By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Erstwhile Comptroller General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, Mr. David Shikfu Paradang, on Friday, narrated before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, how the botched recruitment exercise that led to the death of 20 persons across the country in 2014, was planned and executed.
Paradang, who insisted that he was not fully carried along by the former Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, told the court that all the Comptrollers in each state of the federation, “received alert of N300, 000.00”, a day before the ill-fated recruitment exercise took place.
He said the “alert” was sponsored by the company the ex-Minister, Moro, awarded the contract to recruit for the NIS, Drexel Tech Nigeria Ltd.
The former NIS boss testified before trial Justice Nnamdi Dimgba as the star prosecution witness, PW-1, of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which is prosecuting the former Minister over alleged N676million job scam.
Those equally on trial over the alleged recruitment fraud are the former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Interior, Mrs. Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia and a Deputy Director in the Ministry, Mr. F. O Alayebami. They were charged alongside the firm.
The defendants are answering to an 11-count charge.
EFCC earlier told the court that one of the alleged culprits, Mr. Mahmood Ahmadu, who it said was a Director at the firm, was at large.
Meantime, in continuation of his evidence-in-chief on Friday, Paradang said he was “shocked” to discover through advertisements in Newspapers that the Immigration Service under his leadership was recruiting.
He told the court that the ex-Minister subsequently informed him that a date had already been fixed for the exercise.
“It was very surprising for all of us. I called my management team and told them that the Minister has announced that the recruitment exercise will take place on March 15, 2014, and we should start getting ready.
“I did not receive any official letter on the issue. But we started to mobilise. We wrote the state commands to begin to get ready, thinking ahead of time, to secure venues and make adequate preparations.
“Thereafter, we called all the service heads to hold preliminary meetings to plan for the recruitment exercise. I attended that first meeting where we decided to set up sub-committees of our Admin officers to plan and brief us. My Admin officer reported to me that they met and the first issue that came to the fore were the procedure and financial implications of holding such exercise.
“With respect to the financial implications, we made it known that we were not ready as we had no money to fund the exercise. We communicated this to the committee which went back and tabled our position and suggested whether the company that was engaged by the Ministry to carry out the recruitment exercise could fund it.
“The said company is the 4th defendant. Based on the issues we raised, the sub-committee invited the company to our next meeting and showed it our budget to the exercise.
“Officers of the service told them since N1, 000 was collected from applicants whether it could pay for the recruitment exercise. The company said its agreement with the Ministry did not specify so or require it to pay for the exercise.
“The company said the N1, 000 they collected from applicants was for online services only and not to fund the expenses of the recruitment exercise.
“Then we were brought back to zero-level, where it seemed like there was no way forward. It was agreed that the situation should be brought to the knowledge of the Minister whether he could raise money to foot the bill.
“The committee submitted report on the financial implications and procedure, and gave us a copy.
“After then, we awaited the decision and money required for the exercise. There was no response till March 14, 2014.
“On that day, I got a letter from the board written on March 13, which indicated that arrangement was concluded for the recruitment exercise for the next day, March 15, and we should inform all the states.
“After then, I called Secretary to the board if he has money for the officers. He asked me to tell each Comptroller to send their account numbers”.
Continuing, Paradang said: “On that day, each of the Comptrollers received alert of N300, 000 each on March 14. It was the board that facilitated the payment, I was not involved. I did not know the source of the money. When I asked, they told me it was from the company Drexel (4th defendant).
“However, the money was inadequate for the exercise because there was supposed to be ambulances and allowances for the officers. Then I asked senior officers in charge of each zone to supervise the exercise in their zones.
Narrating circumstances that led to the instant death of 15 applicants with 165 others injured, the former NIS boss said: “On March 15, 2014, not too long after the exercise commenced, most states called me that they were overwhelmed by the number of persons that turned out for the exercise. I advised them to seek help from sister security agencies and keep me informed.
“I remember clearly that on that day I was in Jos and the Minister was with me there, then I started receiving text messages and calls that there were casualties. I then went to the Minister where he was seated and told him what happened and that I would need to go back to Abuja immediately to coordinate.
“I left Jos immediately. I called each command to give me verbal report and also back it up with a written report. At the close of the day we had 15 casualties and the Department of State Services gave us report that injured people were 165 in number.
“Some of the applicants were just exhausted and when revived were asked to go home. The Minister upon return from Jos asked me to accompany him to the National Hospital. We went ward to ward to check the victims, then we went to the Stadium to observe what happened.
“After then there was national outcry. There was public hearing and the National Assembly invited us. Former President Goodluck Jonathan also made remarks in the Federal Executive Council where he spoke in sober tone to the nation. The President was very sad and directed that families of those who died should be given three slots and those who were injured if still fit should take a job with the NIS.
“The then President called us about a year later and gave the 15 families of those that died, three letters of employment each.
“Immediately after the letters were sent, the President also informed us to do a fresh recruitment. Those who were injured were screened and also given letters of employment. However, shortly after, the board directed them to bring back the letters.
“The President had constituted a committee to conduct the fresh recruitment exercise. But families of the deceased that were given three automatic employment slots were not part of that fresh exercise
“The letters given to them were however withdrawn later because the Ministry said it was an illegal recruitment.
“I was a member of that Presidential committee by virtue of my office. However my lord, I was not a signatory to the contract awarded for the recruitment exercise”, Paradang added.
Meanwhile, Justice Dimgba has adjourned the case till July 1 and 5 to enable counsel to the defendants to cross-examine the witness.
The Judge also directed the defendants to meet with the prosecution to harmonise on documents they may wish to rely upon.
Specifically, EFCC alleged that the defendants defrauded 676,675 Nigerian applicants of N676, 675,000 (Six Hundred and Seventy Six Million, Six Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand Naira).
Each of the 676,675 applicants were charged N1, 000 each for participating in the ill-fated Immigration recruitment exercise.
The defendants were alleged to have flouted the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 in the award of the contract for the organisation of the recruitment test to Drexel Tech Nigeria Ltd.
EFCC said its investigations revealed that the firm, which it said was not validly registered to operate in Nigeria, never bidded for the contract.
It said the contract was awarded through selective tendering procedure by invitation of 4 (Four) firms without seeking the approval of the Bureau for Public Procurement, contrary to sections 40, 42 and 43 of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 and punishable under section 58 of the same Act.