None of Aso Rock’s town criers has made an official announcement yet. But Nigeria has adopted the policy and practice of recruitment apartheid. The third consecutive recruitment scandal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, a self-evident proof of the run of this new order, says so!
The confirmation came from the Nigerian Prison Service. The Service clandestinely ‘served’ half a thousand people employment, without prior advertisement of the vacancies in the Nigerian media.
This latest violation of the rules governing recruitment into public agencies in Nigeria, the third in a period that approximates to one year of Buhari’s presidency, echoes a loud message: The recruitment of elites by elites for elites is the new normal.
Few months ago, nobody would have stretched his prescience to envisage the possibility that, under a Buhari leadership, a time of national reformation that he promised, in four presidential bids, we would be discussing the reality of institutionalization of elitism in Nigeria and the serial hijack of public service jobs by a cult of the well-connected. He was widely regarded as a firm, stern, honorable man. The only one personage that has the temperament to steer Nigeria towards rectitude.
When it emerged that Godwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, organized a backdoor recruitment, and smuggled in kids of the high and mighty, a lot of people were confident that Buhari would move promptly and make an example of Emefiele. Their expectation wasn’t misplaced. Buhari is famed for his personal integrity and strong repugnance for indiscipline and corruption.
They called the President’s attention to the scandal and asked him to impose the proper sanction on the seemingly suicidal violator. But their remonstration went unheeded. Buhari, the boss at whose pleasure the elitist recruiter served, played ‘deaf.’
He was indifferent. He didn’t so much as acknowledge the veracity of the transgression. He dismissed the people’s protestation as lacking in merit. He passed a vote of confidence on Emefiele and allowed the rapist of the laws of the land to continue to sit in the highest office in Nigeria’s apex bank.
That presidential endorsement of the recruitment favoritism inspired Babatunde Fowler, the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, to replicate the recruitment scam. He hired 349 people, in a furtive operation he codenamed ‘targeted recruitment’, after the fact, just like Emefiele.
Fowler’s picks were silver spoon-born, ajebutter-bred charges of aides of President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress, members of the National Assembly, top officials of FIRS and Federal Character Commission, and other influence peddlers in the system.
Again, the people protested and urged Buhari to punctuate this nonsense once and for all. Buhari neglected the plea. He played ‘deaf’ as before. He blessed the travesty.
It’s no surprise that a third recruitment scam followed. And, since he will uphold this scam too, it is safe to say that recruitment by stealth has become the rule.
These recruitment scams are not mere circumstantial incidents. They are corporeal injuries on the body politic. And the scams don’t hurt less as their frequency increases. Each new scam pains like a first. They are particularly so because every time a similar scam is reported, the aberration reintroduces itself as a strange phenomenon that is incompatible with this dispensation.
Buhari was elected to be the champion of the poor. The dirt-poor ‘recruited’ him so that, among other things, he would protect them from the tyranny of territorial terrorists, elite bullies who are wont to unilaterally annex certain swaths of public space for themselves and offspring and wall off outsiders.
As a serial presidential candidate, Buhari cast his lot with commoners. He cultivated affinity with everyday people. And he kindled such enthusiasm in the commoners, they eagerly invested their widow’s mite and hope in his fourth bid for leadership, making themselves shareholders in the promise of a fairer Nigeria that Buhari retailed from city to city.
But since he grabbed the brass ring of the presidency, Buhari has rejected the common man and approved their continued marginalization. He has not deigned to utter a word on these recruitment scams. Neither has he caused his lieutenants to issue any pronouncement on his behalf.
Now, Buhari’s endorsement of this regime of recruitment apartheid is not only a betrayal of the poor. It is also his betrayal of his very self. His permissiveness represents his renunciation of the only sole redeeming quality that makes him a tolerable public figure.
Let’s face it. Buhari is a leader of mediocre calibre. He doesn’t boast an intellect that can reimagine the reality of his environment creatively. He doesn’t have an eloquence that can animate the nation with his dream. He doesn’t have the force of capacity to thrust the people forward in the civilization of the times they live in.
The only thing he has going for him is basic decency. He possesses the scarcest virtue in a polity teeming with kleptomaniac rulers. This singular trait constitutes the essence of the man. It explains his aura. His appeal. His credibility.
Nigerians evicted the bumbling President Goodluck Jonathan and elected Buhari in the hope that the retired general would take his intrinsic property of decency into the State House. That he would enforce a radically different ethos in the highest office in the land. That he would unleash a culture of civility from his vantage position and, ergo, lift our estimation of the standards of normalcy in public offices across Nigeria.
Buhari apparently misread that mandate. And this is why he is trivializing his presidency. He is functioning without a sense of the significance of his role on the stage. He is filling the vacuum of his position with the superfluity of his leisurely ordinariness. He is exercising himself as the caretaker of the irredeemably flawed establishment he was drafted to demolish.
Every leader does something to the soul of his society. A transactional leader maintains the soul he inherited. A transformational leader takes the inherited soul and improves it. The transformational leader improves the soul of his society by making the communal conscience finer in texture and more tender in sensitivity.
