It was a tale of blood, sorrow and tears as the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, conducted recruitment examination for tens of thousands of unemployed youths who trooped out for the exercise all over the country.
Seven persons have been confirmed dead in Abuja, four in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and two in Minna, Niger State while several others are said to have sustained injuries from stampedes which occurred at the examination centers.
The NIS had declared vacancies for 5,000 personnel across the country and engaged the services of an ICT firm, Drexel, to create an online registration platform through which money was extorted from the hapless applicants.
But the examination which took place on Saturday turned bloody in several places including Abuja, Port Harcourt, Rivers State and Minna in Niger State.
A candidate in Abuja, Christian Iboko, told PREMIUM TIMES that he arrived at the National Stadium, venue of the job interview at 6 a.m and found thousands of other applicants already waiting outside the gates.
Mr. Iboko said all the gates to the stadium were locked and neither the few NIS officials nor the private security guards at the facility were willing to allow them entry.
He said, “We had waited for close to an hour when some guys went and forcefully opened one of the back gates and thousands of people struggled to enter the stadium at the same time.
“It was a hell of an experience. I saw when a pregnant woman was pushed down and people trampled upon her and I couldn’t help her because I was also at risk of being stampeded.
“I don’t understand why the gates to the stadium where still locked when over 50,000 applicants were already at the place and getting impatient.”
Mr. Iboko said several candidates were taken away unconscious from the stadium after the stampede and added that the NIS officials still went ahead with the examination.
Another candidate, Usman Abdulahi blamed the stampede on poor planning and deployment of logistics, saying that since the NIS had data of the number of candidates in Abuja, the exercise should have been decentralized.
He said close to 70,000 candidates turned up for the examination at the Abuja centre alone, stressing that the number was above the capacity of the National Stadium complex.
Mr. Abdulahi said, “If the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service had the database of all the candidates that applied for the interview, they have no excuse to offer for what happened today in Abuja.
“Even when we were allowed into the stadium, a lot of people could not find places to sit down and so they sat on the ground. The crowd inside was so large compared to the officials that were available to conduct the examination.
“Instead of giving the question papers to individual candidates, the officials were at a point throwing them at us and that almost resulted in another stampede.”
Mr. Abudulahi, however, called in the Federal Government to sanction the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro and the NIS boss for not taking adequate measures to forestall the needless loss of lives of applicants during the recruitment exercise.
Confirming the number of deaths in Abuja, the National Hospital spokesperson, Tayo Haastrup, said seven candidates, including five women and two men, where brought dead to the facility.
He said the remains of the dead applicants were deposited at the hospital mortuary after they were officially confirmed dead.
Mr. Haastrup said, “The hospital received some casualties from the stampede from the Immigration recruitment at the National Stadium. Those that died were seven in number, five women and two men, their corpses have been deposited at the mortuary.”
However, he said the hospital was working hard to stabilise some of those who were brought in unconscious, while also referring others the facility could not handle to other hospitals, including the Asokoro General Hospital.
How death came calling in Port Harcourt
The recruitment test also turned bloody in Port Harcourt where four candidates were stampeded to death and several others injured at the Liberation Stadium.
PREMIUM TIMES reliably learnt that over 25,000 applicants turned up for the recruitment exercise at the stadium which has a capacity for only 16,000 persons.
It was learnt that candidates got impatient at the gates to the stadium and surged forward while NIS officials were screening them before being allowed into the facility.
A source at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital, who refused to be named because he is not permitted to speak on the matter, said four candidates died as a result of the stampede.
He said several others sustained various degrees of injuries and were being treated at the hospital. He would not, however, tell how many people were injured.
A candidate, who witnessed the stampede, Jasper Saturday, said the problem was caused by applicants who tried to force their way into the stadium before the commencement of the examination.
Mr. Saturday, who claimed to have lost his original certificates, said the situation was brought under control when NIS officials released gunshots into the air, thereby holding back the surging crowd.
He said, “The immigration officers were trying to screen candidates from the stadium gate and in the process some candidates became impatient and started pushing us from the back.
“Those of us who were in the front fell to the ground and those who were behind stepped on us and as a result, some candidates lost consciousness.”
The Public Relations Officer of the NIS, Rivers State Command, Abang Bisong, confirmed that trouble started when about 20, 000 candidates forced their way into the stadium.
Mr. Bisong said, “During the stampede, some candidates fell and were trampled upon by others, while some became unconscious. The victims were taken to the Military Hospital for treatment.”
When asked whether fatalities were recorded, Mr. Bisong said the command was yet to receive information of the condition of those who were rushed to the hospitals after the stampede.
Deaths in Minna, fainting and injury in Owerri
At the Government Girls Day Secondary School, Minna, venue of the recruitment in Niger State, two applicants slumped and died while several others sustained injuries.
It was learnt that over 12,000 applicants thronged to the school premises for the recruitment but trouble started during the screening process.
An applicant who gave his name as Mohammed said unruly behaviour of some of the applicants led to the stampede which caused the deaths.
Mr. Mohammed said, “The pushing and shoving at the entrance to the school by some unruly applicants led to the stampede resulting in the death of two candidates and injuries to many others.
The state commissioner for health, Ibrahim Sule, confirmed the death of the two applicants in an interview with journalists.
