In September 2020, local news organisations revealed that the State Security Service (also known as the Department of State Services) secretly engaged in a recruitment exercise that directly contravened Nigeria’s federal character principle. It was reported that the North had a massive share of the roughly 1,300 Nigerians who underwent cadet training at two different camps of the domestic intelligence agency in Lagos and Bauchi.
Of the total 628 cadet trainees who had resumed at the Bauchi facility as of 23 September 2020, 535 identified themselves as trainees joining the service from either the North-East or the North-West. Only 93 were from either the South-East, South-South, South-West or North-Central. The most damning of the revelations showed that at least 71 of those who underwent cadet training hailed from Bichi Local Government Area, Kano, the same local government area where the current director general of the agency, Yusuf Magaji Bichi, hails from.
The 2020 scandal was the second of such since the Buhari administration came to power. A similar case happened in 2017. In an unsigned statement released by an unnamed source at the federal government to select news media, the government rationalised its actions in 2017 by claiming that it deliberately employed fewer southerners to correct previous ‘inequity’ against the northern part of the country. It never gave any evidence to corroborate these claims, and thus set the stage for more ethnic suspicion.
These reports of the lopsided recruitment exercise in the country’s armed security outfits which include the Police, Department of State Service (DSS), and the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) have left many Nigerians scandalised.
Given that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently shown little regard for the country’s diversity, many people, especially in Southern Nigeria, agree with the reports of lopsidedness. The distribution of opportunities has not only been abused in several sectors, it has also increasingly become a tool of controversy, division and tension across all strata of national life.
The geopolitical make-up of Nigeria makes the actions of the DSS and other security agencies dangerous and antithetical to national cohesion. The federal character principle Section 14 (3&4) of the 1999 Constitution clearly states that recruitment into the public service must reflect federal character. For a country deeply divided across ethnicity and religion, conducting recruitment into government departments especially in a sensitive sector such as security, with bias, does a good job of fuelling distrust and fears of domination by one ethnic group.
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