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Enough Of This Rip Off

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Daily, Nigerian newspapers are awash with employment or recruitment advertisements.

Ordinarily, such adverts should call for celebration as hiring new hands is an indication that the economy is looking up, in spite of the comatose vital manufacturing sector. But it is bewildering to observe that many paid adverts for recruitment require applicants to purchase scratch cards of two thousand naira (N2,000,00) and above for application forms that are usually accessed online. Ever since, some government departments and agencies including the Police pioneered it,demanding payments from job applicants has become the rule rather than the exception. While I cogitated on reasons government departments and agencies will resort to ripping off poor applicants when money may have been provided in their budgets for recruitment, I could not but be disconcerted at the insensitivity of some of our policy makers.

Like everything Nigerian, the concept has caught on. Many a smart Alec now sees it as a route to easy money; far easier than Yahoo Yahoo and without the perpetrators having to look behind their shoulders, at least at the moment, for agents of EFCC.

It is as easy as ABC. Arrange an organization. Talk with scratch card producers.

Prepare adverts with well-laid out graphics featuring well-fed faces. Place the advert in the print and electronic media. Sit back and watch the millions roll in.

This is absurdly ridiculous. No where in the world are applicants for jobs fleeced this way. Indeed, the reverse is the case. In organized societies, applicants who have been screened, shortlisted and invited for interview are paid to cover hotelexpenses and fare to and from the location of interview. That has been the practice even in this country. Government agencies and reputable companies pay applicants short-listed and invited for interview. The EU/Ministry of Health job interviews of April 2004 is an example in this regard.

More worrisome is the demand for money from potential recruits into the Nigerian Navy and Air Force. Where does the money go? Is there no budget to cover the cost of recruitment? Why fleece someone who has decided to make a career in the armed forces, someone who could lay down his life for the country at any moment? In the developed world, there are incentives for joining the Army. At the height of the Iraq war, such incentives were made even more enticing.

It is disquieting and certainly disheartening to observe that even non­profit organizations and voluntary agencies have joined in the mad rush to further impoverish the unemployed amongst us. Page 76 of The Guardian of Tuesday August 5,2008, carried two nausea-inducing adverts. One of the adverts was placed by Accident Victims Rescue & Information Services of Nigeria (AVRIS) and the other by AFRIDEV (whatever that means) that claims to be a member of International Volunteer Programme.

Both are supposedly non-profit organizations. While Accident Victims Rescue and Information Services of Nigeria is asking each applicant to part with two thousand and five hundred naira, AFRIDEV is demanding Two Thousand Naira per prospective volunteer. Most recently, the Imo State Government advertised 10, 000 vacant positions that required the unemployed to part with two thousand naira.

The last recruitment exercise of the Immigration Service for about 7000 positions attracted well over 300,000 applicants. Assuming the same number of applicants responds to each of the adverts for non-existent vacancies or volunteer positions, AFRIDEV and AVRIS will rake in six hundred and  fifty million naira (N650,000,000.00) and Seven Hundred and Fifty Million Naira (N750,000,000.00) respectively.  And AVRIS was recruiting the second batch! It is most absurd and indeed absolutely ethically wrong for job applicants to be made to pay for application forms. It is tales of the unexpected made manifest. Nigerians need be wary of organisations requesting fees from job or volunteer applicants.

It is an apparent red flag. The argument that the application fee is demanded to cover the cost of recruitment and to reduce the volume of respondents is as hollow as it is implausible.

In its advert calling for volunteers to be sent oversees, AFRIDEV claims that volunteers will “assist various organizations abroad in community development projects/humanitarian work on going in various countries such as Spain, USA, Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, UK, Canada, Macedonia, Brazil, Poland, Europe (sic),South America (sic) etc”. Continuing, the advert claims that “volunteers are paid attractive monthly allowances”. Like American visa lottery that attracts hundreds of thousands of entries from Nigeria, this one is sure going to be a hit. When young Nigerians risk life and limb to try to get to Europe through the Sahara and many die in the process in the desert or by drowning in canoe wrecks, this option will be considered a safer bet to try.

Other than brief visits, I have not lived in Europe so I am not in a position to assess their needs for foreign volunteers and from Nigeria for that matter, with our reputation. But I can emphatically assert America does not need foreign volunteers. At all times, they have more than enough volunteers for community service.

