When fake employment agencies become Nigeria’s big headache
By Moshood Olanrewaju Oshun
As I steer at the heap of curriculum vitae before me in my office, I remember, like yesterday, a statement once made by a friend of mine back then. He was an elder, and as a young man still seeking a direction and what to make of my promising future, I always loved sitting close to him; each day with him was always a lesson learnt. On this particular day, he asked me what I wanted with life and after a lengthy discussion, he simply told me: “my brother, you have a great future, just wiggle your way through. Always remember that the next person to you may never want you to be happy. He would do everything to build his empire upon your shoulder. This is why if you can live in Nigeria, you can live anywhere else.”
The message sank back then, but not much. However, the reality dawned as I started checking out the hundreds of curriculum vitae sent to my office by Nigerians who simply want to be fixed up where they could earn a living. I particularly recall the case of this lady who narrated an experience that could get one throwing up. I will keep her protected here, but it should be a lesson to other job seekers across the country too.
This lady had sweated through school where she studied Banking and Finance. She had high hopes and upon graduation, she served the nation with a firm in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. She thereafter returned to Lagos. Then the job hunt began.
She explained: “I would go through the newspapers, get flyers, read adverts pasted on walls along the road. I had enough strength and was encouraged by the bright light I saw at the end of the tunnel. I was applying everywhere and at a time, I could not remember some of the places I earlier applied to. In some cases, one of the requirements for a particular job, especially that had to do with marketing, was to scan a passport photograph and attach it to your CV.”
She was invited few times for interviews. Then, there was this particular one that changed her life, not for the better, but something opposite it. She got a text inviting her for an interview. Though desperate for a job, she took her time to go through the internet and find out more about the supposed organisation but could not find any. She however decided to give it a try. There’s no harm in trial, she must have thought. She got to the place, but was surprised to find that only three of them were invited, she and two other male applicants. The male applicants were attended to first by a group of three panelists.
“I entered the room where the interview was to hold and they started well. But before I knew what was happening, the interview changed. They forcefully took off my clothes and had sessions with me. They raped me,” she said, this time weeping.
I couldn’t hold back. I asked her if she knew the house. She answered in the affirmative but said she later learnt that the house was just there unoccupied for years. The rapists must have taken advantage of that. Today, this 28-year old woman has a son from that incident, a son whose father can’t be ascertained currently as the culprits have not been caught. The worse now is that it is not known who among the three rapists has the son. One can just imagine the plight of a young pretty woman turned into a single mother in the course of searching for job.
This woman is only one of the many thousands of women that have pathetic tales to tell in the quest for job, especially in the hands of employment agencies and supposed middle men. While some of these agencies engage in such nefarious activities as raping their victims and even engaging in rituals, others are only established to financially extort job seekers.
Of course, because of Nigeria’s population which hovers around 170 million and the country’s economic challenges, there is this shortfall in employment. While unemployment continues to soar, there are also cases of under-employment and casualisation of workers. The fraudsters thus see a great opportunity here. What some of them do is to ask applicants to pay some amount of money for registration in the guise that they have major organisations and establishments as their clients. These job agencies then begin to, like the applicants themselves, scout for vacancies in the newspapers. Where they get any, they ask the applicants to go try out their luck.
Many of these agencies, including those who advertise in newspapers have come to be known as fake. It is now a common sight across major parts of Lagos to see vacancies boldly written with chalks and paints. The fraudsters don’t stop there, they go as far as listing very attractive salaries. And each day, innocent Nigerians are victimised. Tales abound of how applicants are forced to pay money through their nose for a non-existent job. Many, like the story I related earlier, have slept with just any man, as long as there is a promise of job. Who would they tell when the promise is not fulfilled? A ot of these job agencies are not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC.
There was this report of a firm, Firstgate Business Intermediaries Limited, FBIL, which, some months back attempted to swidle 1,379 applicants in Nigeria to the tune of N5.2 million. What the firm did was to announce, through newspaper adverts, tempting international job offers. To make it look real, the firm claimed it was in partnership with the then Federal Ministries of Power, Youths & Sports Development and that of Trade and Investment to arrange the recruitment of Nigerian youths for international job opportunities. Thank God for the intervention of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC. But before then, many applicants had registered with N3,500.
Checks have revealed that though the Federal Government has a policy of regulating this sub-sector through the Ministry of Labour’s adopted convention 181 of 1997 on private employment agencies and activated section 23-25 of the Labour Act, such monitoring and regulations have not been effective over the years and this has led to the sour tales Nigerians face daily. For instance, the Ministry reportedly put a system of licensing and certification of labour contractors and private employment agencies in place in 2007. This, the Ministry thought, would help in identification, regulation and streamlining of the labour recruitment business. Section 25 (5) of the labour Act empowers the Minister of Labour to suspend or withdraw license granted if the licensee is convicted of any offence under the Labour Act or any other law or has conducted himself as in the opinion of the minister to be no longer a fit and proper person to undertake recruitment operation. But what has happened to consistency in its implementation? Many of the employment agencies in the country are not even registered as I said earlier.
I was recently moved to sponsor a motion at the Lagos State House of Assembly to make it mandatory for all private employment agencies in the state to register with the government so that it would be easy to monitor their activities and sieve the wheat from the chaff. My argument is that though, unemployment is a major challenge facing the country, it has a multi-faceted approach to solving it, some less important than others, yet all so close-knitted. If employment agencies can be registered, a major trouble of insecurity of applicants is laid to rest. The agency, knowing that they are monitored, would begin to act in consonance with terms of agreement.
Nigerian youths should also begin to allow the reality sink that there are no jobs out there. The government, most times, does not have jobs except to create an enabling environment for businesses and investors to thrive. Once in a while, there are vacancies in some establishments, but the youths and job seekers should refrain from allowing their desperation push them into actions they would live to regret. The situation even gets worse with people receiving text messages for interview for jobs they never applied for. Applicants should be careful what interviews they honour. Most of those posing as agents are jobless and only taking advantage of desperate job seekers to earn a living.
As a lawmaker, I know that when laws are made, the people expect such laws implemented. It is not the duty of the lawmaker to implement the law, but that of the executive. In this wise, I would plead with our law enforcement agencies to assist innocent Nigerians by carrying out discreet investigations of some of these vacancies and job agents. There could be a lot of surprises.
In Lagos, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode is a trusted leader and has continued in a direction to make the average resident of Lagos proud of the government. I also know that the challenges are much for the government and thus, it is a case of one step at a time (even though Governor Ambode, since May 29, 2015, has always taken three steps at once). We know the time is near for these fake job agencies to be weeded out. While we in Lagos prepare for this battle, I want to urge the Minister of Labour and brother, Dr. Chris Ngige, to put the agency in charge of regulating the job agencies on its toes. Staff of the agency must know it is a new government and no longer business as usual.
Oshun is the Chairman, Lagos House of Assembly Committee on Public Account (State) and representative of Lagos Mainland Constituency 2.