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Engaging private background check for nominees is impossible for now — Olugbodi

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Kola Olugbodi

Kola Olugbodi, the managing director, Background Check International (BCI), speaks on perceived lapses in the vetting process for nominees into public offices, saying that the appointing authority rather than the vetting agencies are often to blame for wrong appointments. He spoke with GBENGA SALAU.

What indices are used in screening persons nominated for public offices? Besides, should the responsibility of conducting background checks rest solely with the DSS?
I am aware that the Department of State Services (DSS) does very in-depth background vetting and profiling on nominees for public offices. The vetting exercise usually entails verifying the officials’ educational qualifications, they get references from places where they have worked in the past, from their neighbourhoods and from associations they have an interest in. They also run some family, litigation, and criminal record background checks on them. The list can be endless.

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However, all over the world, it is only government security agencies that run background checks on political nominees and public officers. So, that of Nigeria cannot, therefore, be different.

From the experiences of some public officials whose questionable past has blighted their time in office in spite of having earlier been cleared by the DSS, should there be a consideration for private background check organisations going forward?
This is an impossibility for now. The DSS is a government agency and one of its primary objectives and professional training is to handle vetting, security matters and investigative processes on behalf of the government. It would be an aberration for the government to bypass the agency to relate with private organisations.

DSS can run a background checks on a public official and make recommendations to the government but it is not their place to enforce the recommendations. Let me share some of our own experiences. In our background checks for clients, there had been instances when we discovered discrepancies such as forged credentials or fraudulent acts in former places of employment in the process of conducting employment background screening on the applicants or staff of some organisations, and we flagged those inconsistencies. Regardless of our findings, some clients still went ahead to employ the applicants or confirm the appointments of the staff.

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I remember an instance that a client engaged us to help run some checks on a prospective driver, but before we conducted our background check process on the driver, the client had gone ahead to employ the driver. When we called him to give him the report of our findings, the man said that he was on admission in a hospital. The driver had run him under a trailer and he got his leg fractured in the process. Meanwhile, the references we got from past employers of the driver revealed that he had bad eyesight and so his driving judgments are always porous. These were the reasons he lost his jobs with those former employers. The client, on reading our report, acknowledged that our report was spot-on and that he should have waited for our findings before engaging him. So, who is to blame for taking a decision without our background check findings?

Sincerely speaking, in my opinion, I don’t think all the blame should be dropped at the doorsteps of the DSS, the decision-makers that act contrary to the recommendations of the agency should receive the lion’s share of the blame.

The National Assembly (NASS) is believed by many Nigerians to be shirking in its oversight responsibilities of probing into the background of nominees. What should be NASS role in the screening process before confirming nominees for offices?
First, by Section 147(2) of the 1999 Constitution, it is the Senate arm of the National Assembly that confirms ministerial nominees. I am not sure of how the Senate profiles ministerial nominees, but I want to assume that the DSS does the vetting and profiling of the nominees.

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I am also of the opinion that most of the screening and confirmation processes of nominees on the floor of the Senate may somewhat be politicised, with the party in power and its majority ensuring that its nominees scale through the screening process. Some of the nominees are either former colleagues or friends or religious affiliates of the Senators.

Party allegiance and alliance play vital roles in how the screening processes run. There are instances where a Senator may be interested in seriously probing a nominee, but the majority party will end up trivialising the issue so raised. Moreso, if some issues were flagged in the background check report submitted by the security agency, these various allegiances and alliances make the legislature sweep those issues under the carpet so that the nominee can be confirmed.

When persons with cases of slips for the failure of proper checks find their ways to political offices, how should the government handle it?
We have precedence. What happened in the case of a one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, who lied to have been born in 1963 instead of 1970; lied about obtaining his educational qualification from the University of Toronto, and who also claimed to have observed his NYSC in Kano? That experience should guide us going forward. You will remember that Salisu Buhari resigned and apologised to the whole nation. Another precedence in the executive arm of government is that of a former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun who had to resign from cabinet due to an alleged NYSC Certificate forgery scandal. So, anyone found with negative profiling issues should do likewise.

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