There are indications that Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, hurriedly organised 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.
Investigations have revealed that 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.
Before the order was rescinded, the minister was said to have gone ahead to carry out the recruitment, refusing to also make refunds to applicants.
Scores of the applicants who presented themselves for the aptitude test nationwide on Saturday were either trampled to death during stampede or suffocated from tear gas and panic caused by sporadic shooting by security operatives at recruitment centres.
Daily Independent reliably gathered that the Comptroller General of Immigration, David Paradang, 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.
It was gathered that this is the first time the minister through the Civil Defence Fire Prisons and Immigration Board (CDFPIB) would be conducting recruitment across all ranks.
The normal rule is that the board jointly handles recruitment for Grade Level 8 upwards with the respective service management.
Whereas management of the Service handles recruitment for Grade Level 7 down, regarded as junior officers.
A little less than one million people filled the online application form 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.
“How can consultants recruit for a paramilitary body?” a senior official queried.
Meanwhile, of the almost a billion naira realised from application fees nothing was allegedly released to the NIS to mobilise for the recruitment tests nationwide.
Officers mobilised by the service to supervise the recruitment exercise in Lagos were said to be ignorant of modalities until the Lagos comptroller arrived the National Stadium, Surulere, at about 10.00 a.m. on Saturday.
“I really do not know anything about when or how the exercise will begin, we received orders to be at the stadium today and we are here; let’s wait and see what happens,” a senior officer of NIS said in reply to a question on Saturday in Lagos.
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) had the highest number of applicants that attended the recruitment test on Saturday with 68,941.
Lagos followed with 50,941, Rivers State had over 22,300 and Edo State had over 20,700.
Other states had less than 20,000 applicants but a few others had less than 10,000, according to impeccable source.
Seven people were confirmed dead in Abuja in the stampede that ensued in the poorly planned recruitment test.
Five persons were also feared dead in Rivers State during the exercise, which held at the Liberation Stadium, Elekahia, in Port Harcourt.
In Benin, one pregnant woman who came to attend the recruitment exercise at the main bowl of Sam Ogbemudia Stadium was confirmed dead.
Also in Minna, Niger State, at least three persons of the 11,000 candidates that showed up at Women Day Secondary School Minna slumped and died.
In Lagos also, the exercise was largely chaotic, as a crowd of applicants milled from the National Stadium to the public highway, making vehicular movement largely difficult.
Reports also indicated that no fewer than 10 persons were injured at various skirmishes that marred the exercise.
Due to the poor coordination, forms earlier submitted were thrown away and littered the floor, confirming fears that the recruitment exercise was just a sham, as slots had already been allocated to some public officials and influential Nigerians.
Even the exam question papers, also littered the main bowl, some of them torn apart, as people struggled to collect them when they sensed a purported plan to hoard the question papers, creating anxiety among applicants.
Spokesman of the Lagos command of the NIS, Muyiwa Odunubi, said he could not talk on the preparation made to accommodate the crowd that turned up.
“How do you think we can manage over 50,000 people? he asked, saying everything is clear for all to see.
He said his bosses are around and that he cannot speak for the command until he gets authority to do so.
But when asked if the command did not envisage the crowd that came, he had no answer.
Moro allegedly has governorship ambition.
Eighty per cent of the slots to be filled in the recruitment was said to have been allocated to prominent Nigerians.
This meant that the crowd of applicants that thronged the various recruitment centres were actually struggling for about 20 per cent of the entire vacancies.
Moro himself, however, spoke in Abuja on Sunday where he denied any wrong doing, especially over claim that over one million people applied for the job.
Fielding questions from newsmen in Abuja, Moro explained that the ministry and the NIS did all that was possible to avoid the tragedy.
He explained that contrary to figures bandied, only 526, 650 people applied for various job positions in the NIS.
He added that the ministry ensured that adequate logistic and security provisions were made to accommodate the number of applicants nationwide.
The minister announced immediate suspension of the ill-fated recruitment exercise, assuring that a committee will soon be set up to thoroughly investigate the tragedy.
This is coming just as families of the dead at the job recruitment stampede in the FCT stormed the National Hospital, Abuja, on Sunday morning, demanding release of the remains of their loved ones for immediate burial.