Following the regrettable events of September II, 2001 in America, as the Executive Director of a Nigerian non-profit organisation that catered to victims of disasters – natural or man-made, I wrote to the then American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Edward Jeter informing him of my organisation’s resolve to send in volunteers to assist in the aftermath of the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. He wrote to thank me profusely for identifying with America in such trying times but diplomatically turned down our offer, saying that the disaster galvanised Americans as never before who volunteered in droves to assist the victims.

Besides while in the US, I was involved with a humanitarian organisation in management position that requires working directly with volunteers. In my almost two and a half years in the position I did not see or hear of foreign volunteers no even at the height of Hurricane Katrina with the massive and extensive damage that it visited on New Orleans, Alabama and Mississippi. Additionally, volunteers are not paid attractive monthly allowances; they receive daily subsistence allowances (DSA), according to UN Agencies recommendations. The Encarta World English Dictionary defines subsistence as the condition of being or managing to stay alive, especially when there is barely enough food or money for survival.

This advert is preying on the poverty and gullibility of Nigerians who daily throng the foreign embassies of the above listed countries in attempts to secure visas to escape the unemployment that is prevalent here. When genuine visitors, businessmen and even government sponsored teams like sportsmen and women are occasionally refused visas because of the fear of absconding and becoming illegal immigrants, someone is advertising that they will secure visas for volunteers who could stay up to one month, six months and 2 years.

Which countries are in dire need of volunteers? Is it the developed countries or the developing ones? Additionally, who is the person that volunteers? Is it not someone who is gainfully employed or a retiree that gives some of his/her time to do community work? Who is that Nigerian employer that will allow his employee to leave his duty station for overseas volunteer assignment for 6 months or 2 years? With the benefit of experience, many volunteers in Nigeria are not gainfully employed.

As the Executive Director of Doctors For All Nations, I led volunteers from Lagos, Warri and Port Harcourt to Jesse oil fire disaster of October 1998. Volunteers who were employed returned to their jobs after three days on the ground. The unemployed volunteers remained with us for upwards of 4 weeks. And why oversees volunteering? “Charity”, they say “begins at home”. Have we finished clearing all the drains that are clogged with unsightly pure water sachets and other refuse that cause floods each time it rains in Lagos, for example?

What of the mountains of refuse that block roads and breed rodents and other forms of life that are enemies of man? Taking undue advantage of the high level of unemployment and unwariness in the country to fleece unsuspecting members of the public who are already disadvantaged is nothing but callousness. Calling a spade by its name, it is obtaining money by false pretense.

Let us assume that there are 10500 genuine vacancies that an organization wants to fill and 300,000 applicants responded and paid the prescribed fee, the organization would have swindled 289,500 applicants of their money for whom no service was provided. Our ‘human rights activists’ who are quick to match in the streets of Abuja do not see anything wrong in swindling applicants and further impoverishing them.

This obnoxious and patently fraudulent practice has, for too long, been allowed unfettered space. The Consumer Protection Council, SSS, Police and EFCC, amongst other law enforcement agencies, should do the needful: stop this rip off. It gladdens my heart to observe that JAMB that hitherto charged students to check their results online, has as a result of public outcry, stopped this bad practice. Kudos to JAMB.

Dr. Ahworegba is of the Biographies Development Centre, Lagos.

 

