I came to full awareness of the normality of influence trading for jobs when I covered the National Assembly. It’s a common practice that has become permissive for lawmakers to scribble a long list of names of cronies and hangers-on and send it to any government Agency looking for work. I have seen many such lists myself.
This is a terrible generalization of how we see and conduct government business in the country. Public jobs are seen as the private domain of those in power and with access to power, not the Commonwealth of every Nigerian. A classic Nigerian politician takes office for himself, his family, relatives and allies, not for his country.
This anomaly is so widespread that even job seekers with proper qualifications will turn to their representatives in the National Assembly, lobbying for their candidacies, endorsements and recruitment, because aberration is the norm; there is no other way – it is the most likely way to get a government job. Even those with prosecutorial qualifications find confidence in their access to a ‘distinguished or honorary ‘ member of the National Assembly.
The National Assembly is an asymptotic of everything that is wrong with Nigeria. It is there that people effortlessly accumulate unimaginable wealth; it is there that those who abuse women find protection and comfort; it is there that those who fear a revolution against the constant impoverishment of citizens hide their insecurities behind bills aimed at restricting freedom of speech and thought. This is all that is wrong with the country.
I remember many years ago, after I finished my national service and aspired to join the Navy. I and the other candidates gathered at the Mogadishu camp in Abuja for the test. Before the exercise, I had the opportunity to talk with other applicants. I was confident in my ability to overcome any mental obstacle. But I noticed a pattern – although it did not cause me alarm at the time-that some of the applicants had the written approval of a particular legislator. I thought it didn’t matter. I was naive about how nepotism and nepotism were put in place in the country.
It was not until many years later, when I was covering the National Assembly, that I fully realized this chagrin. Influence peddling in search of work has been around for a long time.
In October 2019, there was an uproar in the Senate over the ‘separation’ of 100 Federal internal revenue service (FIRS) jobs. Members of the house were at each other’s throats over the way seats were allocated. They exchanged recriminations, accusing each other of taking the lion’s share.
Here’s how the interested party, a Senator quoted by The Guardian, captures this:
“The secret service is already ripping the Senate apart. It was stated that a specific Agency of the Federal government offered 100 seats to the management. The average Senator who is not a member of the Executive branch cannot even boast that he or her constituents have been assigned at least one job by a Federal Agency.
“We had information that one of the leaders shared 26 slots with people in his senatorial district. Problems are really brewing in the Senate because the leadership has allegedly taken jobs intended for Nigerians.’
Given this Senator’s concerns, it is clear that he is annoyed that he was not changed for long-not that he really cares about Nigerians without access who can’t get government jobs. This time they gave him the loot; hence his protest.
On Tuesday, lawmakers from the labor and employment Commission and Festus Keyamo, the state Minister of labor and employment, nearly came to blows over the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians into the Federal public works program.
According to the Minister, 15 percent of jobs (116,100) have already been transferred to lawmakers, but they want more.
“They still want to take over the entire program, seizing the power of the President in the process, ” Keyamo told reporters after the fight in Abuja.
These 774,000 proposed employees will only be paid with N20,000. The struggle of lawmakers for this seemingly inconsequential job highlights the cavernous predatory tendencies of Nigeria’s representatives. This is not about citizens; it is about what they can corner at this time of ‘Ghost work’; it is also about what they can get for themselves and distribute to their subordinates as compensation and upfront payment for their services in future elections.
Indeed, the revolution must begin with the National Assembly. We must clear this place of locusts and worms. We cannot make progress with such a primary but fatally flawed institution.
A revolution could occur as a result of a vote or actions of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.
This national Assembly does not represent Nigerians.
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Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.