Through his exercise of his discretion, power and authority, the leader legitimizes norms and contrasts deviance. He emphasizes the ideal and perpetuates its memory by the symbolic application of rewards and punishment.
When the news of first recruitment scam broke, the instant demand of the development on Buhari was clear: Ask Emefiele to resign. Buhari didn’t do it. He countenanced the headline-making scandal –a foolish thing no self-respecting president would do.
The optics of that stupefying inaction communicated weakness of character. His cowardly, pretentious insensitivity to a recruitment scam that agitated the institution that manages the economy of the country he leads, diminished Buhari, or, more precisely, exposed the true measure of his exaggerated stature. It showed he was deficient in decency.
He reinforced that perception of inadequacy by treating the second recruitment scam with the same condescending unconcern of the first. He managed to disabuse the mind of those who had thought he initially committed an error of judgment. He struck a resolute pose that telegraphed that this repeat passive comportment was not a mistake: It was a deliberate ‘body-language’ dramatization of his ideology.
He believes in the rightness of reserving public sector jobs for a special species of Nigerians and denying well qualified people of humble birth the chance to apply and compete. He sees nothing wrong in the recruitment apartheid. Everyone on each side of the border of the recruitment apartheid should accept their place and their due with contentment and gratitude!
This third recruitment scam is most likely to see Buhari act consistent with this world view. He won’t fire Ahmed Ja’afaru. He won’t order a cancellation of the recruitment. He would let public anger burn itself out as before.
Buhari doesn’t grasp the reason why he is asked to address these recruitment scams. He is urged to rouse himself and tackle these scams for his own good. His complacency is vitiating his gravitas and sabotaging his ability to succeed as president. Each of these brazen illegalities that he tolerates makes him increasingly impotent and inefficient in the broader plot.
For example, his experiment with the economy has, so far, resulted in higher inflation, more job losses and widespread hunger. His ‘war against corruption’ is the only front that inspires hope. But he is not prosecuting the ‘war against corruption’ as an integral part of a strategy to correct the value system that incubated the normalization of self-enrichment by stealing of public funds. He pursues ‘the war against corruption’ as a brawny, philistine hunt for the plunderers and their spoils.
Ordinarily, the war against corruption should be a popular revolution. The people are supposed to own it and run with it. But a collection of citizens has yet to fill a court house, ready to counter the rented supporters’ club of a treasury looter on trial.
The ‘war against corruption’ is considered by many as bereft of sincerity of purpose. It is perceived to be a crusade of Buhari’s personal vendetta. Not a public interest agenda.
And Buhari is largely responsible for this pervasive cynicism and low buy-in. He makes wrong calls that cast doubts on his honor. In critical moments when he is required to rise to statesmanship, he hunkers down and disappoints. He seems to have such an abject opinion of his place that he instinctively ducks every opportunity to attempt an engagement with greatness.
Buhari has a terribly narrow definition of corruption. Corruption, to him, is the act of stealing of appropriating public funds. No more, no less.
This reductionist interpretation makes his clean-up effort isolated and limited. It fosters the contradiction of a war against corruption that condones flagrant and unbridled violations of the laws, as in these recruitment scams, and yet occupies itself with the hunt of thieves. And it serves to recommend him as paranoid, petty and vindictive.
Of course, people would be less inclined to believe that you are acting in good faith when you romance active violators under your watch and pursue with vehemence former violators who happen to be members of the opposition party.
This is why Buhari’s nonchalant attitude to these recruitment scams is an expensive tragedy. Beyond the licensing of impunity and legitimization of the alienation of the majority, he is undermining the very rationale of the key thrust of his administration. He is setting up himself for an epic failure.
Here is a disheartening irony: The Buhari administration is currently prosecuting Abba Moro, former Minister of Interior, for defrauding thousands of applicants and herding them into stadiums where some were crushed to death in stampedes. Moro staffed the Nigerian Immigration Service and tried to orchestrate the motions of stipulated recruitment formality. The heads of CBN, FIRS and NPS staffed their organizations without organizing a mockery of open competition.
Moro’s offense jibes with that of Emefiele, Fowler and Ja’afaru, though Moro’s hands drips with human blood. But it is easy to see the stark hypocrisy in this government prosecuting Moro for a recruitment scam it has effectively decriminalized and commonised.
The other day, this administration announced the commencement of the online application for 500,000 graduate teacher vacancies. The portal crashed within 24 hours. Early bird applications overwhelmed the website. 48 hours later, 403, 528 had registered.
The vacancies were advertised because the rulers ‘reserved’ them for the poor. The affluent were not interested in having their wards work as teachers. If they were, they would have secretly appropriated the positions and moved on. But teaching is not the sort of career they wish their kids. Teaching is a menial job befitting commoners. They want their kids ensconced in cozy offices, earning salaries without sweat.
One thread that runs through the pages of history is the truth that in the life of a leader, an issue is guaranteed to arise which would invite him to self-destruct by his own calculation or presumption. If Buhari allows this recruitment apartheid regime to subsist, it would be the mortal issue of his story. It would tarnish and rubbish him permanently!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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