Prosper Ufuoma Ahworegba

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Opinion

The Fuel Subsidy Removal Plan

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The contract between the estate where I live and the facility manager will expire in a couple of days. The manager is interested in having the contract renewed but the executive members of the estate’s residents’ association wouldn’t unilaterally decide on whether to renew the contract or not. The opinion of all the residents must be sought before such an important decision is taken. In view of that, an online questionnaire was created to enable the residents to assess the performance of the facility manager and decide whether the estate should continue with its services or not.
Hardly anything is done in the estate without the opinion and support of the residents being sought and, that way, there is cooperation of virtually everyone in developing the estate and solving whatever challenge the community may face. I have no doubt that a similar scenario plays out in many other estates in different parts of the country.
Looking at what happens in the larger society, especially in the political sphere, one wonders why our political leaders cannot adopt this democratic way of doing things in the administration of our local government areas, states and the nation. Why are Nigerian citizens rarely given the opportunity to have a say on how things are done in the country?
Often, projects or programmes are initiated without first feeling the pores of the people for whom those projects are meant. Many times the government’s mindset towards certain issues in the country or some government plans are made known either during interviews outside the shores of the country or at other public functions.
Let’s take a look at the current controversy over the government’s plan to remove fuel subsidy and payment of N5,000 transport grant to poor citizens of the country. The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, released the bombshell during the launch of the World Bank Nigeria Development Update (NDU) last week. The reactions that have trailed the disclosure indicate that the necessary consultation and reaching out were not done before the announcement.
Otherwise, how can the National Assembly, the representatives of the people, not be aware of the proposal? The Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, who described it as a rumour, told newsmen: “if there is something like that, a document needs to come to the National Assembly and how do they want to identify the beneficiaries. This is not provided for in the 2022 budget proposal, which is N2.4 trillion”.
The Nigerian labour leaders also expressed shock over the minister’s announcement because according to them, it was a unilateral decision without the input of Labour. In the words of the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Musa Lawal, ”We are surprised and shocked with the government’s pronouncement. We do not know how the government came about it. The government is calling for trouble if they think they can go ahead with subsidy removal without labour. The Presidential Committee made up of government representatives and Labour has not concluded its assignment. Our last meeting was in April. This new position is totally unacceptable to us”.
My point is that governments at various levels in Nigeria should begin to make deliberate efforts in carrying the people along in whatever they do. Opinion of the people should count. This will reduce a lot of friction between the leaders and the led and help in building trust between the two parties and a better nation.
Why can’t the government use every means possible to sensitise and educate the citizens on the benefits or otherwise of fuel subsidy removal. A lot of people are asking the criteria that will be used to determine who the ‘poor citizens’ are; how the decision to give payment of N5,000 each to about 40 million citizens came about and others; and it is the duty of those in power to provide sincere answers to these questions before going ahead with the project.
It is the responsibility of the leaders to convince Nigerians that the proposed N5000 monthly stipend will not go the way of other social intervention schemes of the government like conditional cash transfer, tradermoni, COVID-19 palliative, free school feeding and many others.
Some useful suggestions have been made on how to cushion the effect of subsidy removal should it materialise instead of the paltry sum of N5,000 which, by the way, the Minister of Finance said is not going to last for more than a year. One of them is that the government should deploy such funds to free medical services and free transport schemes for the target category of citizens. Nothing could be as reliving to a poor farmer for instance, as knowing that there is free movement of his goods from the farm to the locations where they will be sold and that he is sure to receive free, quality medical attention when faced with a health challenge. Government must listen to this strong view.
That being said, one thinks the labour unions, the students’ union and other bodies and individuals kicking against the total removal of subsidy should try to engage properly and consider  the long term benefit of the removal. Many business men, economic experts and players in the oil sector have posited that the gains of the removal far outweigh its retention, that though the initial hardship will be inevitable, in the long run, Nigerians will be better off just as it is currently happening in the telecommunications industry.
The Director of Green Zeal Oil and Gas Ltd, Mr. Christian Wigwe in a chat noted that as long as the government continues to subsidize the importation of fuel, the Nigerian oil sector will never develop. He observed that none of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) licensed to operate in Nigeria has been able to build refineries in the country because it is not profitable owing to the fact that the government subsidises the importation of fuel from other countries.
He opined that if we do not take the bull by the horn now, stop the subsidy and grow our economy, if we keep borrowing money from all corners of the planet to run the country while also collateralising the loans with public infrastructure, a time will come when our creditors will take over the railways, the airports and other collateralised infrastructures and the cost of transportation we are running away from will be ten times what it is today.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Wailing Women Of N’ Delta

