Lawmakers in the House of Representatives recently passed a resolution to review the age barriers for job vacancies announced by some government agencies in the country.
It is public knowledge that most of the employment openings advertised in ministries, departments and agencies of the federal government stipulate that prospective candidates must be less than 30 years old to be eligible to apply for such vacancies.
The lawmakers expressed worry that a lot of Nigerian youths who even served in the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) are denied the chance to compete for available public service employment opportunities due to this requirement. They also pointed out that this age limit requirement force many young Nigerians to resort to the undignifying practice of falsifying their ages in order to meet the criteria, a fraudulent action that could undermine their integrity and compromise their public service careers.
Some of the government agencies credited with setting this age bar include, but not limited to, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), the Directorate of State Security (DSS), National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Nigerian Prison Service, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Federal Fire Service, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria and the Nigeria Immigration Service, among others.
For a country with unemployment rate among persons between ages 25 and 34, which is above 15 per cent according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), applying such age restriction would only further throw a large population of the country into the unemployment pool, thereby compounding an already tenuous problem.
A lot of factors contribute in delaying young Nigerians from finishing school as early as they would have wanted. Poverty is at the root of it. Some brilliant students drop out of school due to poor backgrounds and absence of scholarship schemes to help them through as is obtained in other climes. Even where scholarships are available, sometimes rich and influential people corner them for their own wards, denying the needy such opportunities. So many in this cadre take up some trade or odd jobs to save up some money and later return to finish their academics. By the time they are through, they may have crossed the age barrier for certain jobs, thereby limiting their chances.
A related factor is the unstable state of public education, especially at the tertiary level in the past few decades, evidenced in the long and intermittent suspension of academic activities owing to industrial actions by both academic and non-academic staff. This singular factor has forced many affluent families to opt for private institutions of learning. For the remainder, they are forced to spend extra years trying to complete their studies.
The lawmakers had argued that the exclusion of Nigerians from employment opportunities on the basis of age is a breach of their fundamental human rights as citizens of Nigeria. However, it is noteworthy that the acts establishing some of these agencies empowered them to set parameters governing their recruitment and staffing. It then behoves on the lawmakers to go the whole hog by taking a critical look at provisions in those acts that encourage the exclusion of capable Nigerians from being considered for enlistment in public service and amending them accordingly, taking into cognizance the greater good of the country.
As the lawmakers have demanded, the concerned government agencies should raise the age bar to 40 years in the concerned agencies to accommodate more young men and women in order to give them the opportunity to contribute their quota to national development.
In our opinion, merit, competence and suitability should be the primary criteria for enlistment into the various public service departments and agencies. That is not discounting the need to adhere to the principle of federal character, which is a constitutional provision, in order to ensure even spread and balance in both the contributions to, and distribution of, national wealth. As many have variously pointed out, there are competent people in every part of the country to choose from for national service.
The relegation of a merit-based system in government appointments and promotions, in our view, has been fingered by most critical observers as the major reason why the public service has failed to deliver on its mandate of translating government policies into good governance. It is time the National Assembly addressed that anomaly and set the nation back on the path of rectitude.
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