The Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, Thursday took responsibility for the March 15 death of 16 people during the recruitment exercise held for the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), saying, â€œthe buck stops at my tableâ€.
However, the Comptroller General of the immigration service, Mr. David Parradang,has absolved himself of blame, stating that the minister took the decision on the recruitment exercise unilaterally.
While appearing at the opening of a two-day public hearing held by the Senate Committee on Interior on the exercise, Moro said he regretted that a well-intended exercise ended in tragedy.
â€œAs the Minister of Interior, under whose purview this unfortunate exercise took place, I cannot abdicate my responsibility. The buck stops at my table,â€ he said.
He said the decision to conduct the recruitment through online applications was informed by his personal experiences with regards to the recruitment process into the paramilitary services under his supervision as Minister of Interior.
â€œOn my assumption of office as minister, I took cognisance of the unprecedented challenges facing the recruitment processes, procedures and practices in the paramilitary services under the supervision of the ministry.
â€œSuch experiences were characterised by incoherent procedures, favouritism, job racketeering and unequal opportunities, among others, and therefore needed immediate attention. â€œThe noble task before me was to institute measures that would ease the application procedures, enthrone an open and transparent process, allow for equal opportunities, institute a process for the engagement of qualified and deserving persons and also to ensure the reflection of federal character, pursuant to the applicable federal laws.
â€œIn December 2012, the immigration service approached me with a waiver for the recruitment of 4,556 personnel from the Office of the Head of Service of Nigeria. The conduct of that recruitment was marred by controversy and accusations of tribalism, nepotism, job racketeering and lopsidedness. The exercise was cancelled.
â€œThe recruitment procedures into the service is as contained in the Act establishing the board and guidelines for appointment, promotions and discipline for use in the Civil Defence, Fire Service, Immigration and Prisons Services,â€ he explained.
Moro, who also blamed the devil for the failure of the exercise, said contrary to allegations against him that he unilaterally took the decision on the exercise, a board meeting was held in May last year on the matter, adding that another one was held in January.
He also said he opted for the e-recruitment exercise in view of its successes when employed by the navy, army and some other paramilitary agencies.
Earlier, the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Parradang, and the Board of Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prison Services, had accused Moro of unilaterally ordering the March 15 recruitment exercise.
In his submission, Paradang, who said he was not aware of the aptitude test until a meeting of the board held in January, said: â€œIn all my years in the service, nobody had ever taken away from us the power to recruit officers from level one to six,â€ adding that there was no budget for the exercise.
Parradang, who also said he was warned by the Budget Office not to go ahead with the recruitment without a budget cover, made certain recommendations which included allowing the service and the board to conduct a recruitment exercise in the future, adding that only those shortlisted for such tests should be invited. He also suggested that the exercise should be phased.
He also said contrary to reports, the total number of people who died at the exercise was 16 and not 23, explaining that seven died in Abuja, five in Rivers State, two in Niger, one in Benin and one in Ekiti.
In its submission, FCC, which was represented by Mr. Uche Diogu, said it first received a letter from NIS asking for waiver for the recruitment to fill 1,750 vacancies to counter the Boko Haram threat in July 2011.
Subsequently, he said FCC called several meetings to ensure that due process was followed, adding that it raised a number of observations and suggested that the March 15 exercise should be postponed.
â€œBut the minister disagreed saying he had already made commitment to the exercise before the National Assembly,â€ he said.
The commission also said it only heard of the exercise on March 12 and called a meeting on March 13, where it advised against holding it as scheduled.
Also speaking, the Secretary of the Board of Civil Defence, Fire, Immigration and Prison Services, Mr. Sylvanus Tapgun, who said Dextrel Technology, the consultants which handled the exercise, initially reported that 693,015 had applied for the job, he revealed that the company finally submitted the list of a total of 710,110 applicants when the application process was completed. He added that whereas 522,652 were eventually called for the aptitude test, the consultant was asked to provide funds for the exercise but declined, saying that was not its responsibility.
Tapgun also said the board, perceiving that the exercise might fail, proposed on February 20 that it should be staggered and be held from March 15 to 19, while the physical exercise should be shifted to March 29.
However, he said the minister refused to accept the boardâ€™s suggestion on the grounds that the pronouncement on it had already been made.
He said: â€œWe drew the attention of the minister to the reality. We made our position clear that it might not succeed but he said we should work towards the date. We didn’t have independent way of monitoring the exercise. We only relied on information from consultants.â€
He also disclosed that on March 13, the consultant only released N45 million as against the N201 million it was asked to release for the funding of the exercise, claiming that it was not part of agreement that the consultant would fund the exercise.
Another member of the board, Mr. Mustapha Zakaria, who said the board, which was mandated by the Act establishing it to handle recruitment of officers from level seven and above, argued that agreement for the recruitment only took place between the minister and the consultant.
â€œThe board was not carried along. We wrote a memo to the ministry that the agreement was in breach of the Act establishing the board because it exists as a separate entity. We said it constituted an infringement on functions of the board. â€œWe also said it was inappropriate for applicants to apply online; that it was in conflict with the Act but we were ignored. We also disagreed with the arrangement that only one officer would be sent to each state to conduct the test. We said: â€˜How could only one officer be sent to conduct a test?â€™ I have been on the board for six years but things had never been done in this manner,â€ he said.
In its testimony, a representative of Dextrel Technology, Theodore Maiyaki, said it signed the agreement with the Ministry of Interior to handle the recruitment process in April 2013 for the purpose of online registration in ministry and agencies.
He also said even though the company initially agreed with the ministry to charge each applicant N1,200, including bank charges, it eventually resolved to charge N1,000 after an interface with FCC.
He disclosed that the process held between September and October, during which he said a total of 710,110 applications were received out of which, he said, 522,652 were shortlisted. He admitted that the company received a letter from the board asking it to make a remittance of N201 million for the funding of the exercise.
â€œWe didn’t reply immediately but sought to meet with the board and drew attention of the board to Section 228 of contract agreement that the ministry would fund the exercise.
â€œWe sent a letter that was dated March 7, in which we reiterated that our role was restricted to the digital quota. But we later agreed that since there was no funding provision for the exercise, the potential for rancour would heighten.
â€œAfter engagement, we found that the integrity of the exercise was critical to us, so the board approved N45 million. The decision was taken reluctantly but patriotically backed with a letter exonerating us from funding,â€ he said.
He also said in view of expansion of its infrastructure because of the influx of applications, the company experienced a breakdown of infrastructure three times, adding that the bank charged N250 per N1,000 deposited with it, amounting to N177 million. He also said the company spent N98 million as cost of execution.
Moro however, debunked Maiyaki’s claim, saying the company was expected to fund the exercise.
The Head of Service, Alhaji Goni Aji, who was represented by the permanent secretary in his office, who simply identified himself as Yemi, said the head of service had no statutory power to recruit officers into any agency or ministry, noting that it is the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) that is vested with that power.
He pointed out that following the waiver requested for employment by NIS for the counter insurgency, it was granted after the agency met the conditions for the recruitment such as established vacancies, grade levels of those to be recruited, remuneration already fixed in the service, staff strength of the agency, financial implication and justification for the recruitment.
He argued that the NIS provided justification for the recruitment and was therefore granted the waiver to fill 4,556 jobs in 2012 after an initial waiver granted for recruitment in 2011