House committee chair on police affairs), other elected officials and politically exposed persons, traditional rulers, serving and retired military and paramilitary top brass, top public servants working within the bureaucracy, and other owners of Nigeria. The alternative is to buy the jobs which cost N300,000 to N3m, depending on the agency.
Under the Muhammadu Buhari regime things have turned unprecedentedly worse such that even the jobs of legitimately and duly recruited people are stolen and given to others before their very eyes. At the onset of this regime, children of the owners of Nigeria were secretly and exclusively recruited at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). At the time, SaharaReporters did the brilliant job of indexing each of the new recruits to their owner-of-Nigeria parent. Notwithstanding the hues and cries, etc next was the exclusive and secret recruitment at the Federal Inland Revenue Service, and others we all got to know later, all of which is going on to this day.
After the botched Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment in 2014, when Goodluck Jonathan was president and Abba Moro, interior minister, resulting in the deaths of up to 20 applicants, the regime in self correcting determined to do a proper recruitment based on process and merit. More than a million people applied and first took the computer-based test. After a series of tests, the 2,000 best were recruited based purely on merit, and went ahead with their 6-9 month training and completed the process. It is unbelievable but true that within 3 months of coming into office the Buhari regime took away their jobs and was replacing them with others through the back door.
David Parradang, a fine officer gentleman with a sterling record of impeccable service who oversaw this new process was unceremoniously removed as comptroller-general in August 2015, and replaced with mediocre and lacklustre successors, the current one, Muhammed Babandede, who was appointed in May 2016, inclusive.
Do an online or social media search of #NigeriaImmigration2000 for details. It was August 2016, 4 years ago this month, when a series of protests led by Aisha Yesufu and this writer culminated in an ‘Occupy’ protest at Aso Rock with the protesters passing the night there that compelled Buhari to reluctantly order that their jobs be restored. Abdulrahman Dambazau was the interior minister at the time. Even at that, some of the active members of the resistance were victimised: Bome Fada, Rex Elanu, Ifeoma Echezona, and others never went back. But it was the price to pray, for all to not lose out.
The interesting thing, as an aside, is, this cohort stands out, everybody in the system is forced to admit. They are not only good but outstanding, and already responsible for sensitive roles and tasks. The reason is simple: North, South, East, and West only the best were recruited. There were no slots, no notes, no quota system nonsense, but merit only. No wonder the retrogressive establishment didn’t like this and fought tooth and nail against it. The day we want Nigeria to work, that is if that day ever comes, we know what to do, and what to stop doing.
Did you know that as an everyday citizen can hold the line against this impunity and new normal of discriminatory recruitment? Did you know that you could possibly stop a secret recruitment process or even reverse a completed one?
A veritable tool to use in resisting this wickedness is the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2011, one of the most beautiful pieces of legislation to ever come out of the National Assembly. This is one of the key laws, further to the constitution, everybody who can read should download on their phones, other mobile devices, and computers, and create time to go through once in a while.
Based on this law, anybody at all is at liberty to make any enquiry from the government, and they don’t need to state what they need the information for (says section 1 of the Act). Only that we’re a lawless country, otherwise, there is so much information every government institution is required to organise and make public regularly without anybody asking (see sections 2 and 29). All FOI enquiries must be answered within 7 days (not 7 working days), if for whatever reason the agency is denying the application, they must state the reason and which section of the Act they are relying on (section 4). If unsatisfied, redress can be sought in court within 30 days of the denial (section 21), and the trial will be particularly short (section 21). The fine for wrongful denial of information is N500,000 (section 7, subsection 5).
The law has few (inconsequential) exemptions, areas it doesn’t apply to (section 26). It also declares some information as classified, however, is careful to emphasise at every turn that even these or part thereof can be divulged if doing so serves the overall public interest. The mother of all provisions, in my opinion, says even if the Act prohibits certain information to be shared, the court can determine otherwise and order the institution to do so. Unbelievable!
Interested persons, active citizens who, for instance, get a hint of secret recruitment can simply make a variety of FOI applications to get say the complete list of staff including their dates of employment, or other such probing requests that can expose this. Or ask for the results of the test scores in order to ascertain the basis for the recruitment, etc. Some may oblige, most won’t. It remains a matter of going to court and moving it to order the agency and its head to comply. No head of a government agency in Nigeria has immunity, disobeying court orders carries penalties. Once noncompliance to the recruitment procedure is established, the court can be moved to set the entire exercise aside.
Unfortunately, for now, aside from Ekiti, Delta, and Imo states that recognise the FOI Act and have their own state versions, all the others are fighting it, except maybe Kwara that is in the process of adopting it. The matter of Speaker, Ondo State House of Assembly v Martins Alo is already at the Supreme Court (since 2018) which will finally put this issue to rest as to whether the FOI Act applies to all the states. Legal experts say based on antecedents, the chances look bright. In the next 2 weeks, I shall be bringing up an action to move the court to declare that the FOI Act covers local governments and their agencies also, further to state governments and their agencies.
The idea is to put up a resistance, and hold the line against the increasing impunity. Thousands of lawsuits in this direction would overwhelm the system. ‘Scattering’ a few secret recruitments would send a message. We need thousands of citizens to take this up and target/focus some particular agencies, or agencies in particular areas of interest.
According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, things don’t just happen, they are made happen. Nigeria is on a negative free fall, and it won’t stop, things can only get worse, until something is made to stop this. Things will not go in the right direction until they are made to do so.
‘When it comes to religion, Nigerians fight for God, but when it comes to their rights, they leave it for God to fight for them’, says Aisha Yesufu. More Nigerians need to stand up and do their own part, fight for their rights, and work to build a society that works for all, no longer abdicating this responsibility. Doing otherwise hasn’t worked so far, the chances that it will work are slim to none.
Sesugh Akume, a public policy analyst, writes from Abuja. He tweets @sesugh_Akume and can be reached via [email protected]