THE controversy surrounding the recent retirement of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Rose Uzoma, makes it imperative for a thorough investigation to be initiated into her tenure with a view to applying sanctions if she is found to have abused her office, as alleged, or clearing her name in case it turns out that the allegations against her were unfounded. It is also an opportunity that should be seized by the appropriate authorities to beam the searchlight on all government establishments to determine if hers was not the only one involved in unsavoury activities. The vile culture of nepotism and cronyism in public service must end.
Uzoma, the second woman to head the Immigration service in its close to 55 years of existence, had her hopes of retiring in a blaze of glory shattered, following allegations of a skewed recruitment pattern uncovered in her office that reportedly favoured people from her part of the country. Her case has not been helped by similar allegations by members of the House of Representatives Committee on Federal Character that she offered hundreds of job slots to government officials.
It is indeed reassuring that Uzoma has denied that any such misdeed actually took place under her watch as the head of the NIS. In denying the allegation, she was quoted in a recent report as saying, “The recent publication gave a very wrong impression; I want to put it on record that the Nigerian Immigration Service has not issued a single employment letter to any Nigerian this season.” Officials of government agencies alleged to have benefited from her controversial generosity have also denied being allotted job slots. But mere denials will not be enough; only a thorough investigation will serve the cause of justice.
This is why the decision of the Senate to wade into the matter is also heart-warming. The matter came up for discussion on the floor of the Senate and it was obvious that it is a widespread practice that is not limited to the NIS. Senators did not only recount their individual bitter experiences in the course of finding succour for job seekers, they also expressed their resolve to launch an investigation into the handling of recruitment in all government agencies with a view to not only exposing irregularities, but also punishing their perpetrators.
In what seems to capture the level of the decay and moral depravity of the Nigerian society, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, narrated how several members of his constituency had been pestering him with demands for financial assistance, some to the tune of up to N500,000 each, to be able to pay for job slots in government agencies. The case of Mohammed Ndume, a senator from Borno State, was also noteworthy. After offering a N200, 000 assistance to a Second Class (Upper Division) university graduate from his constituency for a similar purpose, the poor man, who had been keeping soul and body together by driving a taxi in Abuja, later returned the money because the amount he was asked to pay had gone up by 100 per cent by the time he returned to the recruiting agency. There are also allegations that some persons seeking recruitment to the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps pay middlemen between N150, 000 and N300, 000 each.
Where is the place of merit in all of this? How is the interest of an applicant from a poor background protected in such a situation? What does the situation portend for the state of insecurity in the country, if unemployment continues to mushroom? Ndoma-Egba was spot on in his evaluation when he said, “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.”
Given the diverse ethnic, geographic, religious and linguistic make-up of the country, sensitive issues of employment and appointments to public offices are governed by the principle of Federal Character to ensure that all sections of the country are equally represented without sacrificing merit. As has been alluded to by Ndoma-Egba, the unemployment situation in the country should be a matter of serious concern to every well-meaning Nigerian. In a situation where the country has come under the threat of terror attacks, the unemployed would be easy targets for recruitment into terrorism. This is one of the reasons why the issue should not be taken lightly.
In a federation such as Nigeria’s, care must be taken to ensure that every section of the country gets what is deservedly its own. This includes the right to employment in every government establishment. Any person that works against this recognised and established procedure is certainly working against the interest of the country and such a person should not be allowed to get away with it. Anyone that denies any Nigerian employment or commercialises the employment of citizens in a government agency should be swiftly brought to justice. That should be the ultimate aim of the investigations being carried out by both the Senate and House of Representatives.