Comrade Abba Patrick Moro is the Minister of Interior. At a recent interaction with journalists in Abuja, the minister opens up on the recent fatal recruitment exercise of the Nigerian Immigration Service(NIS). While lamenting the tragic event, he says the exercise was originally designed to correct past inadequacies that characterized the previous ones. And despite the calls for his resignation, the minister still believes he can’t resign because he can still be part of the solution to the problem. BODE OLAGOKE reports
To the affected families in NIS recruitment tragedy
I think that I will ordinarily ask Nigerians for understanding in this matter, understanding the intention, understanding the motive behind the whole thing of an open, transparent recruitment exercise that is the first of its kind into the services of interior ministry that was intended primarily to give employment to Nigerians irrespective of their background, connections, contacts in government or the business circle.
An exercise that was coming from the background of the services in the ministry of interior being accused of job racketeering, money for job instances where many people have been duped of money worth N500.000 for a slot of job . The exercise of March 15th, 2014 was intended to correct all the ills of the past and give everybody an opportunity but unfortunately, like I said, the outcome of endeavours of this nature has never met the usual expected calls and so we had this tragic incident in our hands in which young Nigerians lost their lives.
For me ,like I said it is a personal loss because the exercise in the first place took place within the ministry of interior, organized by the ministry and its services and so whatever consequences, positive or negative that have come and in this instances negative out of it certainly, I as the minister of that ministry under whose purview this exercise took place where people lost their lives, certainly take full responsibility. And I want to say repeatedly that the death of these young Nigerians would have added value to human resource asset of this nation. This is highly regrettable, and for the families, I insist that my heart goes out to them because I am a father and I know it feels to lose a child. if I had the capacity to turn the clock back, I will certainly do it and these children will be alive today. So, generally therefore, I crave the highest level of understanding of ordinary Nigerian and to know that my intention was very noble but unfortunately it turned tragic and I still want to say that the death of those young Nigerians is highly regrettable and if we had foreseen what was going to happen leading to the death of these Nigerians, certainly we would have stopped the exercise.
Public denials by some stakeholders involved
Let me say that denying event in which you participated in does not eliminate the truth. I have said and for the records I want to say it again, this exercise that we embarked on 15thMarch was end result of a botched exercise in December 2012. And from December 2012 to 15 March, a series of meeting were held, the board met severally, first, to consider and approve the approval of the ministry’s tender’s board that assessed the proposal for the engagement of a consultant for e-recruitment. Subsequently, the board met and approved the template for the recruitment of officers into the Immigration services and these meetings, after the signing of agreement with consultant which is on record, the board directed that the secretariat of the board should liaise with the legal officer to the ministry and the consultant to implement that agreement of e-recruitment.
And it is on record that from the 30th of January to the 7th of February, that a series of meetings were held by the steering committee that was made up of officials of the ministry, board and the officials of Nigerian Immigration services, where decisions about the procedures and mechanism for conducting the exercise of 15th March were taken. And if these meetings were held and board members were in attendance, immigration officials were in intendance, ministry officials were in attendance and somebody is saying they were not aware of the procedures leading to this exercise. I think you can be the better judge here. But I can say here that there were minutes of all the meeting that were held and the recommendation on why they want to use the stadia across the country which is simply because of the large number of people that were going to attend, and the short listing that was done, the list that was brought and the ratio of people according to their choice of where they wanted to write the examinations. All these were issues canvassed in the steering committee meeting, where Immigration Comptroller General, Secretary of the Board and some Board members were members and the minister of interior was not a member. But all the recommendations of the steering committee were communicated to me and I approved because I saw them as okay and I can tell you that officials of immigration services had also consistently had interfaces with the press to also say that this exercise was going to take place on the 15thof March.
I had also appeared before the Senate and House of Representative where I had also pronounced to the that the steering committee had proposed and I had approved that 15th of March was going to be the day for the exercise. So, this issue of not knowing when the exercise was going to take place certainly is coming from where I don’t know. but the truth of the matter is that it is on record that every facet, every stakeholder in the organisation of this exercise were in the know of the date, time and the venue of this exercise, and the secretariat of the board issued statement, laid down publications in the newspapers as to the date and time. I want to say that as minister, I am aware that 15th of March was the date for the exercise and people were dully notified and so it is not question of 48hrs or 24hrs as it is coming from some quarters.
