For over two hours Monday, Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, and the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. David Parradang, were on the hot seat as they told President Goodluck Jonathan all they knew about the circumstances that led to the death of over 16 job seekers during a recruitment exercise last Saturday.
The duo is under fire following the deaths that occurred during stampedes at the recruitment centres in Abuja, Minna and Benin, and was summoned to the State House to shed more light on why what should have been a smooth exercise turned tragic.
Also yesterday, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and more groups joined in the call for the probe and removal of the minister and the NIS boss for their alleged culpability in the tragedy.
Although details of the encounter the duo had with Jonathan were not disclosed, it was learnt that the meeting was not a pleasant experience for Moro and Parradang, as they came out of the president’s office wearing long faces.
They brushed aside questions from reporters who had approached them to find out what transpired during the meeting.
However, the minister in a statement by his Special Assistant, Media, George Udoh, commiserated with the bereaved families and Nigerians, describing the incident as a national tragedy.
He said he was extremely traumatised by the death of the job seekers despite efforts to enthrone transparency and credibility in the recruitment.
â€œMy heart goes out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the stampede,â€ he stated.
The statement quoted the minister as promising to foot the hospital bills of those receiving treatment, directing that ambulances be provided to convey the corpses of the deceased to their hometowns.
Also, the Bauchi State Command of the NIS yesterday confirmed the death of one person and two others injured during the recruitment test at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium.
The state Comptroller of Immigration, Mr. Ejukwule Usman, while fielding questions from reporters in his office in Bauchi, said the injured were receiving treatment at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital (ATBUTH), Bauchi.
According to him, â€œThe name of the person who lost his life and who hailed from Shira Local Government Area in Bauchi State is Mudal Mohammed Ahmed. The command is yet to ascertain the cause of the death of the victim because no autopsy was conducted on the body of the deceased as he was buried that same day.â€
He said a total of 8,883 applicants from the state took part in the exercise, while 500 others came from Yobe State because of the insecurity in the state.
However, northern elder, Alhaji Junaid Mohammed, held a contrary view stating that the presidentâ€™s speech was â€œmuch ado about nothingâ€.
He said: â€œIt is a flight from reality. There is no sincerity in the speech. In the situation that Nigeria is in today, this speech is inappropriate.
“The speech on Nigerian unity not negotiable is neither here nor there. It is better you lay down a good framework for honest and sincere discussions that make the need for the division of the country unnecessary, rather than put a no-go-area which amounts to nothing.â€
After the inaugural ceremony, the conference adjourned until 10 am today for deliberations.
Despite the ministerâ€™s expression of regret over the tragedy, the calls for the probe of the incident and his removal along with the NIS comptroller-general have refused to abate.
NLC, in a reaction yesterday, demanded a full investigation into the methods adopted by the NIS for the recruitment exercise.
It said the NIS employed what turned out to be a tragic process out of crass opportunism to bleed the applicants who were asked to pay N1,000 each.
It described as shocking what it said was the avoidable deaths of the unemployed applicants in circumstances that turned out to be a do-or-die struggle for employment.
In a statement by its National President, Mr. Abdulwaheed Omar, the NLC rejected Moro’s explanation that the applicants died due to impatience and non-adherence to laid down procedures.
NLC said: â€œWe also demand that the federal government must authorise an investigation of the Nigerian Immigration Service, query the methods it adopted and interrogate the discretion it exercised in collecting money from hard pressed applicants.
â€œTo invite 520,000 applicants for 4,556 positions is a call for anarchy and irresponsibility from the NIS.
â€œWe condemn in the strongest terms possible, the recruitment protocols adopted by the immigration department. It is grossly unfair for the immigration department to have invited over thousands of our youths to physically present themselves to compete to fill miserly 4,000 vacancies.
â€œNothing but crass opportunism can explain this heartless scam. A more rational and discerning recruitment process could easily have reduced the numbers by insisting on raising minimum standards.
â€œThis follows a condemnable pattern, which has now become common, even in the private sector, where thousands of applicants are invited in droves to compete for extremely limited opportunities.
â€œOrdinarily objectionable, this rogue method of head hunting, must count as execrable in the extreme, when adopted by a reputable department of government.â€
The NLC called on the government to take better steps to protect applicants as the current processes in place leave them open to abuses and grave danger.
â€œUnemployment at the current scale is a grave challenge to the status quo and should shatter the complacency that many of us feel. The spectre of over 80,000 youths in a stadium in Abuja, assembled, not to watch an A-list football match, but rather, challenged by an epic hunger to have something to do, must break all hearts.
â€œWe therefore call on government to tackle unemployment with increased commitment, and appropriately sanction those who have had a hand in causing these scandalous deaths,â€ it added.
A group, the Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), however has petitioned the United Nations (UN) over what it described as the â€œflagrant violation of human rights to life and dignity of the human personâ€.
The Executive Director of the group, Mr. Frank Tietie, disclosed this yesterday in Abuja while presenting a copy of the petition to the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Ben Angwe.
Tietie said the petition was propelled by the need for Jonathan and NHRC to correctly read the signs of the events as a harbinger of an impending social collapse, which would be too costly for the world to bear in terms of humanitarian crises that would ensue.
He said: â€œIn flagrant violation of the citizensâ€™ fundamental human rights to life and dignity of the human person, the officials of the Ministry of Interior on March 15, 2014, allowed hungry jobless, poverty stricken and desperate Nigerian youths seeking lower cadre public jobs to trample upon themselves in stampedes in order to gain entrance into the various stadia across Nigeria where a test was scheduled to hold. This led to the cumulative death of about 20 Nigerians in four different stadia.â€
Tietie expressed displeasure at the minister’s statement blaming the applicants for the tragedy, stressing that there was no proof that the ministry made any plan to control the expected crowd despite the huge revenue it earned from them.
He called on the president to immediately suspend Moro and Parradang to pave the way for an unimpeded investigation into the calamity.
Responding, Angwe said it was clear that while the incident was not intended, adequate provisions were not put in place to cater for the mammoth crowd.
He assured the group that the commission would follow up on the issue in order to unravel the circumstances that led to the tragedy and set up a system to prevent a recurrence.
He promised to ensure that the federal government compensates the families of the victims.
Meanwhile, a group, Idoma Youth Progressive Movement (IYPM), has frowned on calls for Moro’s removal.
The group, at a press conference in Makurdi yesterday, said the minister could not be blamed for the incident, as the NIS as an independent parastatal, superintended over the exercise.
President of IYPM, Mr. Igoche Mathew Egwa, said the minister only played a supervisory role and so should not be blamed for the tragedy.
However, following the meeting with Moro and Parradang, the president yesterday promised that the government would get to the root of Saturdayâ€™s recruitment tragedy.
Jonathan, who made the promise when he inaugurated the National Conference in Abuja, said he was set to take a decisive action on the matter.
The president called for a minuteâ€™s silence in honour of those who lost their lives at the nationwide exercise, where close to 600,000 applicants turned up for the immigration test.
â€œAs we were preparing for this inauguration a very sad incident happened on Saturday.
â€œWe are looking into the circumstances but we wouldnâ€™t want to bore you with the circumstances now,â€ the president was quoted as stating by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).