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Whenever a group of concerned women wail aloud in public, obviously such gesture portends a message that should be taken seriously. The wailing women of Niger Delta embarked on a public protest, with a release of the audit report of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), as a major issue of their protest. There was, indeed, a Forensic Audit of the NDDC whose report has been an issue of foot-dragging. From the grapevine and the gossip mill, the true contents of that report describe the NDDC as a milk cow monopolised by non-Niger Delta power blocks.
The wailing women of Niger Delta, as mothers and home builders that they are, obviously fed the pangs of the agony and apprehension of the Niger Delta people. A part of the agony and apprehension of the people is the fact that the resources of their homeland have been monopolised by stronger power blocks and interest groups, through various strategies. Such current strategy is a Bill for an Act to amend the NDDC for the inclusion of new oil producing areas and states which do not belong to the Niger Delta zone, namely: Bauchi, Lagos and Ogun States.
Like the politics and economics of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the NDDC may follow a similar strategy of serving the interests of stronger power blocks, while the Niger Delta people continue to be marginalised. The Tide Editorial comment of Monday, November 22, 2021, stated that “each time the minority stand to benefit from a policy or law in the country, it will be blubbered and invalidated”, Can it be true that there is a “systematised move by the Federal Government to extirpate the region”?
The wailing women of Niger Delta, as a protest group, was said to have been invited by the police authority, perhaps to forestall the possibility of their protest being taken over by miscreants or bandits. It was good enough that the protest over non-release of NDDC forensic audit report did not result in any sad experience. Such sad experience can include another group of commercial protesters supporting non-release of the NDDC forensic report, thus resulting in some clash among two protesting groups. Obviously the police would not keep quiet when protests become violent.
It has become clear to discerning Nigerians that there are not only commercial and sponsored protesters who can be hired by interest groups, but there are also commercial and sponsored callers on radio programmes. The goals and intentions of such hired groups of people are not difficult to discern, but what is a sad is the danger which such a strategy can portend, with regards to national security. Like the Lekki-Gate incident, which has become a national and international controversy, a peaceful protest can be infiltrated or taken over by hired hoodlums.
For the people of Niger Delta in particular, the oil and gas resources of that region have placed them in the position of endangered people. The aforementioned editorial of The Tide hit the nail at the head, saying: “the NDDC confirms the age-old view that the region has indeed become a toy to be played with by some Abuja politicians and the Federal Government”. The plight of the Niger Delta people was recognised long before 1960, which was why a Willink Commission Report of 1958, recommended a special interventionist programme.
Unfortunately, in line with the peculiar politics of Nigeria, the establishment of a Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA), resulted in a replication of various regional Basin Development agencies, for interventionist purposes. Now, since NDDC cannot be replicated in a similar manner, the strategy had been to turn it into a “milk cow” to serve the interests of other power blocs. An attempt by Senator Godswill Akpabio to name beneficiaries of NDDC largesse was halted through shouting him down on the floor of the Senate. Anyone would wonder how long this clever cheating style would continue, with the people of Niger Delta being considered as cowardly or pawns that can be bought and sold.
The wailing women of Niger Delta, apart from asking for immediate release of details of the NDDC forensic audit report, also demanded that the NDDC should remain to address the biting environmental challenges of the people. Those who knew the inside story of the predecessor of NDDC (OMPADEC), would tell us that it was under the control and stranglehold of non-Niger Delta a power bloc. For a similar pattern to repeat itself again would mean that there are some powerful interest groups that do not mean well for the Niger Delta people. Considered stupid?
The story of Oloibiri, where mineral oil was first exploited in commercial quantity over 70 years ago, tells the story of the Nigerian political economy clearly. It is the sad story of ravishing a fair lady in her youth and leaving her destitute and haggard in her old ago, with a “Christmas Tree” planted in her old hut as a reminder of her thankless services. Anybody who knew Oloibiri 1951 would not see much difference in 2021, except the presence of a “Christmas Tree”! To mock!
It would pay the managers of the affairs of this country and their advisers better if they would adopt the policy of fairness and justice as the means of addressing nation-building project. Enthronement of a predatory political economy has never been known to be a helpful system of social engineering, because it breeds parasitism and lingering insecurity.
Hiding or refusing to publish the forensic audit report of NDDC would not show commitment to openness, integrity or accountability. Rather, to delay or alter it would fuel the feeling of the Niger Delta people that they are not getting a fair deal in the Nigerian federation. Would that not add to the growing agitations in the country? With an expectation of a rise in the price of petroleum products next year, whose effects the government intends to address by paying N5,000 monthly to the “poorest of the poor”, how many of the 40 million poor people would come from Niger Delta? Would that not give room for corrupt practices?
How sound is it to remove fuel subsidy, increase fuel price and pay 40 million people the sum of N5,000 every month, and yet retain the practice of free fuel for a large number of political office holders? Managers of the Nigerian affairs can do much better by blocking leakages and sources which would create loopholes for further corruptions. Wailing women of Niger Delta are saying that transparency is better than allowing people to speculate what is going on.

