The Nigerian Army came under a barrage of criticism when a video showing six candidates in its ongoing 86 Regular Recruits Intake exercise laying false claims of indigenship of Lagos State went viral on social media on Wednesday.
The candidates in the video had in their possession documents identified as state-of-origin and local government identification certificates from Lagos but later identified themselves as indigenes of northern states after they were confronted by a lady whose voice was heard in the background.
The development angered many Nigerians who described it as a plot to deny Lagos indigenes the slots allocated to the state.
In many Nigerian institutions, the state-of-origin or local government-of-origin certificate is considered an important document issued only to indigenes of a particular state.
The document, which is issued across the 774 local government areas in Nigeria, also validates the community in which its holder claims to come from.
It is also one of the major requirements for employment in government institutions and admission into tertiary institutions.
In the video sighted by our correspondent, the candidates were found to be in possession of local government identification certificates from the Oshodi-Isolo / Kosofe and Lagos Island local government areas.
One of the candidates who gave his name as Luka David told a lady interrogating him that he hailed from Kaduna State, and muttered an incoherent answer when he was asked how he got the local government certificate from Oshodi.
The candidates also showed obvious signs that they neither understood Yourba nor could speak it when the lady interrogated them in Yoruba.
One of them, while responding, said, “I understand it a little. I live in Mile 12.”
However, when the lady asked him which area in Lagos he hailed from, he mentioned Kosofe but was silent about who issued the document to him.
However, in a separate video sighted by our correspondent, two of the army candidates were heard claiming that they obtained the certificates from an unnamed cyber café.
“I don’t know the address of the café, but it is in Lagos,” one of them said as he looked on wistfully.
A male voice in the background of the video was also heard saying, “You can tell that the letters were printed from a café from the stamp on their letters. They do superimpose the fake stamp on each copy of the certificate being printed.”
Citizens fault recruitment process
However, many Nigerians said the viral video was a reflection of the lack of scrutiny and transparency in recruitment processes in government institutions.
While expressing disappointment in the handlers of the recruitment exercise, a Kaduna resident, Muhammad Sani, said, “It would have been fine if these guys (the candidates) were of northern extraction but born and brought up in Lagos.
“In areas like Agege, Mile 12, Ijora, and Idi-Araba, many (residents) are from the North. But these (the candidates) are not Lagos-based. This menace is why it’s difficult for many southerners to attain the peak of their military career because of the hijacking of their slots.
“This is wrong and the Nigerian Army needs to correct this by rejecting these guys and giving those slots back to Lagosians.”
But a Lagos resident, Richard Ademiluyi, told our correspondent that though the focus should be on whether or not the military recruits met the requirements to become indigenes of the state, any false claim should be met with prosecution.
“I think the question we should ask is whether they met the requirement for an indigene of Lagos State as specified in our constitution. Speaking Yoruba might not be a yardstick to judge indigeneship. For example, my two daughters were born in Borno State but they don’t speak Hausa or Kanuri.
“Some people qualify to be indigenes of states by birth or residency. But if the certificates of state of origin presented by these guys were fabricated or found to be issued unlawfully to them, then the state government should step in and prosecute them.”
Another resident, Mrs Abimbola Oladunmoye, described the action of the candidates in the viral video as one that had robbed the authentic indigenes of the state of their privileges.
“This situation is truly disheartening. I find it concerning to see how northerners are representing Lagos State in the Nigerian Army, claiming to be indigenes of the state and posing with indigenship certificates.
“It is essential that we not only address this issue with the individuals involved but also hold the issuers of these certificates at the local government areas accountable.”
Northern group kicks
But the development did not go down well with some northern youths. The youth wing of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union while condemning the arrest of the job applicants, said the Constitution did not define citizenship by language.
The union’s National Coordinator, Isaac John, in a statement on Friday, said, “It is with great concern that the Southern Kaduna youths have observed a distressing video featuring four youths originally from Kaduna State, currently residing in Lagos. These individuals, earnestly seeking enlistment in the Nigerian Army, faced unwarranted humiliation, denial, and even arrest during the state screening process as of the time of composing this statement.
“The reasons, as portrayed in the video, revolve around their inability to speak the Yoruba language and their non-citizenship status in Lagos, notwithstanding their longstanding domicile in the state.”
“In the light of these events, we respectfully urge the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Defence Staff to investigate this matter promptly and urgently. Furthermore, we implore the Kaduna State Government to establish a committee to thoroughly examine this matter, to prevent any recurrence.”
Not a new trade
Checks by our correspondent showed that for applicants to legitimately obtain their letters of indigeneship or local government of origin certificates, they are expected to visit their respective council secretariats in their states of origin.
Applicants are also required to provide documents such as birth certificates, two passports, their community names, and their mother’s maiden name, in addition to paying a specified amount ranging from N2,000 to N8,000 to the state government to obtain the document.
In some council offices, particularly in Lagos State, applicants are mandated to provide their Lagos State Residents Registration Agency card which indicates that they are indigenes, along with a letter from a monarch in their towns or from their areas.
