By Innocent Anaba, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Victoria Ojeme
OUTRAGED by weekend’s tragedy which claimed at least 16 job applicants, including four pregnant women who turned up for the aptitude test for employment into the Nigeria Immigration Service at various centres across the federation, National Human Rights Commission Chairman and 54 other eminent Nigerians as well as labour unions, yesterday, called for the resignation of the Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro and Comptroller General of Immigration, Mr David Parradang.
Former Presidential candidate in 1993 general elections, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, Malam Nasir el‑Rufai, former FTC Minister; Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman, Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission; Ayo Obe, former President, Civil Liberties Organisation and 53 others, said in a joint statement in Abuja, “On March 15, thousands of job‑seekers attended job‑seeking examinations organised by the NIS, in different centres in Nigeria to fill 4,556 vacancies.
“The ministry and the NIS had compelled each job-seeker, as an eligibility condition for participating in this hire process, to pay N1,000. There is no evidence that these sums were remitted to the Federation Account as required by law. In most places, these job‑seeking examinations took place in stadia, suggesting that the organisers anticipated large turn outs. Inexplicably, they failed to make adequate or any arrangements for crowd management and control.
“At different centres around the country, including Abuja, Benin, Kano, Minna, and Port‑Harcourt, many job‑seekers, including pregnant mothers, were killed and lots more were injured in stampedes caused by grossly negligent and uncaring ground arrangements.
This tragedy was needless, foreseeable, and avoidable. The failures of the Ministry of the Interior and NIS to adequately manage the process and safeguard the safety and security of the jobseekers is inexcusable. The deaths that resulted from these failures, therefore, were unlawful. If the lives of Nigerians mean anything, the leadership and management teams in the Ministry of the Interior and the NIS must be held to account for these deaths.
“In his reaction to the deaths, Moro accused the victims of ‘impatience,’ claiming that the deaths resulted because ‘they did not follow the laid down procedures spelt out to them before the exercise.’ The effort by the minister responsible for citizenship in Nigeria to blame the victims rather than take responsibility shows a callous disregard for the lives of Nigerians incompatible with his high Ministerial brief. It brings public service into disrepute.
“In the circumstances, we the undersigned, as citizens of Nigeria, respectfully demand that Moro; and the Controller ‑General of Immigration, Mr. Parradang, be immediately relieved of their positions.
The Attorney‑General of the Federation and the Inspector‑General of Police together with the Director‑General of State Security, should launch a joint criminal investigation into the deaths of these jobseekers. An independent audit should immediately be instituted into the monies made by the Ministry and the NIS from the job seekers and criminal investigations should be commenced as appropriate.
Problem of youth unemployment
“Government should demonstrate a readiness to address the problem of youth unemployment as a national security priority through a partnership involving the agricultural sector, public sector, private sector, voluntary sector, and multi‑laterals.
To the families across the country bereaved as a result of these and other on going challenges in our country, we take this opportunity to transmit heartfelt condolences and pray for the peaceful repose of the souls of our deceased brothers and sisters.”
The multitudes of applicants who came for the test were said to have overwhelmed both the co-ordinators and the security personnel a situation that degenerated into stampede. In Abuja, eight persons were reported dead while in Niger State, three persons died. In Rivers State four persons were said to have died even as one person died in Benin. Many others were also injured and were rushed to hospitals just as original certificates of many of the applicants were lost during the stampede.
Amidst condemnations of the incident from the labour, the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the All Progressives Congress, APC, some families of those who died during the exercise besieged the National Hospital yesterday demanding the immediate release of corpses of their relative for burial according to religious rites.
Among the dead was one Miss Oyiza Yusuf, a mother of one. According to Oyiza’s brother, Engr. Mohammed Hakeem, “I was informed of my sister’s death and I came to verify. I regretted that my sister who was defrauded last year of N150,000 for the same job had to finally pay with her life. A situation where people were made to suffer and die for jobs that probably have been allocated to the children of highly placed individuals, is lamentable, the government should be sensitive to the plight of ordinary Nigerians.”.
