By Ohia Israel
On Saturday March 15th 2015, unemployed young men and women thronged in their numbers in all 36 states of the Federation and the FCT. For them it is with joy and happy mood, however such mood were turned to cries for their families, as not less than 20 people lost their lives in that infamous aptitude test conducted by the Ministry of Interior.
Meanwhile more details have continued to surface on how the Interior Minister, Abba Moro, bungled the Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment examination.
It was gathered by this paper that the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, speedily organized the ill-fated recruitment tests for the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to cover up the suspected fraud in the process that resulted in the deaths of many applicants on Saturday.
As gathered by DESERT HERALD there was a subsisting order by the National Assembly for the minister to put the recruitment on hold and refund the N1,000 application fee collected from the job seekers. However the order, it was gathered, was rescinded, the minister was said to have gone ahead to carry out the recruitment, refusing to also make refunds to applicants.
The Comptroller General of Immigration, David Parradang, it was gathered, was not aware of the planned recruitment tests until the week of the exercise, the same time the applicants got the notice from advertisements published by the ministry.
Moreover, this is not the first time the Minister through Civil Defence, Fire, Prisons and Immigration Board (CDFPIB) would be conducting recruitments across all ranks, while demystify the normal rule which stipulates that the board jointly handles recruitment for Grade Level 8 upwards with the respective service management, while management of the Service handles recruitment for Grade Level 7 down, regarded as junior officers.
More details emerging from the ill-fated recruitment exercise is that a little less than one million people filled the online application forms for both the junior and senior cadre vacancies, each paying N1,000 to some dedicated bank accounts allegedly controlled by the wife of a most prominent Senator.
When the National Assembly queried the collection of N1,000 from applicants last year, the minister had replied that the money went to the consultant hired to organise the recruitment portal.
Meanwhile details of the casualties show that at least 12 people were taken to the hospital in Port Harcourt. Four applicants fainted in Imo State.
Hospital authorities at the Rivers government-owned Braithwaite Memorial Hospital in Port Harcourt have confirmed that four candidates died during a stampede at the Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that more than 20,000 candidates were involved in a stampede at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt, venue of the exercise on Saturday morning.
The news agency quoted a source at the hospital as saying 12 candidates were brought to the hospital after the stampede.
“I can confirm to you that four have died, four others in critical condition while four were treated and discharged,’’ the source said.
The source, who pleaded for anonymity, said a pregnant woman was among the dead.
The source said doctors and specialists have been called back to duty to assist to save the lives of the remaining four candidates on emergency list.
“Some of the candidates were in bad condition because they were trampled upon during the stampede,” the source said.
At the military hospital, Port Harcourt, authorities confirmed receiving some of the injured persons but said they were being taken care of.
However, Mr. Abang Bisong, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Rivers Command, confirmed to NAN that some of the injured were taken to the hospital but did not know their condition.
The Immigration recruitment held across Nigeria on Saturday with several reports of deaths and stampede from different states. Advertised positions were for university graduates, diploma holders and Senior Secondary School Certificate holders.
In Abuja, recruitment, at least seven job seekers died at the Abuja National Stadium while scrambling to secure seats for the recruitment test.
The National Hospital, less than a kilometre away from the stadium, received the bodies and confirmed the casualty figure.
The stampede ensued after the over 20,000 job seekers scrambled through a poorly organized barricade at the test venue, witnesses said.
The police in Abuja said they are yet to get information on the deaths.
Some 25, 000 applicants were scheduled to participate in the recruitment interview at the 16, 000 capacity Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt.
NAN learnt that several applicants were seriously wounded, while some lost their certificates in the melee.
Mr. Bisong said the stampede was caused when about 20, 000 candidates forced their way into the stadium.
“During the stampede, some candidates fell and were trampled upon by others, while some became unconscious due to the incident,” he said. “The victims have been taken to the Military Hospital for rehabilitation and treatment. At the moment, we have not received any information on their present condition.”
An eyewitness and victim, Mr Jasper Saturday, said the situation would have been worse but for the response from security personnel.
