May 20, 2021
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LAST week, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) was in the news for the wrong reasons. According to a report, it was allegedly involved in a shady recruitment exercise. The agency had, in its bid to recruit 35 Air Traffic Control Officers (ATCOs), allegedly shortlisted candidates without complying with the Federal Character Principle as required by the Nigerian constitution. Apart from failing  to advertise the vacancies in line with the law establishing the Federal Character Commission (FCC) which stipulates that vacancies for positions in the federal civil service be advertised in one southern and one northern newspaper for a period of six weeks, the NAMA management was accused of shortlisting the majority of candidates from the northern part of the country, with 18 slots allegedly filled by candidates from President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state of Katsina. The Aviation ministry had allegedly secured the imprimatur of the FCC on the pretext that what was being done was replacement of staff.

Previously, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had been accused of involvement in similar lopsided recruitments into the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) when the agency needed security officers in airports, especially those in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Abuja. Then, it was alleged that FAAN had concluded interviews in all the airports and had opted to give priority to those who were already working as causal staff in the different states because of their familiarity with the terrain, but was hobbled by the minister’s issuance of a fresh list with the majority of candidates drawn from the North. Responding to the latest allegations, the Aviation ministry’s Director of Media and Publicity, James Odaudu, categorically denied the allegations levelled against the minister, insisting that he had no hand in recruitment into agencies under the ministry, nor was he responsible for ensuring that vacancies in NAMA were published in national dailies.

To say the least, the allegations in the instant case are too weighty to be ignored. Against the backdrop of sections 14.3 and 14.4 of the Nigerian constitution which expressly forbid the predominance of a section of the country over others in such recruitment exercise, Nigerians deserve to know if indeed NAMA carried out a recruitment exercise designed to confer undue advantage on the northern part of the country. This is particularly important given the ceaseless outcries in the polity over lopsided appointments and promotions by the Buhari administration since 2015. From the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigerian Army and others, the story has been the same. If it is indeed true that 18 candidates were shorlisted from Katsina State alone out of the total number of 35 candidates for the entire country, then those who carried out such a provocatively skewed exercise deserve to be hauled before the court of law to answer for their crime. Such action offends the spirit of the Nigerian constitution and, truth be told, it is impossible to continue doing things like this and expect the country to make progress. Certainly, furtive processes like these account in large part for the palpable grievances across the country right now.

Although the Minister of Aviation has contested the allegations levelled against him, the situation demands much more. The minister cannot just deny the allegations as he has done and expect the issue to peter out with time. He needs to call for, and ensure, an investigation into the case to determine the truth. Beyond that, though, is the question of the National Assembly and its oversight functions. There are committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate which have oversight over the ministry, and the question whether they have been alive to their responsibilities is a legitimate one. If the Senate, for instance, had requested for the list of shortlisted ATCOs in NAMA, those short-changed would have made their objections known during plenary. In the instant case, the National Assembly must compel the minister to provide a list of the shortlisted candidates together with their profiles. The situation demands nothing less.

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