Nigeria Matters

Jobs for the youths or fraud by another name?

In a depressed economy like ours, characterised by job losses, closure of companies and mass youth unemployment, any initiative by either the private or public sector that can take as much as 10,000 unemployed youths, graduates or non-graduates, in one fell swoop, out of the many in the anguish-filled labour market, is a laudable one. This is appropriately so, given the vital linkage between unemployment and criminality, which is a major threat to national security, more so, for a state like Imo, where kidnapping has become a second nature in recent times.

But, when the same jobless and desperate youths are compelled to part with money as a necessary precondition for such jobs, then some eyebrows must be raised. Obviously, there is more to it than meets the eyes, as the old saying goes.

There is no such initiative which demands more than a passing interest, perhaps because of the controversies it has generated so far, as the one undertaken recently by the Imo State Government. In advertisements published in some newspapers by the Ikedi Ohakim administration, the state government promised to offer what it called “exciting public sector career opportunities” to 10,000 “fortunate” indigenes of the state.

In the well-designed and very colourful adverts, which arguably would rank as some of the most beautiful one has seen in many years in Nigeria, the state government, through its “Imo Job Centre”, announced the creation of “10,000 new jobs” for the purpose of “empowering youths, (and) strengthening the public service” in the state. This, it further indicated, was part of its “socio economic agenda geared towards revitalizing the economy and restoring infrastructure in the State”

As noted earlier, this initiative, on its face value, is quite commendable. But, the snag here is in the method of application.. Candidates are expected to “purchase scratch card at the cost of N2000” from some designated banks after which they are required to “visit www.imo.ngrecruit.com to complete online application”. This gives the impression, a false one, of course, that the public service in the state is IT savvy.

From my researches so far, even though the government explained that its resort to scratch card was “to ensure transparency”, this appears to be the first time, in any part of the world, where a government, at whatever level, would require candidates applying for its jobs in the public service to part with some money for its jobs. Put differently, it would be the first time any government would openly extort, that is what it is, money from desperate job seekers under the guise of offering them “public sector career opportunities”. The last attempt by the Nigeria Police left a hail of criticism at its trail.

Even in the private sector, known more for its inclination for profit maximization, rarely are job applicants required to part with money before being employed. Instead, some of them, as my cousin experienced recently when he came to Lagos for a job interview from, wait for it, the same Imo State, go the extra length of offering stipends and free lunch to the applicants.

For a state brimming with unemployed graduates, said to be in the region of over 300,000, in various fields of studies, this must rank as one of the most disingenuous ways of raising “internal revenue”. Perhaps, it even takes it as part of its aggressive internally generated revenue drive. This figure is not contestable, given that Imo State has consistently recorded high statistics for public examinations in Nigeria over the years. For instance, in the just released Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) last week, the state presented the highest number of applicants with 111, 613 out of the 1, 276, 795, representing 8.11 per cent of the candidates.

So, as a commentator observed in a recent newspaper column, when we “multiply 300,000 by 2,000, what we have is a whooping N600,000,000”! When you substract N20,000,000 that the successful 10,000 applicants would have paid to secure their jobs from N600,000,000, then you would appreciate the more how the state government, whose primary concern should be the promotion of the well being of its people, has, instead, fleeced its traumatised and overburdened indigenes to the tune of N580,000,000!

If the recent experience where over 15,000 applicants reportedly applied for about 500 jobs advertised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is anything to go by, it thereby means that the government is more on a mission to defraud, as many indigenes posit, than providing “exciting public sector career opportunities”. Even the high-flying Lagos State Government has not announced such an ambitious initiative to create 10,000 jobs “just like that” in its public service.

To give a semblance of credibility to the scheme, or is it scam, the state government, some days later, inaugurated a nine-man “Standing Committee” headed by His Lordship, Rt Rev Victor Chikwe, the Catholic Bishop of Ahiara Diocese. The terms of reference of this body, according to a statement posted on its website, www.imostate.gov.ng, include, among others, to “oversee the work of the consultants, to recommend 10,000 eligible graduates for employment as well as ensure that letters of appointment are issued by the relevant bodies of the public service to successful employees”.

Curiously, the same government had said in its earlier advertisements that a reputable consultancy firm, KPMG Professional Services, “will contact candidates to reconfirm test dates, test centres, as well as conduct the pre-employment test”. To put it mildly, this raises quite a number of questions than answers. How can the committee “recommend” who to be employed when a consultant has been paid to do the same job? Knowing that the services of the likes of KPMG do not come cheap, why didn’t the state government ask its “standing committee” to stand up, literally, to the task alone instead of incurring additional cost to the state?

Interestingly, the outcome of a similar job interview conducted by the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) many months ago, which attracted thousands of applicants, has not yet been released as I write.

Some people have argued that asking job applicants to pay money as a precondition for employment is “unfair”, “dubious” and “illegal”, as this “kind of income does not attract any tax deduction”. Peter Esele, President, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, even stressed that “It is the responsibility of the government to give jobs and not to extort money from the people”.

There are enough grounds to suspect the motive behind this too-good-to-believe scheme. The reason is not far-fetched because for a government that has been in power for three years without creating a single job, to wake up a year to its termination, and on the eve of another general election, to “create” “10,000 jobs” sounds more like a Greek gift! It is not for nothing that desperate applicants have been wary of swallowing this bait, which is an election gimmick.

What happens if a new Pharaoh who does not know Joseph appears on the throne after next year’s elections and decides to review the appointment, as have been done in the past, leading to the termination of the appointment? Will the victims be refunded?

It is bad enough that governments in this part of the world most often ride roughshod over the people, but too sad that the Imo State House of Assembly has maintained a deafening silence amidst the outrage that has trailed this scheme. This obviously is a result of our flawed electoral process

which thrusts people not elected by the electorate upon public offices. A government that derives its legitimacy from the people through credible and transparent elections cannot contemplate, much more implement, this type of scheme.

There is the need for the relevant agencies to investigate this scheme to ensure that desperate job seekers are not defrauded helplessly. The weak and vulnerable should be protected always from the whims of a buccaneering government. Besides, it would be appropriate if the unemployed graduates continue to regard this scheme for what it is: A Greek gift.

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