Vanguard investigations at the National Hospital, yesterday, revealed that of the 40 injured brought in for treatment only 11 are still on admission. The hospital’s Head of Information, Mr Taiwo Haastrup said “out of the forty persons that were brought in with different injuries, many have been discharged and only eleven persons are still on admission, and are doing very well.”
Stampede at Elekahia stadium
In Port Harcourt, some of those who survived the stampede recounted their experiences describing it as horrible. Blessing Uzor and Chinemen Isaac who were recuperating at Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, BMSH, and Glory Hospital Ogbunabali said the stampede at the Elekahia stadium was caused by the directive of the immigration officers to force applicants to squat. Uzor who was recuperating at Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital said she could recall when some Military officers told them to squat on the floor which later led to disaster when those standing at their back fell on them.
She said, “The only thing I can remember now is when Army officers who were assisting the Immigration officers ordered some of us to squat and while we were doing that a crowd of candidates were standing at our back. Five minutes later the crowd fell on us, and that is the only thing I can tell you now. I regained my consciousness at 4:45 am on Sunday, that was when I started to ask about my bag and other writing materials I took to the recruitment exercise, I thank God that I can talk now.”
Also at Glory Hospital, Isaac, who is still struggling with the shock told Vanguard that it will be better to be alive and remain unemployed than to die unemployed. His words: “I didn’t know when they fell on me, I was squatting as directed by officers, because they were sharing question papers and some persons wanted to grasp it when it was not yet their turn, that was why the Army came to maintain orderliness.
The next thing that happened was that some people started pushing to make way for themselves and they fell on top of one another. About 15 persons were on top me, I was later rushed to BMSH but later my parent came and took me away to where I am now.
Responding, Mr. Abang Bisong, the Public Relations Officer, PRO, Nigeria Immigration Service, Port Harcourt command, said it is untrue that the order for some applicants to squat led to death of five persons.
He explained that there was no such order but blamed the stampede to impatient by the applicants who started pushing one another.” He, however, regretted that the crowd at the Elekahia stadium was bigger than the stadium, adding that five persons died.
Abang said one of the corpses has been deposited at Military Hospital, while the other four were kept at Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital. He added that four of the applicants who were admitted at the Rivers Government owned Braithwaite Memorial Hospital have been discharged.
NLC demands prosecution of NIS
National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGTWN, said death of close to 20 applicants including pregnant women was unacceptable development that ran against the best employment practices as contained in Nigeria’s Labour Act and relevant conventions and resolutions of International Labour Organization ( ILO) guiding decent work as subscribed to by Nigeria.
The union in a statement by its General Secretary and a Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Issa Aremu, called for the prosecution of the NIS for industrial murder. It also urged the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on unemployment in the country.
It also advised the National Assembly to spend substantial time today to discuss the issue of unemployment in the country as members resume today.
According to the statement, “as at the last count, 19 applicants reportedly died in notable centres, namely Benin, Abuja, Minna and Port Harcourt. When we consider the pregnant applicants, we have invariably also killed unborn applicants.
For a country that just marked International Women Day with fun-fare, the deaths of female applicants do gross violence to the Federal and states’ government claim to respect human and women rights. These nation‑wide unprovoked deaths have negatively dented the notorious image of Nigeria as a country in which lives are being casually wasted in the communities, on the roads and now at recruitment centres.”
TUC demands full investigation
Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, in its reaction called for full investigation into the circumstances that led to the deaths, saying such deaths were unacceptable. In a statement by its President and Secretary General, Bobboi Kaigama and Musa Lawal respectively, TUC said: “It is extremely grieved by the death of young Nigerians. While the congress demands an immediate investigation into the matter, We are also of the opinion that government should probe the reported sums of money collected from these young Nigerians with a promise to give them employment.
“Needless talk about those that are daily killed by the Boko Haram sect in the North‑East. How long are we going to continue to watch the lives of the youths of this country waste? While commiserating with the families of the deceased, the congress prays for the speedy recovery of the wounded and charges the Ministry of Interior and all relevant agencies of government to immediately swing into action to unravel the remote and immediate causes of the stampede. We also charge all government agencies and parastatals as well as all its elected and appointed officials at all levels to redouble their efforts in curbing unemployment in the country. “
FG pledges to compensate victims families
Meanwhile, the Federal Government, has promised compensation for families of the dead.
Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, who spoke during a visit to the National hospital also hinted that government will look into the possibility of automatic employment to those injured in the Saturday aptitude test stampede.
Moro who pleaded for understanding of Nigerian over the incident, said government would foot the medical bills of those receiving treatment at various hospitals across the country. While blaming the stampede on “people who didn’t even apply,” he noted that people who were not shortlisted for the exercise turned up including pregnant wome, noting that it was unfortunate.
Explaining the choice of the use of stadia nation wide for the recruitment exercise, Moro said, it was due to physical exercises which are “very vital component of any enlistment requirement into the Nigerian Immigration Services, and so we didn’t expect that what happened, yesterday, was going to happen. We expected orderliness based on the logistic arrangement that has been put on ground.
Senate to probe immigration job tragedy
The Senate will today meet to deliberate on the unfortunate incident that happened on Saturday where about 16 applicants were reported dead and several others wounded during the immigration job recruitment test in different parts of the country.
Tambuwal describes incident as unfortunate
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has described as unfortunate, the stampede that led to the death of some Nigerians at various employment screening centres of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). He said the death of the innocent youths was sorrowful and regrettable considering the fact that they were at the screening centres in search of jobs that will better their lots and that of their loved ones.
In a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Malam Imam Imam, Tambuwal asked the authorities concerned to investigate the remote and immediate cause of the tragedy, and advised them to map out strategies to prevent future occurrence.
NIS job stampede deaths, a direct consequence of PDP’s misrule ‑ APC
The All Progressives Congress, APC, has said it is greatly distressed at the deaths of 19 job seekers at the venues of the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, job test on Saturday, calling it a direct consequence of 15 years of misrule by the PDP‑led federal government.
In a statement issued in Lagos on Sunday by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the Minister of Interior must bear direct responsibility for the needless deaths by immediately stepping down from his post, if he has any honour left, or be fired.
It said, however, that the overall responsibility is that of President Goodluck Jonathan, who now seems to be bent on leaving a dubious legacy of bad leadership that has led to a grim harvest of deaths from insecurity, widespread violence and now job stampede, among others.
APC commiserated with the families of the victims and wished those who were injured a speedy recovery.
‘’Despite huge yearly budgets rolled out since 1999, the PDP‑led federal government has failed to create jobs for our teeming youth, and the number of those who are jobless has now reached such an alarming rate that a job emergency may have to be declared to avert an impending cataclysm.
‘’Massive mindless looting of the public treasury has seen funds that could have been used to create millions of jobs end up in the deep pockets of corrupt government and PDP officials, without any consequence for the thieves, while the incompetent federal government led by a clueless President continues to deceive the public with cooked figures showing job creation where indeed there have been job losses.
‘’Today, sadly, the truth has been laid bare: 5,000 or so vacancies declared by NIS have attracted over six million applicants, from which over half a million was shortlisted, according to published reports, and the desperation of our youth to eke out a decent living has been exploited by a villainous government that forced each applicant to cough out 1,000 Naira, thus raking in 6 billion Naira from jobless people,’’ the party said.
It said that the Ministry of Interior has many questions to answer over the apparently‑shoddy arrangements made for the job tests in 37 venues nationwide.
‘’Is it true that the Minister directly presided over the recruitment and money‑making venture? Could this have been part of the government’s fund‑raising measures for the 2015 elections? Why will a government seek to profit from a malaise it created by charging hapless job seekers 1,000 Naira each?
Why was a huge number of applicants invited for only 5,000 jobs or less? Why was such a shoddy arrangement made for the test when so many people were invited? Could the test not have been done in batches to avoid a stampede? How much indeed was realized from this glaring extortion of job seekers? What happened to the money?
These are some of the questions begging for answers.
‘’An investigation into the needless deaths of our youth, under a government that has failed them in every respect, must seek to answer those questions and recommend ways to avoid a recurrence. At least if a government cannot create jobs, it must neither profit from its incompetence nor send the victims of its ineptitude to their early graves,’’ APC said.