“The immigration officers were trying to screen candidates from the stadium gate and in the process some candidates became impatient and started pushing us from the back.
“Those of us who were in the front fell to the ground because others stepped on us and as a result, some candidates lost consciousness.
“If not for the gunshots released to the air by security agents to scare the candidates pushing us from behind, there would have been several casualties,” Saturday said.
NAN reports that no fewer than 10 applicants, including three expectant mothers, fainted in Imo while waiting for the commencement of the test.
Some of the applicants expressed disappointment over the manner the exercise was organised.
An applicant, Nwakuche Isigu, said he left his village in Oguta Local Government Area by 6a.m. to ensure that he arrived early at the venue.
Another applicant, Onyemobi Anyanwu, called on the Federal Government to create more jobs for the youth.
In Kebbi, 5,000 applicants assembled at Halliru Abdu Stadium, where officials had tough time controlling the applicants.
The venue witnessed a boom in economic activities as food and snacks vendors as well as sachet water sellers enjoyed good patronage.
The police, Federal Road Safety Corps and National Security and Civil Defence Corps personnel assisted in the maintenance of order at the venue.
Three of the over 11,000 candidates for the aptitude test for recruitment into the Nigeria Immigration Service were on Saturday feared dead in Minna, Niger State capital.
They died following a stampede during accreditation and clearance of candidates to enter into the examination hall.
Situation got out of the control of Immigration personnel as the applicants overwhelmed the officials supervising the exercise forcing one of the officers to open tear gas and in the process seven persons collapsed and were rushed to the hospital where three persons gave up the ghost.
Trouble started when the applicants became unruly as they complained of the slow pace of the accreditation the Chief examiner from the headquarters of the service whom we gathered insisted to call names of the candidates based on the serial numbers of the application forms but did not go down well with the candidates.
This development precipitated a rowdy session as most candidates who were on a queue became apprehensive and complained that the line, which was over a kilometre was not moving as anticipated.
One of the victims that were rushed to Minna General Hospital was in a critical condition while the other three injured victims are said to have been stable but quarantined from the public and the media.
Efforts to get details about the victims were fruitless as the hospital authority and staff refused to comment based on security directive.
But medical personnel confirmed that three of the seven injured persons were dead, one in critical condition while the other three are in stable condition.
He further said that the bodies of those who died have been deposited at the mortuary.
But the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Ibrahim Sule, said only two of the applicants died. According to him, “one female was reported dead on arrival at the hospital and the other male applicant died at Minna General Hospital.”
He also said that four other males were equally treated and discharged, while seven other female applicants are currently receiving treatment for their injuries at the hospital.
The Niger State Comptroller of Immigration Service, Ezekiel S. Kaura, confirmed that 11,000 candidates sat for the recruitment examination in Minna centre but said that five collapsed as a result of stampede and were rushed to the hospital.
Also in Benin Zone, three pregnant women participating in the Benin zone of the immigration recruitment exercises slumped and died immediately inside the main bowl of Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium on Saturday.
The applicants had turned up for the exercise as early as 6am, but the screening couldn’t start till 2:15pm when some of the applicants started leaving after the stampede.
Trouble started around 10am, when the immigration officials in charge of the screening lost control of the crowd prompting the soldiers on guard to start shooting sporadically into the air.
Over twenty eight thousands applicants that took part in the one day exercise started running for safety that resulted in stampede.
As at the time of filing this story over twenty persons are being revived at nearby hospitals while the three pregnant women died before help came their way.
Some of the applicants who condemned the way and manner the exercise were conducted with the immigration officials in charge having no human feelings.
Mr Isaac, an applicant, expressed shock over the inhuman way they were being treated by the recruiting officers.
“Can you imagine sir, this is 2: 10pm , we are still loitering around with no concrete information from the recruiting officers.
“Oga, they should help asked the immigration officials, why the shooting? To organize the applicants is easy. Now, the shooting has caused big problem. Three pregnant women died, over twenty persons are hospitalized. Now the exercise is on hold.”
