NIS, Virtual Jobs and the Death of a Dream

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The outrage that trailed the death of 15 (or 20 job applicants depending on whose figures you believe) is understandable. As it were, the affected died in active service – looking for jobs. No one can accuse them of being lazy or being potato coaches. President Jonathan has reportedly queried the Minister of Interior Comrade Abba Moro, and Davis Parradang, the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, (NIS) which conducted the ill-fated recruitment examination.

Abba Moro reportedly disclosed that a total of 522, 650 applicants from across the nation were shortlisted for the 4,556 vacancies from a pool of some six million applications, each of whom paid N1000 for the application form. The sale of the application forms alone is estimated to have netted for NIS (or the consultant working for it) a princely sum of six billion Naira.

One of the mind-boggling questions in the exercise was why so many people turned up for the test while at the same time believing strongly that the exercise was merely an attempt to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ by the NIS?  It was not just the applicants who believed that the available vacancies had already been allotted to the wards and mistresses of top politicians and the cream of the society’s elites or merchandised at N350, 000 per job by agents of NIS’ officialdom, several Nigerians believed that too.  My personal opinion is that the applicants turned out in their numbers despite their deeply-held belief that the exercise was a wild goose chase or an animated hunt for virtual jobs because our deep religiosity makes us believe in miracles. God, Nigerians will tell you, can choose any occasion, even impossible ones like the exercise last Saturday, to elevate you.

The sheer number of people who applied for the jobs also showcases the other contradiction among our people: Our religiosity makes us believe in miracles while our greed and Nigerianness long for those sectors of the national life where sufficient leakages will give us the opportunity for primitive accumulation. In this sense, the Nigerian Immigration Services, the Customs, Nigerian Ports Authority are among the most sought after by job seekers and those already in what others may see as ‘respectable jobs’. Not surprisingly therefore, in the ill-fated recruitment test by NIS last Saturday, even bankers and gainfully employed journalists and IT consultants  were rumoured to be among those who partook in the exercise.

This is however not to trivialize the unacceptably high level of unemployment which makes the unemployed try out anything on offer. The point is that in addition to those who desperately seek out any opportunity for a job, are also those who are animated by the simple search for the ‘Nigerian dream’: an opportunity to ‘make it’ as quickly as possible.

One of the ways of immortalizing those who lost their lives in the scramble for the virtual  NIS jobs is for Nigerians to follow with interest how the entire recruitment exercise will be concluded by NIS to ensure that performance in the shoddily arranged tests counts, or  preferably push for the last weekend’s exercise  to be cancelled  and an  arrangement  for a new and better organized test in which performance will strictly determine who advances to the next stage of the recruitment exercise.

While praying for the repose of the souls of all those who lost their lives and for God to grant their families the fortitude to bear the loss, we must go beyond the token offer by   Comrade Moro that the government would take care of the medical bills of those who sustained injuries – to ask pertinent sober questions: Did the Nigerian Immigration Service, which chose to organize such tests in stadia across the country, take any insurance policy in anticipation of any eventuality?   In this computer age, why did the NIS not digitalize the tests such that students at the end of the exercise will simply click a button and get their result on the spot as happens in most professional certification examinations these days? Given the sheer number of those shortlisted for the tests, why was the exercise not organized in batches?

It is heart-warming that the government has indicated that it would probe the exercise. Any probe however should do well to address certain relevant issues: What was done with the princely sum of N6 billion which the NIS or its agent was expected to have realized from the sale of the job application forms? What was the money used for? And who were at the table where decisions were made on how this huge lucre should be shared?

As with everything Nigerian, the unfortunate event of last weekend also provided ample opportunity for grandstanding and playing to the gallery. One of such was the news that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has ‘dragged’ the government to the UN over the incident. In a petition to the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, SERAP reportedly requested him to use his offices and leadership to “publicly condemn and refer the unlawful deaths and inhuman and degrading treatment of job-seekers by the Nigerian government to appropriate United Nations human rights bodies.”  I honestly found this grandstanding by SERAP, which was probably trying to raise its profile to help it raise funds, sickening. How many Americans drag their government to the UN for the missteps of government agencies or the repeated disasters and floods in the country?  I believe Nigerians are justified in giving the government of the day the piss when it bungles any exercise – as happened last Saturday.  But to drag the country to the UN or other international bodies on a whim is in my opinion in very bad taste. It is either SERAP was playing to the gallery or suffering from ‘bleaching complex’.

As Governor Peter Obi Bows Out

Governor (now former Governor) Peter Obi, the first Governor of Anambra State, to serve out a full two term in office stepped aside on March 17 (my birthday incidentally).

Peter Obi, with his tiny and irritating feminine voice that masks his granite and shrewd trader interior, was an unlikely politician. For Anambra state politics – with its colours and drama- Obi was of a different stock. Despite his own personal wealth, he was simplicity personified – no expensive clothes, shoes or Rolex watches. He was said to be frugal to the extreme, which earned him the nickname of ‘aka arodite’. This should not be misconstrued to mean he was a saint in office. He was, in my opinion, far from being so.

Though I read he became ‘Chief Obi’ (which is unfortunate if it is true), just before he stepped aside, he was perhaps the only Governor in the country without any honorific  – Dr, Chief, Professor, Alhaji etc to his name. He was simply ‘Mr Peter Obi’.

As Governor I was one of Obi’s critics but I also recognized he did his best, especially as he governed at a time people continued to nurse certain nostalgia for Chris Ngige, who was Governor of the state for three years – with stolen mandate before he was sacked by the courts.  Ngige’s popularity was largely because his predecessor in office – Governor Mbadinuju had set the bar of  public expectation extremely low, making it very easy for Ngige to surpass it.

 Though I believe that like most Governors in the country, Obi’s achievements while in office were exaggerated, I will give him credit for re-inventing public education in Anambra State, for making town unions the de facto fourth tier of government in the state and for containing the evil machinations of rampaging political god fathers in the State.

As he stepped aside, Obi wisely advised his successor Willie Obiano to inherit his friends but not his enemies. The ‘friends’ to be inherited here will include Obi’s simplicity, prudence and lack of pomposity in governance. And the ‘enemies’ Obiano should not inherit include Obi’s politicization of religion in the state and the tendency to play the ethnic card on a whim. Obiano should equally eschew Obi’s clannishness where under him both the leader of his party APGA and its Chairman came from Anambra State and no effort was made to broaden the party’s base or turn it into a truly national political party. Clannishness can only hurt Anambrarians who are very Diasporic.

Hopefully having literally plucked Obiano from obscurity and made him Governor, Obi should learn from other  political godfathers and eschew the temptation to meddle in the affairs of the State. He should realize that it is Obiano’s time in the sun. If you are generous enough to buy shoes for a lad, you must also have the discipline to let the lad run around in the shoes as he pleases.

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