by Feyi Fawehinmi
The story of how 16 (at last count) jobseekers came to meet their death in the name of a recruitment exercise by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), is still unfolding. Nevertheless we can trace the origins to see if it was completely avoidable and how official anyhowness – the act of disregarding accepted rules and procedures and free styling in its place – has directly led to loss of lives.
No investigation has been carried out yet but I am going to go ahead and put the blame for these deaths squarely at the feet of the Interior Minister – Abba Moro. So what do we know about the man?
1. It’s a reflection of the nature of our politics that somehow Mr. Moro went from being a local government chairman in Benue state to a senior ministerial position after running the re-election campaign of the Senate President, David Mark, in 2011.
2. By his own admission, in 2005, he was charged with the illegal possession of firearms by the State Security Service (SSS). 3 years later, he was discharged and acquitted by a Federal High Court in Abuja of all charges. He claimed the charges were the work of his political enemies.
In 2012, a civil society group National Anti-Terrorism and Peace Network (NATPN) accused Mr. Moro of gun running, claiming that he was diverting weapons that had been imported in the name of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) for his personal use. It’s important to point out that the NATPN appear to be a faceless group as there is no information on them anywhere on the Internet. The NSCDC also came out to clear Mr. Moro of the charges (even if they are an agency under his supervision).
3. Now to the genesis of the whole immigration recruitment palaver. It appears the recruitment exercise that took place on the 15th of March 2014 should actually have happened in 2012. Citing the usual ‘irregularities’, Mr. Moro put a halt to that process in December 2012. It’s not everyday that a government agency gets the go ahead to recruit 4,560 people (around 1,345 were to be senior staff) so it was always going to be a big deal.
Mr. Moro was clearly interested in the recruitment exercise and reports at the time suggested a turf war was going on due to his interference in the affairs of the NIS:
Similarly, sources within the NIS also revealed that there is alleged cold war between the Immigration boss and the Minister of Interior over some administrative issues.
The minister was purported to be in the habit of constantly interfering with the internal mechanisms and policy decision of the agency, the latest being an unreported row over the posting of senior officers of the NIS. The sources alleged that Moro ordered the Comptroller-General to withhold and withdraw the original posting list as was drafted by the Immigration hierarchy because of some personal interests.
He later replaced them with his own approved lists. This is what we have been facing…undue interference,” the source said
In her own response a few days after Mr. Moro cancelled the exercise, the Comptroller General of the NIS said the process had not even started at the time so the minister couldn’t possibly cancel anything:
I want to put it on record that Nigeria Immigration Service did not recruit anybody recently.
“The purported exercise is just about to begin, no single letter of appointment has been issued to any Nigerian. So, it is a fabrication that we have been busy recruiting people from specific area of the country. We are still working out the modalities and procedures. We only got the approval to recruit two weeks ago. So how could I have been recruiting for months?
“You can’t stop what has not even started. I am yet to meet with the minister, I only read it (cancellation of the exercise) in the newspapers. I’m going to have a talk with him because we have not started. So you can’t cancel what has not even started,” she said.
4. All of the above happened in December 2012 and the following month, Mrs Uzoma was sacked as Controller-General of the NIS – or in civil service lingo; sent on ‘compulsory pre-retirement leave’. She had apparently been due to retire in March 2013. Before Sanusi, there was Uzoma.
All sorts of allegations were flying around at the time including that Mrs Uzoma had been favouring people from her ‘husband’s state’ Imo in recruitment. However when checks were carried out, no such bias was found in the recruitment. Indeed, it turned out that Mr. Moro’s North Central zone made up 22% of the staff of the NIS while Mrs Uzoma’s South East made up 15%.
5. It should be noted that chaotic recruitment exercises by the NIS leading to deaths is not a new thing. In 2008, 8 people were reported to have died across the country during a similar exercise, with many more wounded:
EIGHT applicants into the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in Kwara, Enugu and Abia states commands were feared dead at the weekend while going through the recruitment exercises.
Over 15 others were also injured in the Kwara exercise dominated by a marathon race, which started at Ilorin Grammar School, through Lagos Road, Taiwo Road, ending at the stadium complex.
One of the two female dead applicants in Abia was reportedly pregnant. They met their demise in a stampede at the Umuahia Township Stadium’s gate at the end of a 15-minute run in the state capital.
This is a core feature of anyhowness – the same thing is done repeatedly somehow with the hope that there will be a different result.
6. Back to the matter, Mr. Moro set up a 6-man panel to probe Mrs Uzoma over the recruitment (or non-recruitment) scandal. To date, and I stand to be corrected on this, the report of that panel has never been made public. For added flavour, ‘certificate forgery‘ was also added to the list of charges against her.
This point is worth noting given that on Saturday night, Mr. Moro went on NTA and promised to set up a panel of inquiry ‘latest by Monday’ to look into what went wrong during the exercise. This might be another exercise in kicking the matter into the long grass.
7. The next time Mr. Moro surfaced was during a budget defence session at the House of Reps in early October 2013. To put it mildly, the session did not go well. His performance was so shambolic that Hon. Ibrahim Ebbo was quoted as follows:
You said the projects are completed and at the same time on-going. It is confusing and totally embarrassing
Mr. Moro apologised for the discrepancies and promised to do better in future.