In Kano the story was the same as Seven youths sustained injuries during the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) aptitude test on Saturday.
The incident occurred at the Indoor Sports Hall of the Sani Abacha Stadium involving two females and five males during a stampede.
The NIS had advertised openings for more than 3,000 vacancies for yet unemployed youths to sit for the aptitude test across states of the federation.
The stampede occurred when thousands of the applicants were struggling to gain entrance into the main gate of the Indoor Sports Hall.
A sudden surge however led to the injuries of the seven job seekers, an eyewitness at the venue said.
However, unconfirmed reports told this reporter that three of the job seekers were feared dead.
According to the Public Relations officer of the command in Kano, Mohammed Kanoma, no person died at the venue of the examination.
“The only thing that happened was that two female and five male applicants sustained injuries during a stampede and were treated and allowed to sit for the exam,” Kanoma stated.
Thousands of job applicants were trapped in stampedes Saturday at different venues for the Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment test in Benue and Gombe States.
There were no immediate statistics of deaths or of those hospitalised.
In Benue no fewer than 17, 800 applicants took part in the exercise at the Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi.
The Public Relations Officer of the service in Benue, Tersoo Ukeyima, told NAN in Makurdi that the NIS was overwhelmed by the number of applicants and did its best to accommodate them.
Mr. Ukeyima said there were challenges in crowd management, but commended officers for discharging their duties in controlling the crowd.
He said no casualties were recorded and assured that the First Aid Department of the command was on hand to tackle any eventuality.
Some of the applicants, who spoke to NAN, commended the officers for the orderly conduct of the exercise, saying they were satisfied.
Richard Joseph, Mzungwega Terfa and Cecelia Adole from Gwer Logo and Otukpo Local Governments said they were pleased with the arrangements for the examinations.
Some, however, expressed fears that the exercise might not be completed on schedule owing to the crowd.
In Gombe, 5,000 candidates from Gombe and Borno took part in the exercise at Abubakar Umar Memorial Stadium, Gombe.
NAN learnt that applicants from Borno were deployed to Gombe as a result of the security challenge in that state.
The NIS Comptroller in Gombe, Y. G Emmanuel, said: “as you can see the exercise is going on and we have been here since 3 a.m. to ensure everything is in order for a smooth exercise.’’
The nationwide test has brought to the fore lack of proper coordination, ingenuity and tact in carrying out government businesses. It is a direct pointer to the fact that officials of government have no clear-cut knowledge on how important assignments such as recruiting fresh hands into government establishments should be carried out. The Nigerian Immigration Service is a key security establishment that shouldn’t be treated with less seriousness. This is the agency that mounts our entry and exit points to ensure that those coming into the country are without any stain or have no ulterior motives. So, in view of its strategic role in the entire life of any nation, the Immigration Service or Department is expected to live above board and remain very exemplary in its dealings.
Meanwhile the Interior Minister Abba Moro has been lampooned by the board of the Immigration as he is asked to carry the can for the death of 19 applicants at the Immigration Service recruitment centres last Saturday.
The Board of Immigration Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence, Prisons and Fire Service last week said that the Minister sidelined the Board in the tragic recruitment.
While speaking before the Hon. Solomon Olamilekan- Adeola-headed House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts, a Commissioner on the Board, Mr. S D Tapgun, absolved the Board of any wrong-doing in the botched exercise. Tapgun, who led the board members and heads of the agencies under the board to a session before the committee, said the Board did not approve the recruitment.
According to Tapgun; “Only the Interior Minister and the consultant he engaged for the exercise can tell Nigerians exactly what happened. Even the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service was not involved. He was not part of the recruitment at all. There was no board resolution to recruit anybody.
“When we, the members of the board, learnt about the recruitment, we wrote the Minister that we are not in support of engaging the services of a third party to conduct recruitment for the Immigration Service, but he ignored our letter and went ahead to engage the consultant named Rexel Technical Global Nigeria limited. The Consultant fixed everything, including a N1,000 fees, which they claimed was administrative charges.”
