• Bill establishing Electoral Offences Commission passes second reading

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The Senate wednesday passed through second reading, a bill seeking to criminalise secret recruitment to fill all vacant position, in the Federal Civil Service.

The bill prescribes two years imprisonment for the head of any agency involved in secret recruitment, and for the agency’s director of human resources who approves such exercise.

It also provides option of fines amounting to N300,000, and puts the responsibility of compliance on the heads of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

This comes amid reports of continuous secret recruitment by agencies of government which has hampered their abilities to meet salary requirements of their personnel.

The bill, named a ‘bill for an act to make it an offence for vacant positions in the Federal Civil Service to be filled without being advertised for, and other matters connected therewith’ is sponsored by Senator Biodun Olujimi (Ekiti PDP).

Presenting the lead debate, Olujimi said the practice of illegal recruitments is becoming widespread.

“It is common knowledge today that employment in government parastatals in most cases is not based on merit as godfatherism, favouritism, nepotism and ethnicity have taken the front burner. Millions of Nigerian men and women are denied equal opportunities in recruitments today, as most vacancies are not advertised publicly,” she said.

The development, Olujimi observed, had given rise to corruption and contributed to the falling standards of education, as it seems educational qualifications are no longer criteria for employment.

“Similarly, the unemployed seek short cuts to gain employment because of the lack of trust in the system. Nigerians engage in all sorts of vices to get their relatives, friends and loved ones into vacant positions and this has been accepted as the general norm, this is unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue,” Olujimi added.

The lawmaker harped on the need for the basic guarantees of transparency and equal opportunities, which include the application of the publication of existing vacancies, publicly disclosed selection criteria for positions and a well-documented process of selection through equitable assessment of applicants against the relevant selection criteria.

“When determining appropriate laws, the desirable outcome must be considered: to engage persons who are most effective at undertaking the required tasks in an impartial manner, and whose appointment is free of corruption. Who applicants know or are related to, need not be a hindrance to recruitment. Transparency will therefore be enhanced by a genuine public invitation for applications for employment into the public service. In recruiting staff, strict guidelines, which promote transparency in the recruitment and appointment, process in the public service is necessary,” Olujimi added.

Presiding, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said the bill would give all Nigerians a sense of belonging, and that there is a fair chance for all citizens.

Saraki noted that at a recent interaction with youth groups, the major complaint was of secret recruitments being embarked on by the agencies of government, leading to citizens being sidelined.
The bill was referred to the Committee on Establishment and Public Service.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had recently blamed the shortfalls in personnel costs of agencies to secret unapproved recruitment exercises.

In another development, the Senate also passed through second reading a bill seeking to establish the National Electoral Offences Commission with the discretion and powers to prosecute alleged electoral offenders.
The commission, if established, would be separate from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The bill is sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari (Borno APC) who argued that it was unrealistic to expect INEC to conduct free, fair and credible elections and simultaneously prosecute offences arising from the same elections.

“Indeed lNEC has itself admitted that it lacks the wherewithal to cleanse the system. Its failure to prosecute even one per cent of the 870,000 alleged electoral offences in the 2011 general election is an affirmation of the necessity of a paradigm shift on how we deal with electoral offences.

“INEC’s open failure to prosecute electoral offenders has helped to sustain a reign of systemic election rigging, electoral violence and manipulation, disenfranchisement of voters, votes buying, disinformation, ballot stuffing, voters’ register manipulation, declaration of false election results, destruction or invalidation of valid ballots, tampering with election systems, and voter impersonation,” Kyari said.

Contributing to the debate, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (Taraba PDP) said until recently, it was hard to recall the persecution of any electoral offender.

“Since public service has become a do-or-die affair in Nigeria, people do all things to get there without minding whose ox is gored,” he said and recalled that there were high hopes that the commission would be established after the work of the Justice Uwais committee post 2007 elections.