Saturday, March 15 2014, was a tragic day in Nigeria. The tragedy belongs to the class of man-made disasters. It was the date of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment test. Several figures have been bandied around as the death toll arising from the ill-fated test. But in reality, no one would ever know the exact death toll; how many babies were inside the dead, pregnant women? No one can confidently say.
In the beginning
It all began in September 2013 when the NIS put out an advertisement for recruitment into the service. Hundreds of thousands of job seekers, both unemployed and underemployed, scrambled to apply for the job. Banks were inundated with applicants jostling to get scratch cards for the online application process. It was such a hassle that many just gave up. In the end, some accounts have it that up to 6 million jobless and under-employed Nigerians applied for the jobs. The vacancies are only about 4000!
Severally, I have been accosted by applicants who pleaded with me for transport fare to return to their home; mostly they have gone out job-hunting and at the end of day they are broke and unable to get themselves home. I always endeavour to lend a hand to them because I recall during my NYSC years how I had ran out of transport money after a day of job hunting; it took a Good Samaritan to get me back to my base. People usually have pity on job seekers because it is understood that they do not have any sustainable means of livelihood.
Apparently, the interior ministry saw no reason to have pity for this class of people. Millions of applicants were made to part with One Thousand Naira as application fees. Amidst the hues and cries of concerned Nigerians, the ministry explained that the money was paid to the consultant handling the recruitment exercise.
The Test Tragedy
The NIS recruitment test would have passed for a fiasco but for the lives lost on that day. But, what were they thinking? Did they really take the test serious? It was apparent that there was virtually no preparation for an exam that was to involve hundreds of thousands of applicants. Even a day to the examination, people were still running helter-skelter seeking information on how and where the test would be holding. Eventually, the powers that be chose the stadia as the venue for the tests. Did they consider how people were meant to write an exam in a stadium? Tens of thousands of people were packed in the stadia in several states, milling around aimlessly. It was a pitiful sight in most of the venues. Thousands just got frustrated and left without writing the exams. Some resorted to photocopying the exam questions just to be able to write; this in itself is a testimony to the charade that took place on the exam day. The unfortunate ones paid with their lives!
But the questions must be asked, ‘Where is the consultant that raked in billions of naira from hapless job seekers? What was the money meant for? Were the billions raked in meant to just collect names of applicants? Shouldn’t these billions have been sufficient to prepare a decent, phased exam for the applicants? What is the identity of the consultants and the scope of agreement reached with the interior ministry?’ These questions beg for answers. These lives must not be lost in vain.
An Emerging Trend of Exploitation
The action of the Ministry of Interior in taking undue advantage of job applicants is deplorable but not an isolated incident. There is an emerging trend of governments and government agencies demanding money from job applicants before they could apply for advertised openings. For instance, the Government of Imo State, under Ikedi Ohakim, extracted Two Thousand Naira each from millions of applicants under the pretext of job opportunity; it is doubtful that they recruited up to 5000 people eventually. The Nigerian Army has the annual ritual of advertisements and N1000 collections. The Nigerian Air force has joined the league of harvesters.
Why government agencies would go about extorting money from hapless job seekers when private concerns handle the cost of their own recruitment processes baffles me. Some people have clearly opened an evil shop on heads of the unemployed and this must be checked!
Call for Justice
Finally, this tragedy of March 15 should not be swept under the carpet. Nigerians demand answers to this cruelty and unwarranted waste of lives. There are indications that most of the openings have already been filled and the charade conducted in the name of exam lends credence to this view. A thorough investigation should be conducted into the recruitment process, from the conception through the application to the tests. Besides, we also need to know whether the vacancies actually exist.
Chinedu Asogwa writes from Lagos.
He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or teamupafrica.blogspot.com