Starconnect Media
Editorial

Unveiling Nigeria’s Un-employment Rate through NIS Job Saga

Stampede at the 60,000 capacity Abuja stadium
Stampede at the 60,000 capacity Abuja stadium
Saturday March 15, 2014 is of course now history and may not be remembered for a very long time except the sad incident that occurred that very day. It was a very windy morning. The sun had risen albeit slowly but good enough to defuse an excruciating weather that has refused to give way to the rain.

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Young Nigerians from all walks of life who had applied for what seems to be a very lucrative job in the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) were full of prospects and headed to the arenas in Abuja, Lagos, Minna, Benin, Gombe, Port Harcourt and other cities for an examination which will qualify them for a job that would perhaps redefine their lifestyle.

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Among the job seekers were pregnant women, couples, unemployed and those that were underemployed. Only a soothsayer could have anticipated that some among the thousands would never return to love ones they left behind that beautiful morning.

At Abuja, the amphitheater built to take 60,000 spectators was filled to capacity. The turn-out was also massive in Lagos and the other centres.

At least 15,000 applicants were on ground at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano, 17,800 applicants at the Aper Aku Stadium in Benue, 5000 in Gombe, 20,000 in Kaduna, 28,000 in Benin and 11,000 in Minna. In all, there were 36 centres across the federation, with exactly 520,000 jobseekers invited to sit for examination for just 4,556 vacancies announced by the NIS.

These applicants arrived the various centres at different time to beat the much anticipated heavy human traffic. But unfortunately control at the entrance to some of the stadia was nothing to write home about. Some desperate applicants were said to have jumped through the gate, while others shoved their way in amidst heavy security.

At the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, inability of NIS officials to put the crowd under control engendered sporadic shooting by security, forcing many to scamper for safety. The result was stampede that lead to the death of a pregnant woman and at least 30 injured.

Pandemonium in other centres also caused death of several applicants. Three people were feared dead and four critically injured in Jos. In Port Harcourt 12 people were rushed to the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital, four were confirmed dead, four others in critical condition while the remaining four were revived and discharged, a doctor said in the hospital.

Public Relations Officer NIS in the state, Mr. Abang Bisong said many were trampled upon in the panic at the Port Harcourt centre.
“Some candidates fell and were trampled on, some became unconscious. They have been taken to the military hospital for treatment and we have not received any information on their condition” he said.

In Abuja seven of those who turned up for the aptitude test were confirmed dead. And that appeared to be the scenario in almost all the centres where the screening examination was conducted.
While assessing the exercise Minister for Internal Affairs, Mr. Abba Moro attributed the sudden loss of lives and injuries to impatience.

“The applicants did not follow the laid-down procedures spelled out to them before the exercise. Many of them jumped through the fences of affected centres and did not conduct themselves in an orderly manner to make the exercise a smooth one. This caused stampede and made the environment unsecured,” he explained to protect his men.

But his explanation was not enough to douse the already frayed nerves of Nigerians who are infuriated by the mere fact that the NIS collected N1, 000 application fee from each of the 6.5 million people that applied for the job. That will come to about N65 million, yet it was unable to provide water for the applicants.

President Trade Union Congress (TUC) Comrade Kaigama Bobboi who is obviously devastated by the development described it as national disaster that shows the critical state of unemployment in Nigeria. “This goes to show the level of unemployment in the country. Our heart goes to the families of those who lost their lives. May God grant them the fortitude to bear their loss,” he said, while ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said it was extremely grieved by the death of these young Nigerians.

The party is “shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the untimely death of the young citizens who were at the exercise not only to secure jobs but to be allowed the opportunity to contribute towards the development of the nation. It is unfortunate and disheartening that the victims paid the supreme price while trying to be more useful to the nation,” Publicity Secretary of the party said in a statement, calling on the concerned ministry to swing into action to unravel the remote and immediate cause of the incident.

It charged all government agencies and parastatals as well as all its elected and appointed officials to redouble efforts to curb unemployment in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformation agenda and manifesto of the PDP.

President Goodluck Jonathan who was jolted by the incident queried Moro for tuning an incident that should be a source of joy to homes into an invitation for sadness and immediately announced a palliative to cushion-in the effect.

First, the President suspended the NIS from continuing with the exercise and set up a 7-man committee to be chaired by Chairman Federal Civil Commission, Deaconess Joan Ayo who will now work out modalities to fill vacancies in the NIS. To assuage the nerves of families who lost their loved ones the President in addition approved that families of the deceased will now be entitled to three automatic slots in the exercise to be carried out in the new dispensation while injured applicants are entitled to one automatic slot.

Minister for Information, Mr. Labaran Maku who announced the sweeping changes said government regrets the incident, adding that the President will meet with families of the dead next week when he is back from Namibia.