Reasons for the denial
I am afraid the person who is denying what he knows, is in the better position to say why he is denying what. But between me and you, I am aware that the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Services addressed the Press on Thursday 6th of March to the effect that this exercise was going to take place on the 15thof March. I am not the Comptroller General, it is on record. Again, I still want to maintain that I don’t want to join issues with anybody because the truth about it is that there are records to show that all of us were pursuing this exercise until the bubble burst, tragedy struck and people died. May be because people died and afraid the angers of Nigerians, people have started speaking from both sides of the mouth. But I am the minister and I insist, I cannot deny what I was involved in and I can say here again that I took due cognizance of the provisions of the legal frame work of this country we did as much as we could possibly do to follow all due process in the procurement of the mechanism for this exercise. So, if for any reason something went wrong in some centers on the last lap of the exercise, I think we should be able to own up to it that fault occurred on the last lap in certain centers and that led to the death of young Nigerians for which we have taken responsibility over which we have expressed regret and of course, asked Nigerians particularly the families of those that have lost their loved once for some understanding because definitely it was not deliberately intended for people to go and die.
Were there suggestions from the board you turned down?
No, certainly no. For instance, the steering committee that took over the implementation of the exercise, I am not a member of, so the question of disagreements at that level does not arise and the minutes of the meetings of the steering committee and the recommendations that was made to me which I approved is there attached to my presentation to the Senate. I am not a member of the steering committee and so I could not have disagree with the suggestion of the steering committee when I am not a member, when I didn’t attend the meeting and from the records that are available in the ministry and transmitted to me which I approved there is no indication of giving me an option that I would say I don’t like this option, I like this option. If you look at the presentation that I made to the Senate committee on Interior, I did not subtract from the recommendation that was made to me and I did not add, I simply approved the request that was made
Can you afford a resignation from office over this issue?
I have said it before that we were trying to organize an exercise and in the process it went awed and we are trying to find solutions to the problem. What led us to this situation and how do we come out of it? I still believe that I can be part of the solution and so it is not in my character as I said before, to run away from the problem that has arisen as a result of action or inaction of ourselves whether in public office or in private life. So, I still believe that my presence will certainly assist in unraveling the circumstances that have led to the death of these Nigerians and to proffer solutions to it not to happen again.
You were recently summoned by the President, is your job at stake?
(Laughed…) You can as well ask if my life at stake. In any case, I think that I will answer the last question because part of the risk of life is that life is at risk at any moment let alone job. But if you ask me whether I have any fear about my job because of action that has taken to enthrone transparency in the process of recruitment into Nigeria Immigration Service under the superintendence of the minister of Interior, I will say no because as far as I am concerned I took the best decision I could take in the circumstances in which we found ourselves and we had started executing those decisions to the best of our ability until circumstances in certain centers led to a tragic death of some young Nigerians.
Coming to the question of fund, it is very easy for people to point accusing fingers at people when it come to issues of money. One, I did not have any personal relationship with the organization that was picked as consultant to conduct the exercise. Until late 2012, I never knew any of the officers of the company in question, I got to know them because the parent company had a subsisting contract with the ministry and when that subsisting contact was expiring, they applied for a renewal.
That was when I knew who the officials of that company were. I never knew them, and I want to place it on record that for fear of people dabbling into collection and appropriation of recharge card fee, the Board in its 26th meeting took a decision that neither the ministry nor the Nigerian Immigration Services or the Board should involve in the collection and management of the fund. And I want you to get it very clear here that the board that I chair in the Ministry of Interior superintending over the services and their employment, took a decision in the 36th meeting of that Board that neither the ministry, the Board nor the Immigration services should be involved. So, entirely, the collection and use of the fund for the online recruitment was the sole responsibility of the consulting firm.
And I want to say this again to place it on record that even when other organizations that applied; like Drusel Tech Nigeria Limited quoted N1,500 –N2,000 and proposed a sharing formula or percentage to government, Immigration and the Ministry, we rejected those proposals because I believe then and until now, that recruiting online was not a business venture. It was not intended to make money for neither the government, Immigration service nor the Ministry of Interior. So, we rejected all those once because we didn’t want this insinuation that we are trading the poverty of the people to make money for government, and that is the truth about it. So, personally, I had nothing to do with the collection and the use of the fund arising from the processing fee.
Alleged attendance of the company of a board meeting
The Board never had any meeting with Drusel Tech Nigeria Limited in attendance. Never! Perhaps, the meeting you are referring to is the meeting of the steering committee. If it is the meeting of the steering committee, the committee was responsible for the execution of the e-recruitment platform. It is not the Board, and I can say without any fear that the Board that I chair never had in attendance in any meeting at all, officials of the company.
What about the award of the contract sir?
The award of the contract for consultancy was done by the Tenders Board. I am not a member of the Tenders Board, I am the minister of interior who is chairman of the Board, superintending over the appointment, promotion and discipline of staff of the ministry and also the parastatals. But if you look through the two meetings of the tenders board that approved the award of the contract to Drusel Tech, it is made up purely by the statutory members of tenders board approved by law. The minister or the chairman of the board is not a member of that tenders board.