One Week, One Tragedy
By Chido Onumah
It’s almost a week since the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) job recruitment tragedy that claimed the lives of many young Nigerians. At the last count, the number of deaths stood at 20 with scores injured. The death of any Nigerian under the tragic circumstances of March 15 ought to be of grave concern to the state.
But then, this is Nigeria. We are inured to tragic deaths. No week passes without bloodcurdling reports about one tragedy or another claiming the lives of Nigerians. Whether it is the mindless mayhem in the name of religion, road accidents, boat mishaps, kidnappers and armed robbers on the prowl or ethnic skirmishes over land, in this huge prison called Nigeria, the majority are “dead men walking”.
Of course, there is no other way to describe what took place last Saturday other than to say it is the product of a dysfunctional country. That incident did not happen by chance. It was carefully orchestrated. Perhaps, those who orchestrated it didn’t imagine that so many young people would die in the process.
The latest tragedy is the product of an entrenched web of corruption which is rooted, evidently, in the warped socio-political structure of Nigeria. You can sense this much from the insensate remarks that came out of the House of Representatives and the reports of what went behind the scene at the NIS.
A few days after the incident, Daily Trust reported that “Most of the Immigration jobs that hundreds of thousands turned up trying to get on Saturday have already been allocated to well-connected politicians, including state governors and federal lawmakers.”
According to the paper, “Only 240 of the 4,556 slots at the Nigeria Immigration Service remained for the 522,652 ‘ordinary’ applicants who trooped to the test centres and caused a stampede in which at least 16 of them died. A source briefed about the recruitment process, which is being handled by the Board of Immigration, Customs and Prisons, told Daily Trust that among those who were already allocated job slots are governors, senators, House of Representatives members and ministers.”
Each applicant paid N1000. The paper quoted its source that claimed that “From the record, 7 million applied, so they generated about N7 billion.” In essence, the Board of Immigration, Customs and Prisons, NIS and their collaborators scammed unemployed and unsuspecting young men and women to the tune of N7 billion to provide jobs for only 240 people.
While this report is helpful, it didn’t say anything that we don’t already know about employment procedure in Nigeria. Two years ago, during its budget performance review before the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service Matters, the chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Deaconess Joan Ayo, was confronted by the vice chairman of the committee, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, who alleged that the staff of the commission were collecting up to N500,000 from job seekers.
We all know that you can’t get a job in Nigeria, whether in the public or private sector, without a letter or a note on a business card from a governor, first lady, minister, senator, retired general, local government chairman, traditional ruler or a staunch fixer that goes by the generic label of “godfather”. And where you don’t have a “godfather” or “godmother” who is adept at writing recommendation letters, you have to be ready to pay the hundreds of thousands demanded by employers, without any guarantee of getting the job.
In his response to the NIS tragedy, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, said, “There was need for the authorities concerned to investigate the remote and immediate cause of the tragedy, and to map out strategies to prevent future occurrence.”
I am not convinced that our lawmakers believe what they say about the money or influence for job that has become part of the employment process in Nigeria. Listen to Umar Bature (PDP, Sokoto), chair of the House of Representatives Interior Committee: “People can say whatever they want to say. The National Assembly members are members of the public. So if they are given slots, I think they are entitled to it.”
His committee, he told Daily Trust, would investigate to find out causes of the incident. “On the criticism over monies collected from applicants, Bature defended the Immigration Service, saying all agencies routinely collect application form fees from job seekers.” Two questions are pertinent here: Who keeps this illegal money that agencies “routinely” collect from job seekers? And what kind of civil servants do we expect from this type of recruitment process?
Both Tambuwal and Bature know the remote and immediate causes of the avoidable tragedy of Saturday, March 15. Ours is a country founded, built and run on entitlement, privileges and greed. Dig deeper and you will establish a link between the so-called consultancy firm that handled the NIS recruitment and top public officers.
Tambuwal and Bature know that nothing will happen, at least from the National Assembly, on this issue. After all, Farouk Lawan is still a member of the honourable house! As I was finishing this piece, news came in that, “A motion moved by Senator Babafemi Ojudu calling for the suspension of the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro and the Comptroller-General of Immigration was thrown out following a voice vote.” All the abjectly compromised, do-nothing Senate could muster was, as expected, wring its hands and submissively agree on “a resolution calling for a minute silence and investigation of the incident.” What a shame!
It is ironic that those who are supposed to lead and make laws for the good governance of the country have made themselves obstacles to the realization of an egalitarian society. What really does it take to provide jobs for millions of youth in a country like Nigeria with vast arable land and mineral resources?
It can’t happen because our ruling elite lack the desire or inclination to make it happen. Even when this thieving, unpatriotic and privileged minority steals public fund, unlike their counterparts in other places, they would rather stash the money in Swiss banks, buy golf courses in Europe or invest in property they are often unable to claim in the Middle East.
As expected, there have been strong words of condemnation from civil society, including a call for the sack or resignation of the Comptroller-General of the NIS, David Shikfu Parradang, and the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, who reportedly blamed the applicants that died for their “impatience and nonadherence to an orderly procedure.” That is the least any self-respecting individual with an iota of moral indignation can do under the circumstance.The young men and women who took part in the NIS job scam and are lucky to be alive can make it happen. Let them picket (Occupy) the Ministry of Interior and the NIS across the country until both men step down or are sacked.
And before our traducers accuse us of empty talk, let me note that three years ago at the height of the shenanigans of Maurice Iwu, then chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), we mobilized young Nigerians, under the auspices of Makeyourvotescount.org, to picket INEC headquarters and every official function Mr. Iwu attended in the Federal Capital Territory for weeks until the government announced his dismissal.
While we await the next tragedy, our hearts go out to the families of the victims of the horrible event last week. It is not a matter of if but when. Nigeria is a ticking bomb. We will do well to collectively defuse this bomb before it goes off.
•Onumah wrote from Abuja. E-mail: email@example.com