THE Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) is in the eye of the storm again still on account of recruitment of personnel into the Service. This time, some 2000 recruits who had been trained for three months by the Service before their abrupt disengagement have been protesting to the authorities to demand their reinstatement into the NIS.
It would be recalled that there was a nightmarish and ill-fated recruitment exercise on March 15, 2014 which drew millions of job seekers to venues of interview across the country. Some of the applicants met their untimely death as a result of the stampede at the venues because of shoddy preparation and coordination by the organisers. In the aftermath of that botched but fatal and scandalous exercise, 2000 applicants were recruited following the directive by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, who also specifically enjoined the NIS to consider the relatives of the applicants who died during the unfortunate exercise.
This happened early in 2015. But shortly after the change in the political leadership of the country, the hapless recruits were relieved of their appointments and that was after they had undergone three months’ training.
Up till date, there has been no cogent official explanation as to why these young Nigerians’ hope was raised by one government and dashed by another. The reason that has been given by a government official is that the appointment of the recruits was fraught with irregularities. This is rather vague as what constituted the alleged irregularities was neither specified nor was it disclosed whether the entire 2000 recruits have the same issue. The successful applicants did not screen or train themselves. Thus, making them to pay ultimately for the alleged sins of the NIS officials is wrong and wicked. The NIS must come clear on this as its handling of the crisis seems to be validating the rumour that the recruits are unfortunate victims of the change of government.
What would appear to be official position on this crisis can be gleaned from the following terse statement by the Comptroller-General of the NIS, Mohammad Babandede, to the restive recruits: “Those who gave you job gave you wrongly, but it’s not your fault. We must consider you for this job as soon as we can.” But the NIS boss added a clincher: “I am not going to recruit those who protest, I’m not going to recruit those who shout, I want to recruit those who have good legs and good behaviour.” The foregoing would seem to be an indication of the outcome to expect from the re-screening exercise that commenced on August 29, 2016. Those recruits who are in the forefront of the agitation for reinstatement have been marked and may not be fairly treated during the re-screening. This is not acceptable.
To be sure, the government is perfectly in order if truly it has observed specific irregularities in the recruitment and it is seeking to correct the anomalies in the overall interest of the nation. However, the official response time is suspect because it would appear that the government is literally being forced to reconsider its stance more than a year after the suspension of the appointment of the recruits. The implication, unfortunately, is that if the recruits had kept quiet, no one would have taken any action and that is why it would be vindictive and tantamount to a great injustice if Babandede makes good his threat not to recruit those who protested. The argument that the recruits are paramilitary officers that should not protest is hollow against the backdrop that their appointment was suspended and their fate would have been permanently sealed if they had chosen to be silent.
It is for this reason that many of the recruits are apprehensive about the re-screening exercise which the NIS is conducting. Many of them see the exercise as a ploy by the Service to legitimize their disengagement and replace them with privileged applicants with connections in government circles. Therefore, the NIS must ensure that the re-screening exercise is transparent. The specified guidelines for the exercise should be reviewed, particularly the controversial ‘Age on Rank’ rule which indexes age to positions, since it was not in force when these youths were recruited initially. To the extent that this guideline does not affect the NIS officers who are currently in service, it should not apply to the suspended recruits seeking to be reinstated.
We urge the NIS to handle this crisis very carefully and avoid the temptation to wish away these 2000 recruits under the cloak of re-screening as that may do further damage to the already challenged image of the Buhari administration on recruitment matters, among others.