While this quite commendable, there are indications that the Presidential directive of one slot per injured applicant is likely to be greeted with resistant by officials saddled with the responsibility of registering the wounded so as to enlist them for the jobs. Report from Port Harcourt already show that some among the injured may be deprived this unique opportunity.

At the Command headquarters in Port Harcourt only injured applicants who were treated at the Military Hospital and the Rivers State government-owned Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital were spotted receiving attention from officials designated for the exercise while those treated elsewhere without documentation were ignored.

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Some of the wounded (who did not want their names in print) told our correspondent that the ‘Nigerian Factor’ such as nepotism, favouritism and bribery may mar the presidential directive since only injured candidates with relatives or friends within the command get the desired attention.

At the headquarters of NIS in Rivers State, who was at the venue to collect his credentials having lost them in the melee was not registered among the wounded, even when there are visible injuries on his legs.

Another applicant, with injuries all over her body and relevant documents who was initially turned down was later referred to the BMH or Military Hospital for treatment and documentation. We gathered that about 20 applicants were treated at BMH: four died while nine others were discharged after treatment but without documentations. One person reportedly died at the Military hospital out of the 18 persons treated.

However, experts are of the view that what the President has announced are nothing but mere palliative in the short run, with many arguing that he will need to take a more drastic measure to curb the fast rising rate of unemployment in Nigeria.

Former chairman Subsidy Reinvestment and Employment Programme (Sure-P), Dr. Christopher Kolade alluded to this when he declared that no fewer than 40 million Nigerians are without jobs. The National Bureau of Statistics, which measures unemployment rate in Nigeria published that the trend of unemployment has climbed up from 14.60 per cent in 2006 to an all-time high of 23.90 per cent in December 2011.

In its Economic Report on Nigeria released in May 2013, the World Bank noted that Nigeria’s annual growth rate average over seven per cent in official data during the last decade adding that it placed the nation among the fastest growing economies in the world but that the growth has been concentrated particularly on trade and agriculture, which would suggest substantial welfare benefits for many Nigerians but that poverty reduction and job creation have not kept pace with population growth.

“Job creation in Nigeria has been inadequate to keep pace with the expanding working age population. The official unemployment rate had steadily increased from 12 per cent of the working age population in 2006 to 24 per cent in 2011”, the World Bank said adding that preliminary indications are that this upward trend continued in 2012.” Besides, the Honorary International Investors Council (HIIC) pointed to what it called “the growing unemployment rate and the rising number of poor skilled workforce” in the country.

The Council, headed by Baroness Lynda Chalker called on the Federal Government to improve on its synergy with the other tiers of government and the industry in order to build basic education geared towards enhancing capacity of the workforce for industrialisation of the economy.

Not too long ago, Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, admitted that the spate of unemployment in Nigeria was giving her sleepless nights.

The Minster who quoted from the official figures released by the NBS noted that “each year, about 1.8m young Nigerians enter into the labour market and stressed the need to ensure that the economy provides jobs for them. Equally concerned about the development is the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola who believes that the way out of Nigeria’s unemployment malaise is to devise an economic plan that will put all the energies of the youths in the country into productive needs.

Fashola who spoke at the 2014 Edo Youth Summit charged Nigerian youths to locate their individual dreams and follow them with all the passion they can muster, saying it is the most viable means to solve the problem of youth unemployment in the country.

“I know that not everybody will be governor but I know that the promise of this country can provide for lots of you if you define your issues, if you set your own agenda, if you lead on the side of the law and if you work very hard”. The governor tasked the youths to diversify into other area and look beyond white collar jobs. “Are you ready to get your hands dirty in order to make money?

How many Nigerian companies are engaged in our construction industries? The more you look you will see that our construction industry is largely dominated by Lebanese and Arabs and lately Chinese and for sometimes the Germans”.

Fashola explained that the era of looking for white collar job is long gone. “There is nothing esoteric about the captain of a ship, the pilot of a plane or the driver of a bus. The reality is that there is a common trend between them; they take responsibilities for getting the means of transportation from one destination to the other”, he said adding that the choice to wear clean or dirty uniform and wear ties to carry out that responsibility depends on the individual, pointing out that as long as the ivory towers in Nigeria continues to churn out graduates in courses that do not address the nation’s economic needs so long would unemployment problem persist.

Fashola who explained that many graduates today work in places different from their course of study, said the problem of youth unemployment could largely be blamed on the mismatch between the course of study and the real economic needs of the country.

“As long as you continue to go to school to take degrees in places where our economy has no need, for that long we will continue to have a mismatch and, therefore, unemployment”, stressing that the economy of Nigeria has changed since 1960 from the one run by foreign trading companies like the UAC who employed graduates straight from the universities, adding that the time has come to look inwards in order to find work for the many idle hands.

By By Emmanuel Ukudolo

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