Over 20 persons are reported to have died in stampedes during recruitment exercises conducted nationwide on Saturday, March 15, by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). However, the interior ministry gave the figure of 15, made up of 7 deaths including a pregnant woman at the Abuja National Stadium into which some 60,000 job applicants had crowded to take the job test. Only one entrance was left open, according to news reports Sunday. Another 4 died in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, two in Minna, capital of Niger state and one in Benin City.
Over 520, 000 job seekers are said to have been shortlisted to write the test for just 4,566 placements advertised by the NIS, after having paid a nonrefundable fee of N1,000 each. This is a huge embarrassment for a nation described as Africa’s second largest economy, growing at 6 percent annually. This growth is fuelled by oil, revenues from which have unfortunately benefitted the elites and left the masses of the population greatly impoverished.
Not showing any sign of remorse, interior minister, Mr. Abba Moro, blamed the impatience of applicants for the deaths. “The applicants lost their lives due to impatience,” he told journalists on Sunday in Jos where he had gone to monitor the recruitment exercise. “They did not follow the laid down procedures spelt out to them before the exercise; many of them jumped through the fences of the affected centres and did not conduct themselves in an orderly manner to make the exercise a smooth one. This caused stampede and made the environment insecure.”
However, the minister was contradicted by an applicant, who for the obvious reason of personal security, did not want to be identified. He alleged that “They did not make any plans for the applicants. Even during the test, we had to fight…for the question papers. A lot of the papers were torn. We paid N1, 000 during the application process and I tell you now that it’s a total fraud”. We find this applicant’s version of what happened on Saturday more plausible than the minister’s. In Abuja, for example, with only one gate of the gigantic national stadium open and inadequate question papers, it was a disaster waiting to happen. It meant that there was inadequate security at the venue.
Public outcry days following the tragedy forced Moro to do a kind of penance but he dismissed any suggestion of his resignation. According to him, to do so would be abandoning a job he has been given to do. Very archetypal, isn’t it? Deaths during recruitment exercises conducted by para-military agencies of government, including NIS, have become routine. We lament that officials have accepted them as a matter of course, not one to be confronted. This is why the interior minister could so effortlessly explain away last Saturday’s avoidable deaths, as if it was some wild beasts that had been killed. Obviously, Moro has overstayed his welcome in this Jonathan government. After the bungled recruitments for the same NIS in 2012 and many other controversies he stirred, we wonder why the latest cabinet change spared him.
We agree with the position of the ruling PDP, surprising as it is, that Saturday’s job deaths should be probed. Reuters quoted the political party’s national publicity secretary, Olisa Metuh, as saying, “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the untimely death of the young citizens who were at the exercise not only to secure jobs but to be allowed the opportunity to contribute towards the development of the nation”. President Jonathan on Monday hinted of an official inquiry. The investigation, however, must be preceded by Moro’s removal to make its outcome credible.