The danger ahead – The Nation

•The NIS tragedy reflects government’s lackadaisical attitude to job creation

Perhaps the most touching dimension of the distressing loss of lives during stampedes that marred the March 15 nationwide recruitment drive by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) is the fact that even the unborn died, as four pregnant women numbered among the  casualties of the tragedy.  The expectant mothers, three in Benin, and one in Port Harcourt, were among 520,000 job seekers chasing a disproportionate 4, 556 vacancies, a reality that provided a terrifying signal on the state of unemployment in the country. The death toll, put at 19, which included applicants in the federal capital Abuja, Benin in Edo State, Minna in Niger State and Port Harcourt in Rivers State, showed a spread that betrayed generally abysmal arrangements at the recruitment centres across the country.

Deservedly, Interior Minister Abba Moro and NIS Comptroller-General David Parradang have been widely criticised for apparent dereliction of duty, and the usually dilatory President Goodluck Jonathan is reportedly highly disappointed with their performance and may punish them for embarrassing the government. However, whatever the eventual outcome of Jonathan’s reported meeting with the two officials in the wake of the tragedy, the truth is that these deaths and the overall conduct of the exercise indict the central government in the critical area of creation of employment opportunities, especially for the country’s burgeoning youth population.

It is disturbing that Moro not only failed to see the obvious connection between the regrettably avoidable deaths and official irresponsibility; he also tried to shift the blame, rather disingenuously. According to the evidently disconnected government functionary, “The applicants lost their lives due to impatience. They did not follow the laid down procedure 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 the stampede and made the environment unsecured.”

However, it is instructive that Moro’s excuse was contradicted by one Samuel Jaja, a NIS applicant and relation of 25-year-old Brown Darlington who lost his life at the Port Harcourt centre. Jaja said the job seekers were made to sit on the floor at the stadium to write the examination. It was the same story at the recruitment venue in Calabar, Cross River State, where the applicants reportedly sat in the Federal Government Girls College sport field to write the test.  Clearly, such primitive organisation, which was incredibly reflected at virtually all the venues, could not have resulted in a smooth exercise, contrary to Moro’s poor reasoning.

It is pertinent to question the purpose of the application fees paid by the job seekers in the light of the disgraceful and embarrassingly inept handling of the recruitment. The news that preliminary investigations by security agencies uncovered details that a staggering N7 billion was collected from 734, 000 applicants by a consultancy firm working for NIS suggests a racket that is principally about the size of the cash inflow and indifferent to the objective of crisis-free screening. The sad fatalities should prompt the government to ensure a far-reaching probe of the recruitment methods of NIS.

What compounds the calamity is the remarkable fact that, about six years ago, equally tragic deaths occurred during a July 2008 nationwide recruitment by NIS and Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS). Seventeen lives were lost in similar circumstances, but no lessons were learned by the recruiting organisations, which is the fundamental point about the latest tragedy. It would appear that not only has NIS learnt nothing from history; it also seemed to have forgotten history, with the result that it failed to take proactive measures to forestall a repeat.

The country is evidentially facing an unemployment crisis of mammoth magnitude; and the government must, as a matter of urgency, respond creatively and with all seriousness and sense of purpose. Addressing the issue before it well and truly gets out of hand must be at the top of the government’s priorities, for this is obviously a time bomb that will likely have devastating socio-economic consequences. The government must act decisively to prevent the danger ahead.

It is lamentable that the country’s leaders continue to fail in productively exploiting its oil-rich status to maximise good governance.  For instance, one of the biggest paradoxes of the government’s approach to development is the liberal multiplication of universities without a reasonable concomitant policy on growing jobs for the products of these institutions. It is definitely  a sure path to trouble, and the conditions that fuelled the NIS recruitment tragedy may be only the tip of the iceberg as the competition for shrinking vacancies grows in intensity with so many chasing so few jobs.

Furthermore, counter-productive official policies continue to effectively limit expansion in the private sector, thereby restricting the job opportunities available outside the public sector and complicating the unemployment problem.  Certainly, the country’s deplorable infrastructure is a huge aspect of the crisis. To be specific, the unresolved power problem and the appalling state of the road network, for instance, have a seriously negative implication for employment possibilities; and significant improvement in these areas should be among the government’s key developmental goals, and not just theoretically.

What the country needs at this time, and urgently too, is a hands-on style of governance, meaning that the critical governmental figures should spend less time chasing shadows and get down to the important business of working for “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”

We commiserate with relatives of the dead and hope that never again would we witness such avoidable tragedy.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

x

Check Also

Anti-corruption fatigue? – The Nation

President Buhari should bring Babachir Lawal to justice now The war against corruption is the ...