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Federal Inland Revenue Service, Too? By Dayo Williams

June 17, 2016

All state institutions funded by taxpayers' money ordinarily should make their job recruitment processes open to every qualified Nigerian regardless of the status, tribe, religion or what have you. They are supposed to be equal opportunity employers. Like what happens in the private sector. Or are our public institutions the preserves of the political elite and their cronies?

But when state-run institutions begin to recruit staff into their ranks under the cover of darkness, then it should be a source of grave concern to every rational being.  It is an unpardonable gaffe in the civil service system, and the condoning government should be held responsible for it. 

You wonder why organisations in the private sector thrive better than our public institutions. It starts from the recruitment of their human resources because that is all that matters.  They try to hire the best, mostly purely on merit. Of course, some back door recruitment comes through man-know-man, but it constitutes a miserable minority. 

The other day, the Central Bank of Nigeria under Governor Godwin Emefiele conducted its own secret recruitment, it was the sons and daughters of those close to those in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari who made the list including the daughter of the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase.  Some Buhari's associates' children also made the golden list, thus, shutting out qualified sons and daughters of the poor who made his victory at the 2015 polls possible.

Some of us cried openly, wrote open letters to the president, saying the process be stopped and re-started all over again, but this time, it should be thrown open. Our cries and pleas fell on deaf ears. Till tomorrow, the presidency did not react to the illicit recruitment. Those kids of the elite are working comfortably in the comfy offices of the CBN today. When it is election time, they want the commoners to file out under the sun and in the rain to vote them. A day of reckoning beckons soon. 

Of course, those eternal 'rationalizers' of every government policy came out in their tens and twenties saying the CBN recruitment was conducted pre-Buhari days. That was what they elevated to national consciousness. I did not buy it. I said the President had every right to cancel the privileged recruitment. At last, it stayed, the President goofed. Big time, too. That is a minus against a government that breezed into Aso Villa on the mantra of change. A question: what has changed? Only the characters in government. The processes remain significantly the same. 

Now it's Babatunde Fowler. He has imported the culture of secret recruitments he practised in Lagos Internal Revenue Service into FIRS. He might likely get away with the blue impunity because the President allowed that of CBN to stay. A precedence of impunity has already been established which will validate the foul Fowler's own.

The new FIRS recruitment was conducted with utmost disregard for openness and competitive processes. It was shrouded in secrecy, ably oiled and facilitated by political patronage. A beneficiary and someone who helped in the clandestine recruitment has confided in me but demanded I did not put out their names in the public domain. They are covered by the blood of anonymity!

Getting political appointments via political patronage is normal in a democracy, but recruiting people, permanent staff into agencies of government on the basis of the same patronage is antithetical to mutual inclusiveness and the growth of a nation. It excludes the majority from having a sense of belonging. 

Even if those secretly recruited were the best in the country, which can never be, and could not have been, it defeats the creed of transparency and accountability the government of President Buhari preaches. Pray, how the business of governance be conducted via a secret arrangement?

The President will do his government of change a lot of good if he can put a stop to the secret recruitment in the Fowler-led FIRS. If he allows it to stay, that's another dent to his government. And some of us will use it against him at the appropriate time. No amount of rationalization will justify the undemocratic and unjust process.

I can hazard the usual line of defence, soon to pop up from the usual quarters, pro-establishment sympathisers: all relevant and concerned agencies gave FIRS the green light to conduct the secret recruitment. It's going to come out soon, but then, some of us will not relent in our advocacy and activism for openness in the conduct of business affairs. Assuming all relevant agencies do, what about the people's parliament?

The people knew there were openings that needed to be filled in FIRS. Fowler made this known openly when he assumed the mantle of leadership of the agency, but when it was time to recruit, he went solo, like witches and wizards do in their covens, to recruit those whose folks are in government or know someone in government. This must not stand. It should not stand. It cannot stand.

Dayo Williams, a political commentator, wrote in from Abuja