The tragic chain of events, which led to the death of 19 promising Nigerians during the last recruitment exercise of the Nigeria Immigration Service, is yet another sorry pass in the quest for employment by our youths. The human tragedy of that shoddy and horrific exercise only serves to highlight the expanding frontiers of criminality and corruption prevalent in the public service.
The absurdity of asking over 693,000 candidates (according to the Board of the Immigration Service), who applied for about 4,556 vacancies to pay N1000 each, thereby netting close to N700 million in the corrupt scheme (with a large chunk of such positions already ‘allocated’ to candidates of top government officials) only goes to show how far the frontiers of unbridled corruption have expanded.
From 37 centres across the nation (including Abuja), nothing serious was intended. The focus was more on the fees the Interior Minister, Abba Moro and the consultancy firm enlisted garnered than on ensuring jobs for the thousands of hapless applicants. The whole exercise was, at best, a ruse.
Obviously, it was not the first recruitment scam by a government agency, and indications showed that this “scheme “ has become yet another avenue for extorting money from unsuspecting and desperate job seekers. However, the NIS has become notorious agency for never getting it right with its various recruitment exercises since 2006. In the one conducted in 2008, which was equally shoddily handled, 15 deaths from stampede were recorded in Kwara, Enugu and Edo states. That of 2012 was dogged in controversy and it subsequently led to the early exit of the then Comptroller General, Mrs. Rosemary Uzoma. At that time, Interior Minister, Abba Moro was on the side of those condemning that particular exercise.
Today, Mr. Moro is at the centre of the raging storm as he struggles to retain his job in the wake of public outcry over the exercise. No doubt, like any government official, Moro is doing everything possible to retain his exalted job by passing the blame on “impatient” applicants who caused the stampede at various centres.
Expectedly, presidential reaction and palliatives came slowly after an unceasing clamour by an angry public for a decisive government response to the embarrassing situation. Apart from an outright cancellation of the recruitment exercise, the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration ordered that no agency, apart from the armed forces and the police, should embark on such exercise again. The embattled minister was also reportedly instructed to ensure a refund of the N1000 application fee to each of the applicants. This appears a tall order; in fact the Public Relations Unit of NIS has refuted that no such order was given. This throws up the moral question of why must the state defrauding the citizenry. The N1000 fees must be returned to the applicants.
In what appears a bid to salve the tragic loss of lives, government also directed that a new committee to handle the exercise should allocate three slots, one of which should be for a woman, to the families of those who lost their lives. This still stretches the imagination on the modalities for compensating the dead in this matter. Will the brothers, sisters or cousins of the dead applicants (who may not wish to work with government) now become beneficiaries of jobs they do not need or are not qualified to do?
Apart from the stereotyped expression of grief by those who hold the reins of power, many Nigerians have raised posers about the “Presidential palliatives” as well as the Presidency’s obvious reluctance to frontally address the situation. The continued stay in office of Interior Minister in the face of mounting public outcry and after his alleged indictment by the Board of the Immigration Service (as echoed by a commissioner on the board, Mr. S.D. Tapgun), shows that the fight against corruption remains a lip service. At worst, the embattled minister should have been placed on suspension while the matter is being investigated; and if found even vicariously culpable, he should not remain a day longer in office.
It is high time government set the right system in place by paying the required attention to merit in recruitment exercises across all arms of government and the armed services. The present approach of exploiting the unemployment situation to extort money from the growing and restive army of unemployed youths will only serve as a time bomb which will not augur well for all and sundry.