Senator Ayo Patrick Akinyelure heads the Senate Committee on Ethics, Public Petitions and Privilege. He represents Ondo Central district. In this interview with FRED ITUA, in Abuja, he speaks on monumental recruitment fraud in the Federal Civil Service and how the Senate is tackling it.
Your Committee is often referred to as the Ombudsman of the Senate. How does it work?
The committee is here as the mouth and voice of voiceless Nigerians in the Senate and it is important that Nigerians are briefed about the activities of this committee. This committee is constituted as a special committee of the Senate. There are a lot of petitions reaching the Senate. Again, the committee receives petitions through representatives of the people in the legislature. We have 109 members in the Senate, the upper chamber of the National Assembly and 360 members in the lower chamber. Any Nigerian whose right has been infringed upon has a right to petition through their elected representatives in the legislature whether the upper chamber or lower chamber.
What about whistleblowers?
These are various ways people can send petitions to the Senate. Then whistleblowers, they also have a right to write petitions because the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is out to fight corruption to zero level if possible. Therefore, Nigerians also have a role to play by acting as whistleblowers and writing petitions to the Senate. This committee is out to protect those who are whistle blowers who have genuine evidences against corrupt activities of civil servants. In all ramifications, their identity will be protected in the Senate. Therefore, those who have information on how Nigeria’s wealth has been cornered by few Nigerians at the detriment of the majority, they have a role to play.
This is because those who are in power are not magicians and can’t do it alone, it is the duty of both the elected and the electorate to ensure that corruption is brought to the barest minimum in this system. As of today, we can see a lot of graduates unemployed all over the place; many Nigerians in universities and polytechnics today, after leaving school, they become okada riders. They are not given spaces in the Federal Service where they can actually demonstrate their potential.
Since you’ve delved into that, how’s the Committee tackling the issue of recruitment scandal in the Federal Civil Service? We are aware that some aggrieved unemployed have petitioned your Committee…
Employment in the Federal Civil Service is sectionalised. Some parts of the country are given priority. The Federal Character principle of engagement is never brought to place in the interest of Nigerians. Employments are no longer based on merits, but based on who you know. Therefore, we have petitions here written by some whistle blowers challenging the systems of engaging people into Federal Ministries and parastatals of government. Therefore, the Senate of the 9th Assembly has stood up this time around to go all out and checkmate all these abuses that have been on for years.
So we are now telling the whole Nigeria that those who have information, they should not hide it from the elected representatives in the legislature because we are here to ensure that the system is cleaned up so that for example, if I’m a graduate of Engineering and I have a first class, there will be a guaranteed place for me in the Ministry of Power where I can work and add value to this country. But today, the general belief is that if you don’t know anybody, you can’t get job.
We want to tell everybody today through this medium that under the present Senate, this committee will go all out and do thorough and full scale investigation where there’s information for us to work to ensure that all these problems are checked. Today, under the 9th Assembly, we are all out to ensure that graduates have hope in this country. Before this Committee today, a petition had been written by some people against all the Permanent Secretaries who are the chief accounting officers in all Federal Ministries and parastatals of government.
This alleged recruitment fraud in the Civil Service, how does it work?
We have the Civil Service of the Federation, who are the ones engaging people. They declare vacancies to Federal Civil Service Commission, which has the primary responsibility of engaging people to Federal Service. We have discovered that this system has a lot of fraudulent acts by some perpetrators who have formed themselves to be syndicates. They take money from innocent graduates, issue them fake letters of employment, and when they get to the Ministries, they are never documented. And before vacancies are declared to any Ministries and Parastatals through the Head of Service, funds are usually appropriated for their cost to be paid. But what you find out is that, these processes have been plagued with a lot of inconsistencies and fraudulent acts by certain perpetrators and that is why this Senate is out to do full scale investigation. From the Head of Service, the Civil Service Commission, we want to know what is the process undertaken and who takes money from people to leave them with fake appointment letters. When the Federal Civil Service Commission eventually sends their names to the Ministry to be engaged, it takes two or three years before they are finally documented. These are issues that the Senate Committee is out to probe.
We need the cooperation of the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, to be on the same page with the National Assembly and give us information that will enable us to track down all these syndicates who are obtaining gratifications from innocent Nigerian graduates who suffer 6 or 7 years in the four walls of the Universirty. When these graduates come out, they get duped again, and eventually become okada riders in cities in this country.
So we in this committee have started these investigations. We have started issuing out letters to some Ministries to give us certain information that will enable us to track down all these syndicates who use employment opportunities to defraud innocent Nigerians. We want to clean the system under this 9th Assembly and I believe that these investigations will go a long way in ensuring that some of these syndicates who act under the cover of some Permanent Secretaries or human resources directors, are brought to book once and for all. On this note, I want to tell Nigerians that this Senate is here to work for you, defend your rights and ensure that the system is cleaned up.
Based on the information you have provided, there are some syndicates in the Federal Civil Service Commission and in MDAs?
The Ministries are listed but we have generalised it. Our own is to ensure that these things don’t continue any longer, but we have information. We can’t disclose those Ministries for now. They are still allegations. It is after our investigations that we can disclose them. They will all receive our letters. Let them cooperate and give us information. By the time we receive and assess the information, it is then we can now be specific about who and whether the allegations are true or not. We have some letters already that some people have paid money. Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Health, etc have been listed in the petition and therefore we believe that it is something that has been going on for years unchecked.
So, because this Senate wants to make a difference, we want to generalise by sending letters to all the Ministries to cooperate. We will also involve the Head of Service of the Federation who issues out declared vacancies every year in respect of each Ministry and parastatal of Government under their watch. Once we get information from the Federal Civil Service Commission, we will investigate how many of these people have been documented and have gotten letters. After all, the Head of Service will never give fake declared vacancies, so we will investigate how many of these people have been engaged authentically by the Commission. We will investigate what time that these lists were sent each Ministry and what actions the Ministries have taken on those letters.
What we discovered is that, when letters are issued by the Commission and sent to Ministries, when it gets there, these letters are sat upon for years. You can see a situation where a letter has been issued by the Commission in 2010, 2011 or 2018, and up until now, such authentic letters for graduates have not been documented.
The question we are asking is how do they appropriate the funds already allocated to pay the salaries of those people for all those years till 2020 when these people have still not been documented to earn the salaries? These are the issues. Therefore, what do they make up at the end of year when we at the National Assembly here ask Ministries and Parastatals to do their budget performance relative to personnel costs?
They will say personnel cost has performed at 99.99%. So we are asking, where are the monies appropriated to pay all these Nigerians who have gone to university, graduated and were supposed to be working in parastatals of government? Who are the people eating the money? Some are saying that it is IPPS and not the Ministries that are documenting. So, the question is why the delay? What causes this delay? You send 300 letters. These 300 letters immediately after they receive it, they are supposed to immediately confirm whether these letters are genuine or not. But why do they wait years before such letters are being written back to the Commission to confirm the genuineness? In the process, this gives room for syndicates to continue to defraud innocent Nigerians. And after two years, you then say that the letter brought is fake.
These victims you’re referring to, how much do they pay to secure job slots?
These are the issues we want to clear. We are the voice of the voiceless Nigerians. We are the ones to cry out. How will these people know? They pay these money in installments. Some pay N700,000 to get the letter, out of a possible N1.5 million depending on how juicy the Ministry is. So, when they pay the first installment, they get letters. Because of delay in confirming the genuineness and the delay from those in human resources in the Ministries, it allows these syndicates to operate in perpetuity.
So this Senate is out to fish out these syndicates through tracing and ensure that these people are brought to book so that Nigerian graduates can have confidence in the system.