Lawmakers failed to ask Minister Abba Moro why he signed a rogue deal that allowed a consultant keep all the funds raised from applicants
A shocking agreement allowing a recruiter handpicked by Nigeria’s interior minister, Abba Moro, to exploit Nigerians seeking Immigration Service jobs, and not deploy the nearly N1 billion raised for the applicants’ screening, surprisingly missed out from a line of questioning from lawmakers probing the deaths of 19 of the job seekers last week.
For more than six hours that the Senate committee on interior, headed by Abubakar Bagudu, grilled Mr. Moro, immigration officials, the board supervising Immigration, and a representative of Drexel Technology Nigeria Limited, the firm that provided online services for the exams, lawmakers refused to asked Mr. Moro about the terms of the agreement.
The recruitment into the Immigration Service on March 15 ended in 19 fatalities including pregnant women. Outraged Nigerians have called for the removal of the minister, and prosecution of those responsible for the deaths.
At the Senate hearing, those questioned by the lawmakers, apart from Mr. Moro himself, accused the minister of hijacking the exercise, unilaterally selecting Drexel Ltd. as the recruiter, and failing to make adequate plans for a screening that involved more than 710,000 applicants.
Lawmakers heard how despite receiving N1, 000 from each applicant-totalling at least N710 million- the interior ministry and the Civil Defence Corps, Fire, Immigration and Prisons Services Board, had no funds to conduct screening for the candidates.
Sylvanus Tapgun, the secretary of the board painted a frustrating picture of how the lack of funds may have accounted for the decision to hold the tests the same day, an arrangement many have pointed at as the major factor for the stampedes that led to the deaths.
Central to the irony of how the recruiters raised so much but had no funds for the test is a puzzling agreement stating that despite collecting the huge funds from the applicants, Drexel Limited will not pay for the examinations. The ministry, which had no budgetary provision, will be responsible, the pact said.
“The ministry shall be responsible for the actual conduct of the examination, interview and selection and subsequently furnish Drexel” with the outcome,” says Section 2.17 of the agreement between Drexel Ltd and the ministry of interior. In effect, according to the provision, Drexel Limited’s responsibility ended with the online registration service.
With calls for punishment for those responsible for the killer recruitment, the government’s response may ultimately be shaped by the outcomes of separate investigations launched by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives said its committee on public account was also informed by the board secretary, Mr. Tapgun, that Mr. Moro acted alone on the recruitment planning, and that more than N1 billion may have been raised in the exercise.
But for hours that the minister spent taking questions from senators last Thursday, no lawmaker pressed him about the authors of the rogue agreement, its motive, or whether government lawyers took part in its drafting.
The closest the lawmakers came to asking that question was when they raised concerns about the lack of funds for the exams.
Mr. Moro answered that his ministry had hoped to use funds raised from the applicants, but that Drexel Limited only drew its attention to the contentious Section 2.17 days before the test- an acknowledgement of the shoddy planning that so characterised the process that the ministry, a party to the agreement, knew nothing of its terms, and merely approved a document likely scripted by Drexel.
“Drexel’s issues came days before the exams. So we had to rally for funds to get the exams taken,” Mr. Moro told the senate committee.
The board secretary, Mr. Tapgun, said at that point it was clear there would be consequences if Nigerians realized the screening could not hold because of funding, after paying so much.
“We said there is no way we will escape with our skin if Nigerians paid N1, 000 and we said we don’t have the money,” he told the lawmakers, justifying why the examinations had to proceed March 15 even with funding problems.
The board and the ministry then pushed for donations, including from Drexel, in an effort to raise the estimated N201 million for the test, according to the minister. Drexel said it “magnanimously” donated N45 million.
In evidence before the senate committee, the firm’s Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Theodore Maiyaki, portrayed the company as a shrewd business operator smart enough to cash in on the ineptitude of a government agency.
Lawmakers probing Mr. Tapgun asked whether that did not indicate the government had lost control of a firm it claimed to have hired. Stuttering repeatedly and shifting his gaze, the board secretary gave no solid response. He merely said he arrived at his post to meet a standard and wished to retain that standard.
But when the minister, Mr. Moro, whom other officials accused of taking all decisions alone, took the podium, those or similar questions were not asked.
Lawmakers instead asked the minister to merely confirm whether it was true he acted alone and did not consult with the board supervising the Immigration Service. There was no query regarding how such an alarming agreement was arrived at.
Defending his decisions, Mr. Moro said the lawmakers and Nigerians should, before arriving at any judgement, be cognizant of his intention for the exercise which he said was to cleanse a system ridden with corruption, job racketeering and nepotism in the past.
He said his board and the ministry decided to meet with Drexel after the test to reconcile the financial issues arising from the agreement, and at one point said he should seize the opportunity of the hearing to correct Nigerians on the real name of the company.
It does not read Drexel Limited as many Nigerians erroneously reported, but Drexel Technology Nigeria Limited, the minister said.