By Fredrick Nwabufo
I came in full cognizance with the normality of influence peddling for jobs when I was covering the national assembly. It is a run-off-the-mill practice, which has become permissive, for lawmakers to scribble a long list of names of cronies and hangers-on and send it to any government agency soliciting jobs. I have seen lots of these lists myself.
It is the appalling summation of how we view and conduct government business in the country. Government jobs are considered as private holdings of those in power and of those with access to power rather than the commonwealth of every Nigerian. The classic Nigerian politician goes into office for himself, his family, relatives, and confederates rather than for his country.
This abnormality is so pervasive that even job seekers with the right qualifications will go to their representatives at the national assembly lobbying for slots, endorsements, and enlistment because the aberration is the norm; there is no other way – it is the likeliest means of getting a government job. Even those with indictable qualifications find confidence in their access to a “distinguished or honourable’’ at the national assembly.
The National Assembly is the asymptote of everything that is wrong with Nigeria. It is where people without effort amass unimaginable wealth; it is where those who abuse women find protection and solace; it is where those afraid of a revolution against the sustained pauperisation of citizens hide their insecurities behind bills seeking to curtail freedom of speech and thought. It is everything that is wrong with the country.
I recall many years ago after I completed my national service and was seeking to join the navy. I and other candidates converged on the Mogadishu cantonment in Abuja for a test. Before the exercise, I had a chance of interacting with fellow job seekers. I was confident in my ability to scale through any mental hurdle. But I noticed a pattern — though it did not set off an alarm in me at the time – that some of the applicants had the written endorsement of one lawmaker or another. I thought it did not matter. I was naive about how nepotism and cronyism has been operationalized in the country.
It was after many years later, while covering the national assembly that I fully came in apprehension of the chagrin. Influence peddling for jobs has been with us for long.
In October 2019, there was a tumult at the senate over the ‘’sharing’’ of 100 Federal Inland Revenue (FIRS) job slots. Members of the chamber were at each other’s throat over how the slots were allotted. They traded recriminations, accusing one another of taking the lion’s share.
Here is how an interested party, a senator quoted by the Guardian, captures it:
“The secret employment is already tearing the senate apart. A particular agency of the federal government was said to have offered 100 slots to the leadership. An average senator, who is not a member of the executive, cannot even boast of being given a single job by any federal agency for his or her constituents.
“We had information that one of the leaders shared 26 slots to people in his senatorial district. Problems are really brewing in the senate because the leadership has allegedly taken jobs meant for Nigerians.’’
Situating the concern of this senator, it is obvious he is peeved for being short-changed – not that he really cared about Nigerians without access that cannot get a government job. They passed the booty over him this time; hence his protest.
On Tuesday, lawmakers on the labour and employment panel and Festus Keyamo, minister of state for labour and employment, were near fisticuffs over the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians into the federal public works programme.
According to the minister, 15 percent of the jobs (116,100) have already been ceded to lawmakers, but they want more.
“They still want to hijack the entire programme, taking over the power of the president in the process,” Keyamo said to journalists after the brawl in Abuja.
These 774,000 proposed employees will be paid only N20,000. The scramble by lawmakers for this seemingly inconsequential job accents the cavernous predatory inclinations of Nigeria’s representatives. It is not about the citizens; it is about what they can corner in this time of ‘’ghost working’’; it is also about what they can get for themselves and hand out to their underlings as compensation and as advance payment for their services in future elections.
Really, the revolution must start from the national assembly. We must sanitise that place; clear it of locusts and worms. We cannot make progress with such a primary but fatally flawed institution.
The revolution could of the ballot or citizens’ action — as guaranteed by the constitution.
This national assembly does not represent Nigerians.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.