Mr. Sule said, “One female applicant was reported dead on arrival at the hospital and the male applicant died of his injuries on admission at Minna General Hospital.”
He said four other male applicants were treated for their injuries and discharged, while seven females were currently receiving treatment at the hospital.
He insisted that NIS officials in the state did not liaise with the government on the recruitment exercise given the large number of applicants they expected.
Immigration officers were said to have had a hard time managing the crowd that turned up for the recruitment exercise.
However, the exercise witnessed a mild stampede at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri, Imo State, where 10 applicants were said to have fainted including four pregnant women.
An applicant, Nwakuche Isigu, said he left his village in Oguta Local Government Area by 6 a.m to ensure that he arrived at the venue of the recruitment on time.
But at the time he arrived, Mr. Isigu said he met thousands of other candidates already waiting at the stadium for the arrival of the NIS officials.
The state governor, Rochas Okorocha, however, assured the applicants that he would ensure that they were not shortchanged in the recruitment process.
The governor said he would also ensure that the employment quota meant for the state would be given to candidates from the state.
Given that not all the applicants would be successful at the recruitment exercise, Mr. Okorocha, who visited Dan Anyiam Stadium, venue of recruitment, appealed to them to join the state-owned employment programme, “Imo Youths Must Work.”
In Kebbi State, over 5,000 applicants thronged to the Halliru Abdu Stadium, where the NIS recruitment examination was conducted.
A source said officials had a tough time controlling the applicants, who were seemingly impatient during the screening process.
The situation was, however, brought under control with the help of officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC and their counterparts in the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC.
Confusion galore in Lagos
In Lagos State, the recruitment examination which took place at the National Stadium, Surulere was described as “a total failure” by an applicant, who refused to be named.
The unknown applicants insisted that the Immigration authorities did not make adequate arrangements to take care of the candidates they invited for the job test.
He insisted that the 55,000 capacity stadium was filled to the brim so much so that several thousand others could not find space inside the main bowl.
He told PREMIUM TIMES, “They did not make any plans for the applicants. Even during the test, we had to fight and hustle to get the question papers. A lot of the papers were torn.”
Continuing, the candidate said, “We paid N1, 000 during the application process but I can tell you now that it’s a total fraud.”
Some nursing mothers, pregnant women and persons with disabilities also came for the recruitment exercise.
Another candidate, Tajudeen Orelope said he submitted the online application for the recruitment in 2013 and got an e-mail on Wednesday to come for the examination.
Mr. Orelope said, “The information we got was that the sporting exercise will start by 7 a.m, while the examination was to start by 4 p.m.
“But most of us were here since 7 a.m and we have all been hanging around and nobody is talking to us about what is going on.
More than 15,000 applicants turned up for the recruitment exercise at the Sani Abacha Stadium located at Kofar Mata area of Kano City.
The NIS Comptroller in the state, Zitas Nanpon, made this known to newsmen in Kano while the examination was going on.
As at the time he was speaking with reporters, he said over 15,000 candidates were already cleared and admitted in the stadium, adding that more were still arriving from far-flung places.
Mr. Nanpon said, “The standard is that everybody that has an acknowledgement slip is eligible for this exercise.”
He, however, advised the applicants to conduct themselves in an orderly manner to avoid any situation which would result in a stampede.
In Benue State, no fewer than 17, 800 applicants took part in the exercise at the Aper Aku Stadium, Makurdi.
Some of the candidates who attended the recruitment examination commended the NIS officials for ensuring that the exercise was peaceful and orderly.
Richard Joseph, Mzungwega Terfa and Cecelia Adole from Gwer, Logo and Otukpo Local Government areas of the state said they were satisfied with the conduct of the examination.
The Benue State Command’s Public Relations Officer of the NIS, Tersoo Ukeyima, said they were almost overwhelmed by the number of applicants who turned up for the examination.
Mr. Ukeyima said the command had challenges in managing the crowd but noted that no riotous situation ensued because adequate control mechanisms were used to check unforeseen occurence.
In Gombe, 5,000 candidates from Gombe and Borno took part in the exercise at the Abubakar Umar Memorial Stadium, Gombe.
Applicants from Borno were deployed to Gombe as a result of the security challenge in that state.
The NIS Comptroller in Gombe, Y. G Emmanuel, confirmed that the exercise went on very peacefully.
Mr. Emmanuel said, “The exercise went on very peaceful. As early as 3 a.m, we had deployed our officers and men to the venue of the examination. We did that to ensure that we had a smooth exercise.’’
Over 10,000 candidates took the examination which took place in at the NIS Staff and Command College, Sokoto, Sokoto State.
In spite of the large number of candidates, who turned up for the examination, no problem was reported at the Sokoto centre.
The NIS Comptroller in the State, Yunusa Aliyu, said the candidates were divided into four different categories for ease of screening.
Mr. Aliyu, however, said the examination started at 4 p.m prompt after all the candidates went through the screening process.
He said, “We made adequate arrangements to ensure sanity during the screening and the examination which is expected to last for only an hour. We did not record any stampede by the grace of God.
In 2008, no fewer than 20 people lost their lives in various states of the federation during a similar exercise conducted for the Nigeria Prisons Service, the Customs Service and the NIS.
The ill-fated recruitment exercise was carried by the Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior, during late President Umaru Yar ‘Adua’s administration.