One of the families, who are of the Islamic faith, said the continued stay of remains of their daughter and sister, Oiza Yusuf, in the hospital morgue was against the Islamic faith.
Her remains ought to have been interred on Saturday evening when she died, they contended.
Brother of the deceased, Mohammed Yekini, an engineer from Kogi State, said the family was distraught at the demise of 35-year-old businesswoman whom, he said, was one of the breadwinners in the family.
According to him, Oiza Yusuf was defrauded of N150,000 sometime last year over the same immigration job.
He said the manner the exercise was conducted left much to be desired, and wondered how exam could have been conducted for 68,000 persons in one day.
Meanwhile, Moro has directed immediate release of remains of the dead job seekers to their individual families by the hospital authorities.
He further directed that as soon all formalities for such releases were made, the remains should be released.
He consoled the bereaved families for the sad loss of their loved ones.
He pleaded with the affected families to keep in touch with the ministry for further assistance,
Moro who was accompanied by Comptroller General of the NIS, David Paradang, in an early morning call to see some of the injured at the hospital, said his ministry and the NIS will do all that is possible to ameliorate consequences of the stampede.
At the time of the visit about 11 persons, eight male and three female applicants, who sustained injuries were still at the hospital.
Only one male victim was still at the emergency unit of the hospital when Daily Independent called.
The minister also observed the pace of their recovery.
“Most of them have sufficiently recovered from the trauma of Saturday and are in stable condition. We have discussed with them, and we thank God Almighty that the situation has calmed down.
“I am also aware of the number of persons that died and identified. By their account here, we have five females and two males. Some members of families of the dead have also shown up and we have interacted with them.”
Moro dismissed any suggestion that survivors of stampede whose details were being collected by his aides would be given automatic employment, saying the exercise cannot go on in the present circumstances.
According to him, the focus of the ministry for now is to help the families of the dead applicants mourn their loved ones as well as ensure reduction of human suffering occasioned by the stampede.
But All Progressives Congress (APC) placed the blame for the tragedy squally at the doorstep of the minister, saying it was greatly distressed by the death of the job seeking youths.
In a statement in Lagos on Sunday by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, 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”.
The party added, however, 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 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 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 realised 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.
Trade Union Congress (TUC) called for a probe into the stampede at the recruitment centres.
Describing the incident as a national disaster and embarrassment to the country, TUC said such probe should equally involve the alleged sums of money collected from the applicants with a promise to give them employment.
In a statement jointly signed by TUC President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, and General Secretary, Musa Lawal, the union wondered why everything about Nigeria is always problematic.
Another group, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), called on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the TUC to organise a mass protest over “the avoidable waste of the lives of scores of unemployed Nigerian youths”.
ERC in a statement by its National Coordinator, Hassan Soweto, and National Secretary, Michael Ogundele, on Sunday urged the labour movement to organise a mass procession to protest and demand a probe in the tragedy.
In the same vein, a pro-democracy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), condemned what it called the malpractice of demanding payment of N1, 000.00 from each job applicant by the management of the NIS.
In a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, and the National Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA said “charging job applicants before taking test to be recruited into the para-military outfit is not only a criminal scheme that undermines national security but also economically impoverishes the Nigerian youth who are deceived into parting with their scarcely available financial resources for job slots that are only available for only a hand full”.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, has described stampede that resulted in the death of applicants at the recruitment centres as unfortunate.
In the same vein, he described as a great loss to the nation, the demise of former President General of the pan-Igbo socio-political group Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ralph Uwechue.
Tambuwal spoke in two separate statements signed by his Special Adviser on Media, Imam Imam, on Sunday.
Condemning the untimely death of the job seekers, the Speaker 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.
He asked the authorities concerned to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the tragedy, and advised them to map out strategies to prevent future occurrence.
Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, similarly condoled with the families of the dead and wounded applicants at the NIS recruitment examination centres.
In a statement in Abuja, Ndoma-Egba bemoaned the high level of unemployment in the country and pleaded with government to create employment opportunities for Nigerian youths.
He said “as a nation, this is an unimaginable tragedy. These deaths are coming at a time when the nation is grappling with the unwarranted deaths of innocent citizens at the hands of the Boko Haram sect”.
The Senate Leader regretted that “this is a tragic reminder that our nation must do something very urgently to create opportunities for young men and women; we must do everything to generate employment.”