However, findings by Saturday PUNCH showed that many non-indigenes illegally obtained letters of indigeneship for employment from local governments other than the ones they originally came from with the connivance of some corrupt civil servants.
The Federal Character Commission defines an indigene of a local government as a person “whose parents or any of whose grandparents was or is an indigene of the local government concerned; or who is accepted as an indigene by the local government, provided that no person shall lay claim to more than one local government.”
It also stated that “an indigene of a state is a person who is an indigene of one of the local governments in that state, provided that no person shall lay claim to more than one state or a state and the Federal Capital Territory.”
Speaking with our correspondent, a civil servant, Joel Oladipo, said obtaining indigenship certificates fraudulently in Nigeria was not a new practice as many used it to cut corners during job recruitment.
“This is not something new; it happens with recruitment into federal parastatals also. I recall when my brother went for the Nigerian Ports Authority screening.
“He took all the examinations and attended the interviews but when the list came out for Lagos State, we saw the names of people who were not citizens of the state,” he said.
“We were told that a list was sent down from Abuja and that it was the final list of those recruited. This trend is even more prevalent in the North. I was told that some southerners also take up slots in northern states.
“I guess states need to do more to ensure their indigenes aren’t shortchanged. The people who should be blamed are the issuers of these certificates. There should be criteria for acquiring the LGA certificate of a state,” he added.
Forgery attracts three-year imprisonment –Lawyer
A legal practitioner, Isaac Oladosu, decried the prevalence of fake LGA certificates of origin, adding that such an act was punishable with a prison term of three years.
“There is a possibility that the certificates those recruits were brandishing (in the viral video) were forged. The certificate of some local government could have been printed in a business centre or redesigned by some touts who perennially hang around LGA secretariats, but since the Lagos State government is already investigating this case, let’s wait to see the outcome,” Oladosu said.
Speaking on the legal implication, the lawyer said, “However, it must be emphasised that Section 467 of the Criminal Code Act of Nigeria prescribes three years imprisonment for persons who forge any document, writing or seal.
“It clearly states that any person who forges any document, writing, or seal, is guilty of an offence which, unless otherwise stated, is a felony, and he is liable, if no other punishment is provided, to imprisonment for three years.”
In April 2019, a 23-year-old student, Olamide Olakunlade, was arraigned before an Ikeja Magistrates’ Court for allegedly forging a Lagos State certificate of origin.
The Ekiti State indigene was said to have attempted to change his state of origin to apply for an air force recruitment programme.
According to the police prosecutor, Sergeant Kenrich Nomayo, the defendant allegedly conspired with others to commit a felony by forging the Ikeja Local Government Area certificate of origin.
Nomayo said an operative of the Department of State Services, while on duty at the secretariat, intercepted the defendant and found the letterheads of the local government on him, which were suspected to be fake.
Similarly, in February 2017, the Kwara State Government disclosed that it discovered 67 people who were recruited into the Nigerian Army with fake indigeneship certificates of Kwara State between 2010 and 2016.
Speaking when he appeared before the state House of Assembly Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Judiciary in Ilorin, the then Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji lsiaka Gold, said the 67 people were detected in army recruitment exercises through their names and their inability to communicate in the languages of the local government areas they claimed.
LG boss orders investigation
However, in his response to the damning viral video, the Oshodi-Isolo Local Government Chairman, Kehinde Oloyede, in a statement made available through his media office, ordered a thorough investigation into the incident.
“I received the report of the unfortunate trending video, where a letter of indigeneship was purportedly issued to some non-indigenes, which has placed the local government in public glare. As the executive chairman, I have ordered that a thorough investigation be carried out and that all those involved be handed to security agencies for prosecution.
“Let me use this opportunity to inform our people that we shall not in any way sweep this unfortunate matter under the carpet, as we want to unearth those behind this to serve as a deterrent to others who will want to drag the noble name of our council in disrepute. We will do the needful, we will not leave any stone unturned,” Oloyede said in the statement on Wednesday.
The Nigerian Army, in a statement on Wednesday by the Director, Army Public Relations, Maj-Gen Onyema Nwachukwu, confirmed the arrest of some of the candidates.
It said the arrest of the fraudulent candidates was a result of the commitment of the army to upholding a transparent and credible recruitment process in line with its core values of integrity and fairness.
Meanwhile, a former general officer commanding, Three Armoured Division, Nigerian Army, Maj-Gen Tajudeen Olanrewaju (retd.), called on the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Taoreed Lagbaja, to investigate what he described as “the violation of the constitutional rights of indigenes of Lagos State”.
He added, “Its function is to liaise with the armed forces and link with the Governor’s Office, Alausa. They will deal with recruitment, follow up with the interview processes and monitor those shortlisted for admission into the armed forces.
“This is what most of the states in the North do now. If this approach is fine-tuned properly, the law will help to reduce abuses associated with Lagos State slots allocated to it.”
However, efforts to get the Nigerian Army to disclose when the apprehended candidates would be arraigned and respond to the condemnation from the Kaduna-based group proved abortive as calls put across to Nwachukwu indicated that his mobile line was switched off and a message sent was not delivered as of the time of filing this report.