(News investigators) some federal ministries, departments and agencies have continued to engage in backdoor recruitment despite the employment embargo imposed by the Federal Government since 2020, findings by our correspondents have revealed.
The Federal Government has, however, threatened to sanction those involved in the illegality, including the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation Limited, Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigeria Customs Service, among other MDAs.
Investigations showed that some agencies issued employment letters to jobseekers, which were not accredited by the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and the Federal Civil Service Commission, while others simply replaced retired or dead officials with friends and family members.
But the replacements were done without the approval of the OHCSF and the Federal Civil Service Commission.
It was earlier reported how some civil servants, who were engaged in employment racketeering, were caught in the Federal Ministry of Works.
It was also reported how the OHCSF uncovered over 1,500 civil servants with fake employment letters in a ministry.
Corroborating this, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, said her office had detected a total of 1,618 workers whose letters of employment were either fake or illegal in the Federal Civil Service.
This is despite the embargo placed on employment by the government.
In 2019, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation was reported to have employed many individuals without following the due recruitment process.
Many groups, including the Niger Delta Youth Consort of Nigeria, protested against the NNPC for excluding the region and southerners in the secret recruitment.
The National Coordinator of the NDYCN, Chuks Onuoha, described the practice as unacceptable, but the then NNPC spokesman, Kenny Obateru, denied the recruitment.
According to him, what the NNPC management did was to fill the vacancies with personnel who were already in the system and were qualified rather than recruiting fresh ones from outside the system.
But applicants, who got to the final stage of the screening process, accused the oil giant of substituting their names with favoured candidates.
“The NNPC replaced most of the EH positions under the guise of a hurriedly planned scheme codenamed Internal Open Resource where some people, who contracted third party staff members and did not meet the requisite experience and qualifications in the advertised EH vacancies, are being deployed through the backdoor in an unfortunate and disappointing bid to jettison the EH merit list,” the President, Transparency in Recruitment at Ministries, Departments and Agencies, Felix Sunday, had lamented then.
The current NNPC spokesman, Garba Deen Muhammad, asked one of our correspondents to send a message to him on WhatsApp three Fridays ago, but he had yet to respond to the message as of the time of filing this report.
Similarly, the Federal Inland Revenue Service was enmeshed in a recruitment scandal in 2021 after it emerged that it secretly engaged 2,000 workers, a development that put a strain on its budget.
The Nigerian Civil Service Union, which disclosed this in a petition to the FIRS Chairman, Muhammad Namu, in June 2021, also revealed that the agency was finding it difficult to pay salaries at some point after the secret engagement of the staff members within a period of 18 months.
It demanded an end to the re-engagement of retired directors and other categories of staff.
The media aide to the FIRS chairman, Tobi Wojuola, refused to respond to the allegations against the service when contacted.
Reacting to allegations of illegal recruitment, the Nigerian Customs Service spokesman, Timi Bomodi, insisted that there had been no backdoor recruitment in the service.
He said, “We advertise every recruitment in newspapers; there is no ministry and department of government in Nigeria that is as transparent in its recruitment process as the Nigeria Customs Service.
“All the 774 local government areas are represented in our recruitment. Applicants are made to sit aptitude tests and are selected based on their competences. You don’t need to know anybody before you can be employed in the service.”
Also, the Central Bank of Nigeria was accused of recruiting 909 staff members within two years without advertising the vacancies. Although the Federal Character Commission investigated the allegation, nothing has been heard about the case.
Our experiences – Applicants
Jobseekers have, however, described the recruitment process in the MDAs as lacking transparency.
A former applicant to the NCS, Sola Ogunbiyi, said the recruitment process for government jobs in the country was fraught with irregularities.
He said, “I applied to join the Customs in 2019. I am not happy with the entire process. The entire process made me lose interest in Federal Government jobs and shaped my view that the jobs are only for those with connection.
“You cannot tell me that all the people working in the civil service were employed based on merit. I got to my hometown because I am based in Lagos and heard about how some people had been helped by a popular politician to join the Customs and other government agencies just to service his structure.
“The following year, I got a job at one of the leading commercial banks in the country after a rigorous exercise than that of the Customs. Look, the qualities of those being employed by government agencies and private firms are miles apart; this boils down to the recruitment process. Until we get it right, a lot of things will continue to go wrong.”
Another applicant, Yemisi Odubanjo, stated, “I have tried to apply to federal agencies but all my efforts are futile. That has not been the same with my efforts at private organisations.
“I have been able to get some of the jobs I applied for. I think the process of recruitment in government agencies is not transparent enough. It is either you know someone or bribe your way through; otherwise, you cannot get a job solely on your certificate and potential.
“I applied during the last FIRS recruitment and that was the last time I sought government jobs. I was asked to pay a huge amount to get the job, which I could not afford.”