By: Bright Amirize

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer in the Rivers State
University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

2023: Aso Villa, Not Sick Bay

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Even as its clinic may possess some of the best health facilities a Third World state house can possibly afford, I still doubt that the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja was designed to cope with some of the serious medical conditions our leaders discreetly convey to the place.
Chapter IV, Part I, Section 131 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) spells out the requirements for election to the Office of the President. They are as follows: citizenship of Nigeria by birth; attainment of 35 years of age; membership of a political party which must be the sponsoring party; and education up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
But even a possession of all these still does not qualify anybody who engages in any one of a plethora of some other never-dos, including presentation of a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Or, election to such office at any two previous elections. Or even failing to resign from a civil or public service position at least 30 days before election. Disappointingly, in all of the nearly one dozen of these extra conditions, only one directly pertains to a candidate’s health status. And what does it say? Quite simply put – that the person is not adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind. Really? Not even through a mandatory professional psychiatric evaluation? Haba, Nigeria!
I still recall that, as a prospective student seeking admission into a unity school in 1974, I was required to present a medical examination report from a government hospital. Also, as a JAMBite five years later, I was requested to go for medicals at my university’s medical centre. And of course, I couldn’t have secured my present employment in the civil service without satisfying a similar condition. It is also common knowledge that this is equally applicable in reputable private sector organisations. So, how come students and workers in Nigeria are required to compulsorily undergo medical examinations to ascertain their fitness for the tasks ahead whereas no such condition is listed for a prospective occupant of the highest and most prestigious office in the land? Have Nigerians opted to remain this naïve or are we indeed a cursed people?
Even in the twilight of military dictatorship in this country, it was mostly a handover of power from one sick leader to the other. In short, of the seven Nigerian heads of government that have so far taken up residence in the Aso Rock Villa since General Ibrahim Babangida hurriedly relocated the seat of power from Lagos in 1991(after a serious jolt from the Major Gideon Orkar-led coup the previous year), only General Abubakar Abdulsalami and Dr Goodluck Jonathan had stepped in there looking healthy and also exited the place in seeming good health.
Babangida was already on record as having been seriously injured in 1969 when a battalion he led encountered heavy Biafran offensive during a reconnaissance operation somewhere between Enugu and Umuahia. He was said to have declined surgery to remove a bullet shrapnel from his knee. But several years later, while in the Villa, the self-styled Evil Genius was known to have alternately travelled to France and Germany to seek medical relief. There were several pictures showing when he got stuck in-between strides with his trade mark gap-toothed smile failing to hide the agonies of a Nigerian military president. It was really pitiable, to say the least.
Next was his successor, late Gen. Sani Abacha, whom the then radical Tell magazine on September 8, 1997 reported as suffering from liver cirrhosis – a serious condition that often results to death. While Abacha’s secret police went after the magazine’s editor, Nosa Igiebor, and members of his household, The News, another dare-devil publication, picked up from where the former left off – reporting how medical experts were secretly flown in from Israel and Saudi Arabia to tend the nation’s seriously ailing but still pretentious generalissimo. Even marabouts from some North African countries were rumoured to have been brought in to pray for him. He reportedly died of suspected food poisoning in the hands of some young Indian belly dancers in 1998.
Abacha was succeeded by Abdulsalami whose administration is still reputed to be the second military regime (after Obasanjo’s in 1979) to successfully complete a transition process and hand over power to a civilian democracy in Nigeria. For want of a trusted person who would serve to assuage the Yoruba over Abiola’s death while in detention, Obasanjo was literally released from certain death (sorry, prison yard) by Abdulsalami to run for election on the ticket of the new Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), after the demise of Abacha who had incarcerated him for joining his NADECO Yoruba brethren to criticise the late general’s regime. Frankly speaking, and to those who knew him while he reigned as military head of state, Obasanjo was still a shadow of his former self when he moved into the Presidential Villa in 1999.
Then entered Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua and, a little later, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) both of whose checkered medical stories we already know.
Now, with the 2023 General Elections fast approaching, there have been moves – even if still hazy – by individuals and groups touting the names of their political godfathers as promising presidential hopefuls. But I am seriously concerned that one or two of those names belong to persons who are already as old, sickly and looking worse than the incumbent president’s condition when he returned from his 50-day extended medical vacation in 2017. At that time, Buhari had looked rather too ghostlike that some Nigerians doubted their president and began to reconsider detained IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s Radio Biafra description of him as a surrogate Jubril from Sudan.
For me, and regardless of their professed leadership acumen, any seriously ailing Nigerian politician who conceals his affliction while campaigning to occupy the Aso Villa is like a confirmed HIV patient who opts to proceed on a raping spree. It is the height of corruption, criminality and wickedness.
Fellow Nigerians (yes, let me sound like them), there is no better time to wake up to this ugly reality than now. We’ve had it up to our neck. Thank you.

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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