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S/East gets lion’s share of NEITI’s controversial recruitment

The South East zone of the country got the highest share of allocation in the recent controversial recruitment of 70 new staff by the Nigeria…

The South East zone of the country got the highest share of allocation in the recent controversial recruitment of 70 new staff by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Daily Trust investigation reveals.

NEITI is a Nigerian government agency with affiliation with the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

An analysis of the distribution indicates that Abia State got eight slots (the highest), half of which went to Arochukwu LGA where the current Executive Secretary, Ogbonnaya Orji, hails from.

A copy of the nominal roll of the agency, exclusively obtained by Daily Trust, also shows striking semblance in names on the new staff list, which indicate possible relationships between some of the recruits and NEITI’s management and board members.

Sources within and outside the transparency agency had alleged that some of the basic requirements for employment were not followed in the recruitment process, while others said through a highly discreet process, the agency hired dozens of relatives of government officials including those of some members of its board.

NEITI has, however, denied the allegations insisting it followed guidelines and obtained a waiver from the Federal Character Commission allowing it to recruit without advertising. 

Both NEITI and FCC could not grant Daily Trust’s request to obtain a copy of the waiver.

However, a copy of the FCC’s guidelines for recruitment into the Federal Public Service seen by our reporter partly states: “MDAs shall ensure, and provide comprehensive job description (academic qualifications and cognate experience) required for each vacant position.

Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Dr Ogbonnaya Orji

While maintaining that “All vacancies shall be advertised in at least two newspapers circulating nationally, giving prospective candidates, a minimum of six weeks within which to apply, the guidelines further state: “The spread of all vacancies to be filled shall be predetermined in relation to the current levels of (Federal Character) representation, by states or zones, at a joint meeting of MDA and the FCC.”

The commission, which is empowered by law to monitor and ensure recruitment by government offices follow the law and maintain a spread across states and local government areas has admitted it issued a certificate of clearance and granted a waiver to NEITI  not to advertise but critics and some accountability activists have accused it of compromise.

Some civil society organisations are demanding evidence of transparency in the recruitment process from NEITI and the FCC.

Taiwo Otitolaye, National Coordinator, Publish what you Pay, said: “A coalition of 150 civil society organisations, including ours, is demanding details of the recruitment from NEITI because the process is not clear to us. 

Besides employing 70 staff in addition to 43 is quite large. Even the EITI international headquarters has less than 40 staff. This is a waste of public funds.” 

A check on the website of the IETI shows that its international secretariat located in Oslo, Norway, currently has 5 management and 42 staff. 

On the waiver granted by FCC, Otitolaye said: “The Commission has erred in its own rules. Did they also collect slots? You cannot give a waiver for the recruitment of 70 staff. Let us see the approval letters/waiver given to NEITI.”

Contacted, the Director of Public Affairs at the Federal Character Commission, Dr. Chuks Okoli, confirmed that a waiver was granted to NEITI but maintained that it does not amount to a licence to do whatever they like.

“It has to conform to our character balancing index, which emphasises the spread on a state-by-state basis,” he said while denying the alleged compromise of its recruitment rules for slots from NEITI. 

On the conditions for granting a waiver, the FCC spokesperson said: “We grant a waiver if the number of staff to be recruited is high. This is to avoid a repeat of the kind of stampede that occurred at the Abuja National Stadium in 2014 during the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment exercise.”

He also listed other conditions including what he called ‘character balancing index’.

Inside story of recruitment

A peek into the current nominal roll of NEITI shows that with the recent recruitment of 70 staff who commenced their induction last week in Abuja, the agency currently has a staff strength of 113, which represents a 163 per cent increase in its hitherto 43 employees.

Analysis of the new recruits reveals that 21 are from the South East comprising Abia, Imo, Anambra, Enugu, and Ebonyi states. Out of this number, eight were employed from Abia, the executive secretary’s home state.

The South-West zone has the second largest slots of eleven (11) employees followed by the South-South and North Central, with ten slots each. The North-West and North East got the least allocation of eight and seven slots respectively.

It was further observed that the five states of the South East with 21 recruits got more than the 13 states of the North-West and North-East combined with 15 recruits; a situation some aggrieved staff said showed a lack of balance.

Board members linked to recruits 

Further scrutiny of the current recruitment list also shows a semblance of identity between some of the recruits and NEITI management and board members. 

For instance, Gbekeleoluwa Toyobo, one of the recruits (Officer-II) from Lagos Mainland LGA of Lagos State is believed to be related to Bunmi Toyobo, a board member from Lagos.

Also, Taiye Deborah Adekunle, a female recruit from Kabba/Bunu in Kogi State (Officer-II) is believed to be linked to a former permanent secretary in the SGF’s office, Olusegun Adekunle, the current chairman of NEITl board.

Similarly, Santus Ejirinu Awowoh (Officer-II) from Obanliki LGA of Cross River State is believed to be related to Christian Awowoh, a board member from the same area of Cross River State.

In the same vein, NEITI’s current director of policy, planning, and strategy, Donald Tyoachimin, who headed the recruitment panel, is believed to be related to a female recruit, Erdoo Christabel Tyoachimin (Officer-II) who hails from Vandeikya, Benue State.

Although NEITI board chairman, Olusegun Adekunle, and the agency’s head of communications, Obiageli Onuorah, denied that slots were given out during the recruitment process, sources within NEITI confided in Daily Trust that the exercise has created bad blood within the agency, especially among board members and management staff that were ‘denied’ slots.

“People are aggrieved because this has not happened before. They are worried that the list of employees shows a concentration in a particular zone and state. The 16-member board has also played a questionable role,” said senior staff who wouldn’t want to be named for fear of victimisation. The source said since its establishment, this was the first time NEITI was conducting a recruitment exercise without advertising in newspapers.

 Why we recruited– NEITI

Responding to the controversy that has trailed the exercise, NEITI said the recruitment was based on the manpower/capacity need assessment it conducted.

Obiageli Onuorah, head of communications, said: “The survey clearly disclosed the urgency for our agency to inject young graduates with requisite manpower and creative skills to drive our newly developed 5-year growth and strategic plan approved by our National Stakeholders Working Group (NEITI Board).

“The exercise also became necessary to enable NEITI adequately meet its national mandates as an agency of government, especially at this time of a new evolving extractive industries regime under the new legislation- the Petroleum Industries Act. 

We also needed creative skills to help us expand our operations to sub-national governments at the state and local government levels. More is required of NEITI in advancing government reforms in the sector at the grassroots, especially in areas of blocking leakages and improving revenue generation,” Onuorah said.

Admitting that they did not advertise in national dailies, she said NEITI followed all guidelines of the transparent and competitive process; and secured all laid down approvals as required in the public service.

“Relevant agencies such as the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, and the Federal Character Commission sent high-ranking officers who sat through during the competitive interview processes to observe the process.”

When contacted, the Director of Information in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), Willie Bassey said: “I am not aware of the development as it has not been brought to my attention”. 

Similarly, Mrs. Shade Boriowo, Director of Information in the Budget and National Planning Office could not comment on whether the letter from NEITI seeking financial clearance to enroll the new 70 staff on the IPPIS had been granted.

“The perm sec may be in a better position to answer you because I am personally unaware of this,” Bassey said.

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