Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Avoidable Tragedy at Nigeria Immigration Recruitment Exercise

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King

It is the season of anomie in Nigeria. The country is now in the Hobbesian State of Nature where life is short, brutish and nasty. In the last one week, hundreds of lives have been lost to myriads of terrorist attacks in Katsina, Borno, Benue, and Kaduna States. We are still mourning the loss of these hapless citizens when news broke on Saturday, March 15 that over a dozen deaths had been recorded during the 2014 Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment exercise. Many of the news media put the death toll at between 16 and 23 with several others injured. However the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro on Monday, March 17 put the official figure at 15. Moreover, some of the applicants also lost originals of their academic certificates during the stampede occasioned by poor crowd control.

Is this tragedy avoidable? Are there things NIS could have done different to safeguard the lives of these unfortunate lost souls? What lessons are there to be learnt from this catastrophe by Ministries, Department and Agencies of government and indeed private organisations wanting to conduct recruitment exercises? For the records, it is not the first time that NIS recruitment exercise will turn awry. According to The Nation of July 14, 2008, seventeen persons reportedly died during the nationwide recruitment to the Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Prisons Service. It was reported that eight persons were feared dead in Ilorin, two each in Asaba and Umuahia, four in Enugu as well as one in Bauchi. Many others sustained injuries during the physical fitness exercise embarked upon to weed out applicants. Shouldn’t that have been a useful guide for the  Service? 

This ‘journey to Golgotha’ started some months ago when NIS announced that it was about to recruit new staff into its organisation and asked each applicant to pay N1, 000 to obtain an application form. This demand for payment generated rumpus as it was widely condemned as exploitative of the job-seekers. Nonetheless NIS stuck to its gun and grudgingly the applicants paid. According to the Minister of Interior 522,650 applied for 4,556 job vacancies. In the earlier mentioned 2008 fiasco, over 195,000 candidates jostled for 3,000 available vacancies. Some of the applicants range from Masters Degree holders to those with secondary school Ordinary Level certificate. Does this huge number of applicants tell any story to our government?

Now, what should a sensible organisation have done with the statistics of the applicants for these jobs?  Shouldn’t this figure have occasioned a proper logistical planning?   Rather, we read that the NIS officials who conducted the aptitude and fitness tests for the applicants were overwhelmed.  In many locations, the officials did not have a confirmed figure of the number of those who were expected at their venues. There was also no form of prior identification of pregnant women, nursing mothers and persons with disabilities who definitely should have been attended to specially given their vulnerable nature. Little wonder an exercise that was meant to start by 7am did not commence until about five to nine hours later.

The questions are: Given the fact that the applicants were made to pay for the exercise; shouldn’t NIS have outsourced the conduct of the recruitment exercise to organisations like the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, West African Examination Council or National Examination Council who are experienced at conducting examinations for huge number of candidates?  The Minister of Interior, Abba Moro said the examinations were conducted at the stadiums across the country in order to ascertain that the recruitment exercise was transparent and credible. Arrant nonsense! What credibility can an examination in which there is no proper supervision and candidates were freely copying themselves have?

Shouldn’t Nigerian Immigration Service have conducted the aptitude and fitness tests for different cadre of the job-seekers on different dates over a period of time? Why lump school certificates holders with those with ordinary diploma and then graduates?  I read that screening of applicants was being done at the venue of the aptitude test, this is wrong! (Applicants, apart from possessing requisite educational qualifications, are to be between 18 and 35 years). Screening of eligible applicants ought to have been done in-house and those who are found to be qualified should have been the only one invited for the aptitude test. The so called fitness test should actually be for those who have scaled the hurdle of the aptitude test. In this day of internet, the aptitude test could have even been done online or via telephone. This is not a rocket science for God’s sake! The annoying thing is that the advertised vacancies could have even been shared out to political office holders and top bureaucrats while the tests were conducted  as a smokescreen to fulfill all righteousness.

Most disheartening in this whole episode is the Minister of Interior’s misguided statement of blaming the victim. He was reported to have said “The applicants lost their lives due to impatience; they did not follow the laid down procedures spelt out to them before the exercise.” When you pack people like sardines in an enclosure and did not attend to them on time, how wouldn’t they become impatient? As highlighted above, the stampede and deaths recorded during this recruitment exercise are totally avoidable if the Ministry of Interior and the Nigerian Immigration Service had done better and proper planning.

I am not interested in the setting up of any committee or commission of inquiry to look at the immediate or remote causes of this tragedy. These are already in the public domain. More so, similar panel was inaugurated in 2008, what lessons were learnt from that debacle. I am also disinterested in the crocodile tears of the government officials on this unfortunate incident. My request is for the sack or at least redeployment of Abba Moro from the Ministry of Interior. He has overtly demonstrated his incompetence on this issue. Nigeria Immigration Service Comptroller General, Mr. David Shikfu Parradang should be queried about the poor logistics put in place by his Agency despite the millions of Naira raked in from the applicants. He too should be relieved of his position. NIS should take a proper audit of the number of those who died and those injured during the stampede. The family of the dead applicants should be adequately compensated by NIS. Those who suffer permanent disability as a result of this tragic incident should also be compensated and rehabilitated. The charade of recruitment exercise must be cancelled and a properly organised one conducted.

Government at all levels should heed the early warning signs that the current state of unemployment in the country is no longer sustainable and should therefore come up with better strategy to combat it. A social benefit scheme needs to be put in place that will ensure that unemployed graduates are paid a token (maybe N10, 000) monthly allowance to take care of their basic needs. Government at all levels needs to plug all drainpipes and use the resources of the country to develop it. Our school curriculum also require comprehensive revision to focus more on entrepreneurial education which will make our graduates less craving for white-collar jobs. However, for this to happen, our infrastructural deficit, security and corruption challenges would have to be aggressively tackled in order to create the enabling environment for self employment.   May God give the family of the dead the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.