Commenting on the issue, a Senior Vice President for Africa, Human Health Education and Research Foundation, Dr Ifeanyi Nsofor, said the budget would suffer if there were backdoor recruitments.
He stated, “The problem is that how will they pay those who are employed through the backdoor? Who will pay them? For instance, if it is the health sector, that aspect of the budget suffers as a result because they have to start paying people who they didn’t plan for while taking money.
“So, service delivery will suffer; people may die if those services are not provided, and people can have all sorts of complications that they may have to live with for their lifetime.
“Ultimately, it is a matter of life and death because people will not work for free. You have to pay them and where will you get the money from? Something has to be given and most of the time, it is from service delivery, drugs, or other commodities or other capital projects.”
Errant MDAs warned
Meanwhile, the Civil Service Commission said it would sanction ministries, departments and agencies engaged in backdoor recruitment.
In an interview with one of our correspondents, the Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission, Tukur Ingawa, explained why the employment ban by the government remained in place despite the high level of unemployment in the country.
According to him, the government decided to enforce the employment ban as a result of its dwindling revenue and the COVID-19 pandemic.
He stated, “Working in close conjunction with the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, the year 2019 was the last time recruitment into the Federal Civil Service was conducted. The general suspension of employment in the Federal Civil Service was put in place in the year 2020.
“The Federal Government’s suspension of recruitment in 2020 was informed by the dwindling government revenue due to the incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
When asked if the government was not bothered by the high youth unemployment, Ingawa said, “Of course, the Federal Government is deeply worried about it. It has initiated several policies and programmes through the instrument of multilateral collaboration among the ministries, extra-ministerial departments and agencies to empower and invest in the Nigerian youth for entrepreneurial gains.
“The Nigerian Youth Investment Fund, as an instance, is being driven by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development with the Central Bank of Nigeria to make the youth entrepreneurs.”
On the practice of replacing retired or dead officials by the MDAs, Ingawa said the relevant agencies would investigate such cases and punish those involved.
The chairman noted, “To answer your question, the Federal Civil Service Commission is the only body constitutionally charged with the responsibility of personnel recruitment, promotion and discipline in the mainstream Federal Civil Service; working in close conjunction with the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and Ministries, Extra-Ministerial Departments and Agencies.
“That is to say, it is the only body that is legally recognised to issue letters of appointment into the service. The Federal Civil Service Commission recently disseminated a statement in that regard. The appropriate agencies of government will look into these cases as they arise and the culprits will face the wrath of the law.”
Labour states position
The Deputy President, Trade Union Congress, and President, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Tommy Etim, urged the government to look for an alternative to reduce the number of unemployed people in the country.
“We know the pandemic was responsible for the embargo. The pandemic impacted on our economy, but we will like the government to look for other avenues to keep unemployment low. On employment through the backdoor, I am not aware of that but I know those with fake employment are being handled by the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, the President of the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors, Dr Emeka Orji, has described the process of employing doctors as cumbersome.
“The government needs to work on the bureaucracy of employing doctors. The process can take more than six months and it is stressful,” he observed.
Also, the Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association in the Federal Capital Territory, Dr Charles Ugwuanyi, complained about the arduous process.
He stated, “I’m not sure there’s an embargo, it is like with existing establishment rules that vacancy has to be declared and it is the job of the Minister of Labour and Employment and the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission to advertise the jobs in different establishments, and it must be well publicised in national dailies and enough time given for the information to go round and interested and qualified people will need to apply.
“After that, the next process is to shortlist and the shortlisted candidates are interviewed, which can be oral or written. If you are selected, the names are forwarded to the Federal Character Commission to make sure that no part of the country is compromised. After that, the successful candidates are issued their employment letters.
“In real life, the process does not work in one month or two months, sometimes it takes up to one year or two years, and that is why it is difficult to replace vacancies. People are leaving the service every day but the process of replacing them is very slow.”
Ugwuanyi, however, noted that the government was meeting with doctors and nurses to shorten the employment process in order to replace the healthcare workers leaving the country.
He added, “Whether we like it or not, people will leave and the services are being disrupted. Some units are collapsing in the hospitals to accommodate the demands of labour.
“About four weeks ago, a bill was passed awaiting the President’s assent for the long process to be shortened and chief executives of hospitals and health establishments will be empowered to replace them as people are leaving to reduce the impact.”
When asked if the Federal Character Commission was investigating the MDAs cited for involvement in illegal recruitment, the commission’s spokesman, Chukwudi Chizea, said he was not aware of such a probe.
But an activist, Olaseni Shalom, said the MDAs involved in such unwholesome practices had run afoul of the law, and called on the anti-graft agencies to investigate them and ensure that those culpable were brought to justice.