Tapgun said to prove the innocence of the board in the affair before Nigerians, members were ready to confront the Minister at any time.
According to the Commissioner, records at the board’s disposal show that 693,000 applicants who paid N1,000 each to designated banks by the consultant, were registered for the recruitment.
The Chairman of the Committee, Solomon Adeola said both the Interior Minister and the consultant should appear before the committee to explain where they derived the power for recruitment without approval from the Board.
They are also to reveal the total amount raked in from the applicants and the whereabout of the cash.
“This is fraud. Nigerians, our children have been defrauded to the tune of a billion naira. The Minister and the consultant must tell Nigerians how much was collected, the banks where the money is being kept and the account numbers, among others.”
The lawmaker said the committee had earlier summoned the Board before the tragic event after learning that applicants were being charged N1,000 each by the Nigeria Immigration Service for the recruitment.
The purpose at the time, Adeola said, was to enable the board account for the money so far collected.
Following the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, recruitment disaster that claimed the lives of no less than 20 unemployed graduates on Saturday, the Federal Government has offered automatic employment to three members each of families of the dead victims. The government also granted applicants who got injured, during the exercise, automatic employments.
This was stated by the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, at the end of the weekly meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation, FEC. The meeting was presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan and lasted for about an hour.
Mr. Maku also said the government had cancelled the recruitment exercise by the NIS; and also cancelled any similar ongoing one by all government ministries, departments, and agencies, MDAs; except the Nigeria Police and the military.
A special committee chaired by the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Joan Ayo, was set up to conduct a new recruitment exercise to fill existing vacancies in the NIS.
Members of the committee are the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, David Paradang, a Representative of the Inspector General of the Nigeria Police, Representative of the Comptroller of the Nigeria Prison Service, Representative of the Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps and a Representative of the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
It is not clear if the committee will ask job seekers to apply afresh or would use the initial one used for Saturday’s test. Each of the about 600,000 people that registered for the NIS test were made to pay N1,000.
Mr. Maku said the president “instructed all MDAs henceforth never to embark on any exercise of this nature in recruiting people into the public service, because what happened could have been avoided altogether.
“He has directed that henceforth no one outside the army, police, who usually recruit people through physical exercises, no other MDA or department of government is allowed to embark on this type of exercise that we witnessed on Saturday,” Mr. Maku said.
Mr. Maku said the entire proceeding of the FEC was dedicated to the families of the deceased.
“FEC noted with grief and deep regrets the tragedy of those who died in the ill fated Nigeria Immigration exercise. FEC in sending condolences to the families of the deceased; and also in sending special wishes to those who are injured and receiving treatment in various hospitals in different parts of the country expressed total regrets that this tragedy took place at all.
“Council members were full of grief. When the issue was discussed, we expressed our condolences to the President and Vice President and we indeed reassured Nigerians that all of us who have the privilege of servicing this nation at this time are feeling the pains with the families of our young ones who lost their lives.
“We reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring that this kind of tragedy does not repeat itself in this country,” Mr. Maku said.
He said the President will visit the families of the deceased to express his condolence as soon he returns from his trip abroad.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased, this nation is fully behind them, the grief is not their own, the grief is the grief of all Nigerians and the grief is the grief of the government and the people of Nigeria. We regret it and pray for the souls of those who have departed,” Mr. Maku said.
“It is regrettable that this took place at a time that every effort was being made by government to increase spaces available for employment. For example last year we were able to get 1.6 million employed in the various sectors of the economy and the public service. However this incident is so painful to all of us and we will not want to see in this country young job seekers looking for job and losing their lives in the process,” he added.
Mr. Maku said members of the council assured that steps will be taken to address the various lapses in recruitment exercises into the public service to ensure that “all those who are qualified get access into the public service without going through this kind of experience”.
There have been widespread calls by Nigerians for the removal of both the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, and The Comptroller-General of Immigration, David Parradang, from office.
Already, the Nigeria Human Rights Commission, NHRC, has commenced investigations into the NIS recruitment tragedy.