By Rotimi Fasan
AMONG makers of history, at least as far as Nigeria goes, Rose Uzoma must stand high. She is the second woman ever to head the Nigerian Immigration Service, a male-dominated world in which to be a woman is to be a minority.
But she rose to the height of her profession only to fall on her own sword, committing professional hara-kiri on the prompting of her employer, the Federal Government. She was last week forced to step down from her exalted office after more than two years in the saddle.
The story of her fall is typically Nigerian, a tale of abuse of power and position which all translates into that word that is very much part of us but which we all hate to be associated with- corruption. It all started like a beer parlour rumour which like the proverbial smoke that is not without fire always has its root in some truth or something that sounds or looks like it.
There were murmurings that NIS personnel from certain parts of the country were being favoured over and above others from other parts that were discriminated against where things were not made very uncomfortable for them.
Knowing Nigeria for what it is, when complaints like this start it’s a no brainer who the favoured cows would be- persons from the boss’ part of the country.
Such would be a clear case of ethnic bias or what goes by that word that is anathema in our hearing- tribalism. Now to put a tag of tribalism on somebody is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to discredit them. Many times people carelessly make such charges to cover up for personal inadequacies.
But because Nigeria is a country founded on such ethnic configuration and people have actually suffered on account of their ethnic background (a matter not helped at all by insistence in parts of our national ethos that reserve certain favours/advantages for persons from certain parts).
If I remember right, the murmurings had started with complaints that the NIS boss was extending undue favours to her kinsmen and women from the South-East.
Rose Uzoma is from Imo State or at least her husband is from that state (thank goodness no petition had been brought against her before Justice Aloma Muktar or she would have suffered the fate of her kinswoman, Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo of the Court of Appeal). Soon the complaints got a bit louder and soon snowballed into allegations of favouritism and ethnic bias in the recruitment exercise conducted by the NIS.
While the NIS initially denied report of any recruitment, claiming there were no plans to recruit until they were so instructed by Abuja, the murmurings only got more pointed, this time that Mrs.Uzoma had, in hiring new hands for the NIS, excessively favoured people from the South-East in general and Imo State in particular.
In spite of denials by the NIS, the issue became serious enough to attract the House of Reps that summoned Uzoma for more explanation. And this legislative investigation is what provided a glimpse into the freewheeling and unconscionably complicated patronage system that some public officials run in the name of serving their fatherland- or motherland as the case may be.
Asked to provide statistical details of the recruitment process, it became clear that Mrs. Uzoma had turned her Comptroller-General office into one in which she ministered to the private desires of persons she apparently believed own the country.
On the score that she favoured people from Imo State on the state-by-state allocation of job slots, the lady explained she only tried to correct past imbalance against Imo by allocating it more slots.
But that really is just the mere icing on the big cake of patronage she baked for herself and others who are not necessarily her friends but nevertheless important persons in her estimation. For how does one explain the fact that the mother of President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience, had a combined slot of over 140?
According to a report, the President’s mother got 40 slots while Patience got 100. Certainly Mrs. Uzoma must see herself as fulfilling a national obligation by the first family and others who must now come to her aid by providing her succour now she’s been kicked out. Other beneficiaries are Abba Moro, Minister of the Interior, who got 100 slots and some commissioners of the immigration board who each got 30 slots and the Federal Character Commission that got 250 slots. All of these slots were given out of a grand total of 4000 job slots approved by the Head of Service who, it is strange, hasn’t benefited from this unhealthy sharing of pork.
It is unknown to what extent the presidency stands implicated in the recruitment racketeering and if, indeed, the ‘First Mother’ and ‘First Lady’ accepted their allocations before the bubble burst? What is happening here reveals the criminal abuse of power, privilege and position by persons who ought to know that public office is for public and not private service.
Mrs. Uzoma grossly abused her position and had she continued in office there is no telling what she could have turned that office into. She is clearly a power monger, a public official ready to worship at the altar of power without regard to the rightness or not of her position. She has a servile mentality and would do anything to retain the patronage of those above her.
It follows, too, that her type would demand absolute obedience from her subordinates and would not be averse to exercising the authority of her position without regard for the feelings of those who are accountable to her. She failed woefully to rise to both the moral and administrative demands of her office.
The entire recruitment exercise she supervised was a sham, a fraudulent scheme in which people allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of Naira to be considered. While her action confirms the claim of those bra-burning women who like to think whatever a man can do a woman can do and even better, it gives the lie to the claim that women are more honest and responsible in positions of power.
The point is that corruption has no gender and a corrupt woman is no less so than a corrupt man. Let us not forget that we have seen, in recent times, the rise of women who in public office have shown themselves to be as incompetent and, perhaps, as corrupt as their male counterparts.
The controversy that has plagued the Aviation Ministry where Stella Oduah presides is hardly different from what has sent Uzoma on administrative leave. And although there are more men out there fouling public office, it is clear too that the few women available are no better.