Every milestone attained in life is accompanied with more projections. For a secondary school graduate, the expectation is that s/he would gain admission into a tertiary institution of repute. Upon graduation from the varsity, the typical expectation becomes that the youth in question will almost immediately commence the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme and ultimately bid farewell to the long years of dependence by carving a niche in the labour market. In a quasi-idyllic society, the last mentioned expectations would almost be routine, placing no cause of alarm for the corps member in question. However, in Nigeria, owing among other factors, to the paucity of institutions that can employ the teeming graduates churned out by the tertiary institutions, the completion of the NYSC program, offers no guarantee of getting gainful employment.
Given the unpleasant state of affairs, untold anxiety, desperation and frustration become deep seated in the minds of corps members as the service year crawls to an end. Consequently, a good number of corps members fall prey to unscrupulous recruitment agencies that get hold of their personal data and fabricate nefarious strategies of exploiting them financially.
It is not uncommon for corps members to receive recruitment invitation via text message and emails from faceless recruitment agencies shortly before the conclusion of their service years, and thereafter, shortly after the conclusion of their service years and few years thereafter. Most of these so-called recruitment agencies, aware of the teeming rate of unemployment in Nigeria and the consequential desperation of the Nigerian youths, devise means of robbing the youths in question.
It has been over a month since I completed my NYSC Program and since then, there is not a week that I do no not receive invites from scam recruitment agencies. Perhaps, I might have fallen prey to their deceitful devices had I not been forewarned to be wary of unsolicited recruitment text messages and emails. Two days after my passing out parade, I received a text message from a fellow who called himself Kenechi. He addressed me by my first name and claimed to have made my acquaintance at the Lagos orientation camp. According to him, there was a hushed internal recruitment going on in Shell Petroleum Development Company. He claimed that he had strong connections there and was willing to help me get full employment. He asked that I call him if I was interested so we could immediately commence the registration process and of course, that I should send Forty-Five Thousand Naira to him to settle one of his oga who was involved in the recruitment process.
I was shocked. I knew instantly that I had received my first scam message. The name the fellow had settled for is an overly common Igbo name and understandably so. He was trying out his luck with an Igbo name which he hoped would ring a bell. I knew a lot of people, who bore that name, but the truth is, I was closely related to them, I knew them all too well and not one of them was a corps member. Also, although my call-up letter had indicated that I was deployed to the Lagos orientation camp, official plans changed and I eventually camped in a neighbouring state. Perhaps, I was deeply asleep when the fellow teleported me to the Lagos Orientation Camp and became my jolly good friend!
Few days later, I had course to interact with some ex-corps members. One discussion led to another and finally came to the issue of the scam employment messages. There was not one of them who had not received it. Some of them had been called and others received emails. The messenger had come up with names which were very common in the target’s tribe and also claimed to have met them at their orientation camps. Again, just as in my case, although the official call up letters indicated the Lagos Orientation camp, some of them had had to camp at the orientation camps of neighbouring states. In fact, some of them had used their preferred nicknames or middle names at the orientation camp and there would have been no way anyone would have gained knowledge of their first names without having skimmed through the pages of the record books kept with the NYSC or the so called NYSC ‘book of Life”. I would later learn that some ex-corps members fell prey to the employment scams. Owing to their anxiety or sheer naivety, they were deceived into parting with recharge cards and considerable sums of money for so called registration fees, identification fee, consultancy charges, examination fees, processing fee, and what-have-you.
Other related messages which most ex-corps members and I have received on more frequent basis are purportedly from the human resource managers of non-existent companies which go by likewise non-existent names. As part of their strategy, they claim that their target was recommended by an undisclosed person for a lofty position in their organization and request that the target comes on a scheduled day for interview/job briefing. Some colleagues of mine who attended the so called job briefing reported that it was all a hoax calculated to ultimately rob them financially. So far, I am unaware of any good that came from those job invites.
From the foregoing, it will not be farfetched to presume two possibilities: that the personal data submitted by corps members to the NYSC are left grossly unprotected and permitted to get into the hands of unauthourised third parties, hence the many years of exploitation of corps members’ personal data by unscrupulous elements. The second possibility is that the Year Book which is published by the NYSC and contains the basic records of corps members are taken advantage of by contemptuous persons.
The legal regime for data protection in Nigeria is still evolving, hence there are no sector specific laws which regulate the collection and processing of data in Nigeria. However, the Nigerian Constitution guarantees and protects the right of privacy of citizens under Section 37. The language of the constitution is wide enough to accommodate and protect “personal data”, notwithstanding that same was not expressly mentioned therein.
With view to have a body of laws which would enhance data protection in Nigeria, the Draft Guidelines on Data Protection (“the Guidelines”) was enacted pursuant to the National Information Technology Development Agency Act (“the Act”). It is the only regulation which makes copious provisions relating to the collection, processing and protection of personal data and it seeks to apply across board, irrespective of the sector of the economy in which it is sought to be enforced. However, the National Information Technology Development Agency (“NITDA”) is yet to formally issue any instrument indicating the commencement of the Guidelines. Although the Guidelines are yet to be finalized, it will be prudent if the NYSC and indeed all data controllers (the “Controllers”) of personal data in Nigeria be guided by its provisions, as it sets out in lucid terms the best practice in data protection.
The Guidelines provide the general principles of data protection and the measures which Controllers must put in place in collecting, accessing and processing the information of data subject. It requires Controllers to process data in a fair and lawful manner and provides that data which is collected be used only for the purpose it was collected. It further requires the consent of data subjects to be obtained before their data are collected and processed and that that appropriate technical and organizational measures are established to protect the data and that the data collected be processed in accordance with the rights of the data subjects.
If the present regime of third party exploitation of data lodged with the NYSC must come to an end, the NYSC must imbibe the principles enshrined in the Guidelines. It must ensure that as a Controlller, all data of corps members in its custody are processed fairly and lawfully and kept away from the prying eyes of third parties who do not have the authority to process the data in question. Protective measures should also be put in place to ensure that the data is only accessible to persons/organizations which have proven record of competence and have provided sufficient justification to obtain and process the personal data. All transfer of data must be with the prior consent of the corps members and for their ultimate benefit. Also, the submission and onward publication of the personal information of corps members in the Year Book should be at the discretion of the corps members. The affirmative consents of the corps members must be obtained before their particulars are published to the entire public in the Year Book.
Furthermore, given the dire need of an instrument on data protection, the Nigerian government should take proactive steps to give the Guidelines the force of law and ensure that it is strictly complied with by institutions in the private and public sectors. Also, emphasis should be placed on drastically reducing the overwhelming rate of unemployment in Nigeria and providing an enabling socio-economic environment for small and medium enterprises in Nigeria.
Uche, a Lawyer, writes from Lagos.