He said, “We have seen this illegal recruitment across ministries and agencies and this amounts to abuse of power by some civil servants and also high-ranking government officials. The implication of this illegal recruitment is the burdensome high cost of governance and of running the ministries.
“The ICPC is saddled with the responsibility of investigating such corrupt practices and punishing whoever is found culpable under the law. This will serve as a warning and deterrence to those who are still engaging in such practices. Severe consequences need to be meted out for these corrupt practices and every loophole that allows such practices must be blocked.”
The President, Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria, Prof Taiwo Obindo, expressed dissatisfaction over the lack of adequate personnel and said recruitment of doctors should be done half-yearly to meet the needs of the people.
“The process it takes to get approval for employment is arduous. For instance, at the Jos University Teaching Hospital, we have not had recruitment in over three years. People who have passed their part one exams and are meant to be senior registrars now are the ones doing the work of both house officers and junior registrars, because there has not been recruitment.
“My centre has not employed for more than three years now because it will need permission from the ministry, civil societies, and so many other things, so the bureaucratic bottlenecks are too many.
“Meanwhile, there should be recruitment every six months so that we can meet the requirement and until that need is met, many who need health services are not getting it; there are those who travel many kilometres to access care and some of them go and see a traditionalist, pastor or Imam, who is closer to them.”
Obindo noted that there were shortages of psychiatrists in the country as well.
“The World Health Organisation recommendation is one psychiatrist to 10,000 of the population; in some clime, they have reduced it to 7,000-8,000 per psychiatrist, but what we have is one psychiatrist to over one million Nigeria population and that makes it difficult for psychiatric care to go round and most of the psychiatrists that we have stay in the urban areas, so there must be a deliberate effort to make sure that people go to the rural areas; that means we must add some incentives to make sure they can stay there.
The remuneration must be equivalent to what they will get outside of the country,” he added.
The President of the Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria, Dr Victor Makanjuola, said the one-for-one policy that was introduced by the government to reduce the shortage of doctors had not been implemented.
He said, “The way forward, which we have suggested and which the government is working on, is that anyone who leaves the country should be replaced as quickly as possible without these bureaucracies; even if they are not employing new ones, the ones that have left should be replaced by doctors who are still around and will like to work in government facilities.
“What the Chief Medical Director of UCH, Ibadan, said about the number of health workers that have left the hospital is the picture in every institution across the country.”
Lift embargo – ASUU
Some branch chairpersons of the Academic Staff Union of Universities have stressed the need for the Federal Government to lift the employment embargo in Nigerian universities. The academics also stressed the need for a smooth and seamless process in the recruitment of lecturers.
The Chairman of ASUU, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Prof Gbolahan Bolarin said, “We have some departments that are in need of senior academics. Departments like Material and Metallurgy Engineering, Mechatronics Engineering etc are seriously understaffed and are in need of senior academics via tenure appointments or sabbatical, but the IPPIS is making it impossible.
“If you check departments like Computer Science and Cyber Security, they are in need of academics too. The list is endless. The embargo should be lifted.”
The Chairman, ASUU at the University of Ilorin, Prof Moyosore Ajao, told one of our correspondents that available academic staff members were overworked.
“The first thing you need to know is that the universities have their own tradition and have their own ways of living on their own and this is why you cannot subject a university to a ministry’s bureaucratic principles, it is not going to work.
“I can tell you boldly that there is no faculty at the University of Ilorin that is not short-staffed. We have colleagues, who have retired and we can’t replace them; we have those who are dead and we can’t replace them; and the implication of this is that the few available hands are overworked and you know what the consequences are.
“To make matters worse, we can’t employ. The double jeopardy is that the IPPIS does not allow you to bring in professors on sabbatical and as adjuncts, they won’t get paid.
The Vice-Chancellor, University of Medical Services, Ondo, Ondo State, Prof Adesegun Fatusi, lamented insufficiency of trained nurses across the country.
He noted that many of the trained nurses had left the country for greener pastures in other countries.
The don stated this during the second induction of professional nurses, who recently graduated from the university. No fewer than 71 of the graduates were inducted into the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria.
Represented by the Deputy VC Academics, Prof Roseangela Nwuba, the UNIMED boss said, “Well-trained nurses left the country for greener pastures abroad, which makes the need for appropriate nurse care huge across the nation.”
The don enjoined the newly inducted nurses to be emphatic and sympathetic to the situation of their patients.
Welcoming the inductees, the Secretary General and Registrar of Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, Dr Faruk Abubakar, lauded the university for working excellently in grooming young nurses and urged the institution to keep the flag flying.
A senior lecturer at Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti , Dr Cecilia Bello, said that nurses must continue to recognise the importance of their collaboration with other members of the healthcare team to sustain teamwork in ensuring the best outcomes for patients.