Law & Human Rights

March 20, 2014

Recruitment tragedy: ‘NIS is liable’

Recruitment tragedy: ‘NIS is liable’

NIGERIA, Abuja : Job-seekers applying for work at the Nigerian immigration department scramble as their exam papers fly in the air, on the pitch of Abuja National Stadium, on March 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO

By Chino Obiagwu

THERE is no doubt that the  immigration officials responsible for the national tragedy of March 15 2014 that resulted in the death of 16 young Nigerians could be liable for the offence of manslaughter. There is ample evidence to prove all elements of the offence.

Manslaughter is the non-deliberate killing of a person by criminally negligent action or omission. In other words, in proof of manslaughter, we need not to look for any deliberate intention to kill. In fact, there could be very good intention to do what led to death of another person, but once it is shown that there is criminal negligence, then the culprit is liable for the offence.

*Pix. 4: Applicvants who could not find seats await further insatructions as others take seats to write the Nigeria Immigration Service examinations at the 60,000 capacity National Stadium, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

There is no doubt that the death of 16 Nigerian young men and women at the Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment test grounds across the country on March 15 2014 resulted from gross negligence of those responsible for the exercise. Whether their conduct constituted criminal negligence is dependent on the degree of their failure to do the right thing in the context of their professional responsibility, knowledge and facilities available to them. In manslaughter, the motive of the conduct is irrelevant.

In examining the criminal conduct of the NIS officials in the episode, let us look at the facts of the case.
Over a period of more than one year, NIS announced vacancies in its service and its intention to recruit young graduate cadet officers. The available positions were barely over 4000. NIS required applicants to apply for the job with payment of one thousand naira.

Within few weeks, nearly half a million applicants have paid up and applied, and by end of the year, over three quarter of a million. With 700,000 applicants paying the application fee, NIS or its officials responsible raked up 700 million naira. This does not include those whose applications were technically rejected. The said sum of money was said to be the recruitment management and application processing fee.

In other words, the doggy fee collection was meant to provide the facilities to ensure smooth recruitment exercise. There is no basis in law for an institution like NIS to charge money for job recruitment exercise, because it has budget approved for human resources, recruitment and induction training.

There is therefore clear flouting of the law in this respect. It is also callous to charge money to unemployed graduates before applying for such low cadre job at NIS or any job for that matter. Most of these applicants have been out of school without income for many years, some for up to a decade.

The practice of charging money to job applicants in public sector has recently become a smooth scam for officials. Last year, another para military service charged money to job applicants and eventually did not carry out the exercise. In 2009 and 2010, Imo state government collected thousands of naira from over ten thousand applicants for job in the state public service for non-existent jobs. No employment was given to those that applied and the monies were not refunded.

This has become common with all agencies. Some even fix prices for each position and use employment agencies and cronies to search out applicants for payment. That this illegality has continued is the clear impact of impunity.

Once misconduct occurs and not punished, other people will follow because they know they can get away with it. This is why at this tragedy this time around Nigerians must stand with one voice to demand that this tragic incident be used as test case to ensure that those responsible are not only relieved of their jobs but also prosecuted for manslaughter or gross criminal negligence.

Transparent recruitment
Now, NIS claims that it wanted to run transparent recruitment exercise where it would conduct a physical head hunting of all the applicants at the same time so as to give all the applicants the equalopportunity to compete. But that is the crux of the criminal negligence of the officials. There is no doubt that the gathering of mammoth crowd of youth for the recruitment was a mere decoy to give the impression of transparency in the recruitment process.

There is no doubt that it is elementary in every recruitment system or basic human resource system that you must pre-screen applicants and shortlist those that meet the basic requirements set for the position.
There is no justification for inviting everyone that applied for a job to interview or test at a centre, especially in the circumstances of the opaque notices, which attracted even people that did not apply for the job to attend, was deliberately designed to be a show.

NIS did not make adequate arrangement for crowd control, despite collecting huge sums of money from the applicants. It hired the stadia across the country including the two national stadia in Abuja and Lagos.
This suggested that it was anticipating a massive crowd of young, eager unemployed youths to attend, including pregnant women. It is therefore negligent on the part of the NIS officials to carry out such exercise when they knew that without pre-planned crowd control measure there would be chaos.

It is also a fact of negligence that NIS officials should have conducted pre-selected or assessment of the applicants to shortlist candidates most qualified. It could also conduct online test or adopt other measures to pre-test the mass of applications. It is clear that it could not head hunt 4000 new recruits out of 700,000 applicants. I would require over one thousand of its staff working continuously for 3 months to effectively conduct a written test, mark the scripts and produce a result that it claimed it wanted on merit.

So it was clear from the conduct of the officials that its intention was far from noble.According to the Nigeria Labour Congress, in condemning the conduct of NIS resulting in the death innocent Nigerians, “… nothing but crass opportunism can explain this heartless scam.

A more rational and discerning recruitment process could easily have reduced the numbers by insisting on raising minimum standards.This follows a condemnable pattern, which has now become common, even in the private sector, where thousands of applicants are invited in droves to compete for extremely limited opportunities.

Ordinarily objectionable, this rogue method of head hunting, must count as execrable in the extreme, when adopted by a reputable department of government.”

This is a misconduct that the government must insist on investigating and prosecuting. Over the years, a lot of public officials have caused the death of others through sheer negligence. The several plane crashes in this country were result of avoidable human errors. In the crash of Sosoliso aircraft at Port Harcourt airport, it was reported that there was power failure at the airport at the time, and someone had the responsibility of ensuring that there is always electric power at the airport.

As a result, the control tower was not fully functional and only manual instruments could be used, even though the weather was very bad. Even after the crash, the fire service rushed to the scene with their tankers but without a drop of water.

Empty tankers
Meanwhile, these service men have been in their station with empty tankers. If they had water, the magnitude of damage would have been minimized. These are examples of grass irresponsibility of those in authority without regards to the safety and security of others.

There is no doubt that impunity continues at large scale in this country because culprits are not effectively punished. This is the reason the head of the immigration service and all those concerned who planned and executed this scam resulting in multiple death of young Nigerians, should be prosecuted for manslaughter.

If the authorities to take action in this regards, we encourage families of the death to take up the issue under the right of private prosecution so that the death of their loved ones will not be in vain. LEDAP as an organisation is available to support families that demand for justice this devastating tragedy.

Chino Obiagwu is of LEDAP – Legal Defence & Assistance Project