Last weekend, a shabbily organised recruitment test for job seekers wishing to join the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) turned into a tragic bloodbath. In Minna, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kano, Ilorin, Makurdi, Enugu, Ibadan, Oshogbo, Jos and Yenagoa, young men and women who had reportedly paid a fee of N1,000 each besieged the designated test venues in their thousands. Instead of a test of logical reasoning that they had braced themselves for, the poor applicants were confronted by a mammoth display of logistical incompetence by the NIS. Despite having several weeks to prepare for the exercise, and despite knowing well in advance the number of applicants who had applied to take the test, the
Immigration Service could not muster the logistical savvy to make the exercise a success. In short order, a farce soon became a tragedy as several test takers were trampled to death in the stampede which ensued as stressed applicants struggled to get access to test materials.
The loss of 20 precious lives (including, from media reports, three pregnant women) is a huge shame, and the entire nation deserves an explanation. There are many urgent questions. For instance, why was the Immigration Service so cack-handed despite the fact that it had enough time and resources to plan a successful exercise? What was the point of collecting application fee from more than half a million applicants when there are fewer than 5,000 vacancies available? Did the Comptroller-General of the NIS, David Parradang, know about the tragic spectacle? In any case, to whom exactly do Nigerians owe the grand idea of physically assembling thousands of young people in football stadia with little thought as to their security and welfare? Using the Internet, the Service could have, for a fraction of whatever this shameful spectacle cost, conducted aptitude tests to prune the number of applicants without any hassle, and without any danger whatsoever to innocent lives. Why did the immigration Service eschew this rational and stress-free option?
Although we wish to give the Service the benefit of the doubt, we are concerned that last weekend’s tragedy is reminiscent of previous situations involving some arm of the state in which unemployed youth were cynically conned out of their hard-earned money. We recall for example what happened in Imo State when applicants paid application fees for jobs that they later found out did not exist. In selling application forms to more applicants than it could feasibly process, let alone employ, the NIS has opened itself to the not unreasonable suspicion that it was using the occasion of a common recruitment exercise as a ruse to line the pockets of some of its personnel, exploiting hapless unemployed youths for which government seems to have lost all sense of responsibility.
It is gratifying that President Goodluck Jonathan, speaking at the inauguration of the 2014 National Conference, has promised a full and thorough investigation. At the same time, the President of the Nigeria Labor Congress, Abdulwaheed Omar has carpeted the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, for blaming majority of the applicants for their impatience and non-adherence to set procedures.
It is important that the investigation promised by the President is carried out with dispatch and with maximum transparency. Upon speedy conclusion of the investigation, those deemed responsible for the tragic and totally avoidable chaos should be made to face the full wrath of the law. This is the least that Nigeria as a country owes the poor young men and women whose lives were casually snuffed out.
In the meantime, the fact that thousands of young people were willing to risk life and limb in pursuit of a few jobs is an indication of the unemployment crisis in the country and the precarious existence of many of millions of the nation’s young men and women. This situation has become indefensible, and a long-term solution to the problem cannot come soon enough.