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The avoidable tragedy that occurred on March 15, 2014 during the nationwide recruitment test by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) has underscored the need to urgently review the questionable recruitment process that many government agencies have now adopted, writes Ifeoma Onuoha.

Once again, the insincerity of government in tackling the high unemployment rate in Nigeria recently played out with the tragic recruitment exercise by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). Today, most government’s agencies extort money from job seekers by demanding for application fees as part of conditions to be shortlisted, and in a bid to justify the money collected, things have usually gone bad. The latest and most worrisome of such incidents was the recent recruitment exercise by the NIS which led to the death of about 19 persons.

Mrs. Oyiza Yusuf, a 35-year-old mother of one, died in a stampede at Abuja National Stadium, venue of the NIS aptitude test held on Saturday, March 15, this year. Yusuf was reportedly defrauded of N150,000 last year for a job in the same agency, and eventually lost her life last month to the tragetic recruitment exercise.

The late Yusuf is one of the 19 applicants, among whom were four pregnant women, that died during the nationwide test at different locations in the country.

First, the NIS had advertised for vacancies last year, requesting interested candidates to pay a non-refundable sum of N1000. By this, the 526,650 candidates that applied for the jobs, according to Abba Moro, the interior minister, have raised a whopping N526, 650,000, even though other reports claim that over six million people applied while about 526, 650 were those invited for the test. The money, the ministry also claimed, was for the recruitment process handled by a consultancy firm allegedly owned by the wife of a serving top senator.

In a bid to justify the money extorted from desperate job seekers, the ministry invited over 520,000 candidates to write recruitment test for a supposed 4,556 vacant positions in the NIS – a crowd that was too much for the agency to control, thus leading to the death of 19 persons while many others were injured.

Chika Onuegbu, the Rivers State chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC) condemned the questionable NIS recruitment exercise. “As far as we are concerned the matter should be treated as premeditated murder or culpable homicide. It is sad that government agencies are exploiting the unemployment situation in Nigeria. They engage in all kinds of employment scam. Otherwise, why would they organise recruitment in such an uncoordinated manner without any plan for safety, he queried.

A recruitment expert who spoke on condition of anonymity maintained that the deaths resulting from the faulty recruitment exercise would have been averted if there was adequate plan. “It is apparent that a thorough planning was not carried out given the fact that open invitation for employment usually does not yield the desired result. An initial online aptitude test should have been conducted through a dedicated portal to screen potential candidates. Thereafter, qualified candidates whose names would be published in major newspapers would be invited to each zone for screening and finally for a national selection at a designated venue for another aptitude, medical and fitness tests to ensure the best candidates from all the geo-political zones are selected,” he said.

Following the criticisms that have trailed the immigration recruitment exercise, President Goodluck Jonathan directed that three employment slots be reserved for the families of those who died during the stampede while all those who sustained injuries should be given automatic employment in the service.

While ordering that the ill-fated exercise be cancelled, the President set up a committee led by the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Alhaji Bukar Aji to conduct a fresh exercise. The committee has the Comptroller-General of NIS, Mr David Parradang; representatives of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar; the heads of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) Dr Ade Abolurin; the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) Mr Zakari Ibrahim; State Security Service (SSS) Mr Ekpenyong Essien Ita, and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) Mr Osita Chidoka as members.

Civil service marred with job racketeering

The NIS had in the past been linked with recruitment misconduct. In 2013, Mrs. Rose Uzoma, the then NIS Comptroller General was unceremoniously retired due to recruitment scandal.

Regrettably, offering bribes for jobs into the civil service from the local to the federal government levels has become a regular occurrence in the country. Some federal government agencies had at one time or the other been indicted for this kind of corruption. Take the case of the NIS, the NSCDC, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), the FRSC, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) among others, whose mass recruitment exercises allow for loopholes which are eventually used to exploit job seekers.

The unemployed who can hardly take care of their daily needs are often requested to buy scratch cards or application forms before they can apply for any vacancy in the civil service. Some states government have also been involved in such recruitment scandals. For instance, in 2010 during the era of former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, his administration collected N2,000 each from applicants when it claimed to have offered 10,000 new jobs.  The Delta State Civil Service Commission had also demanded for N1,000 online recruitment processing fee in 2013 which was later cancelled and the money collected were refunded. Indeed, this has become a normal practice through which government’s agencies generate revenue.

Vulnerability of job seekers

Without questioning the rationale behind these demands for fees and bribe for employment, desperate job seekers have continued to fall victims.

The increasing unemployment rate in Nigeria stands at 23.9 percent, latest report stated. Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister for Economy and Minister of Finance recently said that about 1.8million persons enter the Nigerian job market every year, in addition to 5.3 million unemployed persons that have accumulated over time.

For those who are already employed but still scramble for space in the civil service, theirs is the quest for the ‘security’ which government jobs are believed to provide.

Government and its job creation target

While presenting this year’s budget proposal tagged, “Budget of Job Creation and Inclusive Growth”, Okonjo-Iweala had stated that government will this year focus more attention on job creation in various sectors of the economy to tackle the high unemployment rate in the country, saying that 1.6million jobs were created last year. “Our strong economic performance across various sectors is creating jobs across our nation. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) a total of 1.6 million jobs were created in the past year. For example, in agriculture, we provided inputs in 10 northern states and enabled over 250,000 farmers and youths to be engaged in dry season farming; in manufacturing, the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone created an estimated 30,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“For the government’s special intervention programmes, YouWiN programme has supported our young entrepreneurs and created over 18,000 jobs; SURE-P Community Services Scheme has also created 120,000 job opportunities across the country,” she added.

According to her, given the large number of new entrants into the labour force each year, and the pre-existing stock of people already looking for jobs, the federal government will need to focus on job creation for Nigerians. That is why Budget 2014 remains focused on job creation,” she said.

While condoling the victims of the Immigration job tragedy, the minister stressed that the best way to honour the deceased is through jobs creation.

As many expect the federal government to be committed to its job creation target, the processes involved in making these jobs available should be devoid of extortion, and all qualified candidates should have equal opportunity of being employed.

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