8. The recruitment exercise itself was launched in the first week of September. This was when people were asked to pay the N1,000 application fee to, in the words of the minister, ‘defray the cost of accessing the website’. A group known as the Nigerian Unemployed Youth Vanguard (NUYV) went to protest the fee at the Interior Ministry’s office in Abuja that month.
All sorts started to emerge – the consultant handling the recruitment was apparently the wife of a Senator (no prizes for guessing which one), the ministry initially claimed the N1,000 was to cover the cost of scratch cards but no scratch cards were sold as the applicants were directed to pay the money into banks directly.
One Fatima Bamidele from the ministry was quoted as follows:
Consequently, a new ICT-based recruitment exercise had to be adopted for the purpose of fairness, transparency and accountability in line with the transformation agenda of the government. A consultant was engaged to provide an Internet platform to enable applicants access the application forms that will enable the ministry process the applications,’’ she said.
She said the consultant was authorised to charge a maximum processing fee of N1,000 per applicant to cover the cost of scratch card to gain access to the site.
“This is intended to save the applicants the cost of travelling to Abuja to submit their applications, as well as avoid other inherent risks including unauthorised middlemen activities and other abuses. It is also against the backdrop of an earlier exercise where everyone converged in a common place, resulting in a stampede and loss of some lives
9. The matter got to the House of Reps and the Joint Committee on Public Service Matters asked the ministry to refund the N1,000 fees charged to the applicants. The minister responded that ‘he was not bothered’ by the House of Reps position as he was doing the right thing as far as he was concerned:
Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro yesterday dared the House of Representatives on the N1,000 on-line application fee charged those seeking employment in the agency, insisting that there was no going back on the fees.
In early November, he released a statement to the media, which was to be the last word on the N1,000 application fee matter. He also restated, seemingly, that the money belonged to the consulting firm (a company known as Drexel Technologies but whose website has since disappeared off the internet). He never disclosed how many applicants had paid the N1,000 fee but figures ranging from 2 million to 6 million swirled around the Internet.
For those who don’t know the meaning of ‘rent seeking’, this is a very good example. 99.9% of the websites in the world are free to ‘access’. Getting people to pay to use a website is notoriously difficult – even the New York Times has not managed to get up to 1 million people to pay to access its website 3 years after launching it. Where people have a choice, they simply wont pay to ‘access’ a website. Yet, a government ministry and a private company have come together in Nigeria to manufacture a ‘cost’ and then taken away the choice of people to avoid the cost. This is the definition of rent seeking – a dubious activity created to increase one’s own wealth without creating any wealth. There are millions of websites all over the internet that allow you fill a form without requiring you to pay for ‘accessing’ the website.
10. Finally, 3 days ago, Mr. Moro gave an interview where he wished all the candidates best of luck and promised that all arrangements had been put in place to ensure their safety bla bla and that his men were ready for the day.
The interview is here on YouTube.
What to make of all of this? There’s no point rehashing what happened but this interview with one of the candidates in Abuja summarises the issues very well. Candidates in other states have corroborated many of the things -(examiners throwing the papers in the air, segregation of BSc holders) -. It is worth a listen here.
The bit about segregating B.Sc. holders from everyone else is particularly disturbing. It suggests that all along the ministry was only interested in university degree holders yet it sold forms to everyone who wanted to buy as long as they had completed secondary school. No doubt if the application had been open only to university graduates, the numbers who turned up would have been greatly reduced – Mr. Moro himself says they were expecting 68,000 candidates in Abuja alone. In the event more than that number turned up. They almost certainly did this to maximise revenues from the N1,000 ‘website access fees’.
But the most tragic lesson in all of this is how predictable it was. A greedy minister takes over a new ministry and quickly sees an opportunity to make money. He proceeds to get rid of a subordinate who is constituting a nuisance and then takes charge of the whole process himself. All focus is on the moneymaking bit meaning that no one really cares about putting measures in place to avert disaster.
People die. For nothing.
Given how the minister himself has taken charge of this whole process and been so close to it publicly, he has to take the can for it. He has to be sacked, investigated and sent to prison if found guilty. He shouldn’t be allowed to set up a panel to probe a disaster where he is a principal actor. Someone else needs to do that job while he is away.
Yes, the NIS is not the only agency that charges fees for job applications. It is now a widespread bad practice. But if we are going to stop it, we must start somewhere. Last year, the Kogi State Governor ordered that N3,000 fees be refunded to people who applied to be teachers in the state. Rather than shrug and accept it, let this practice begin to end. And let people start to think twice before they gather large numbers of people in a single location in the name of giving them jobs.
But one has to wonder how Mr. President will handle all this. The signs are certainly not good. Will he set up a panel to investigate the matter and then sit on the report for 6 months? Then when everyone has forgotten, announce to us that Mr. Moro has resigned? Or will he just adopt the tried and tested method of robust silence?
God rest the souls of all those who died.
Your move, Mr. President.
– Follow this writer on twitter: @DoubleEph