They left their respective homes eagerly on Saturday, thinking the time was right for them to turn their fortune around and change their unemployment status for the better. However, they were not aware of the tragedy that awaited them.
Like every other person, the applicants, said to be in their thousands, arrived very early with smiles on their faces, bantering with new-found friends at the National Stadium, Abuja, venue of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment exercise in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). However, their smiles and banters were cut short when the gate was flunked open for them to enter the venue for their exams.
At that particular time, the already angry and anxious crowd that was waiting outside the gate rushed in, like chunk of bees released from a honeycomb, marching and smashing those that fell; in the process, some could not breathe again. Sadly, that was to be their final silence and the end of their story. An end marked by their struggle for success.
Meanwhile, those who were fortunate among the fallen ‘unemployment foot soldiers’ were rushed to the National Hospital, which was the nearest, for treatment.
At that time, the news of the deaths of seven in Abuja sent chills down the spine of so many Nigerians, given that the exercise was simultaneously taking place in all the 36 states of the federation, including the FCT. Some job-seekers, it was gathered, began calling their friends who were not seen while those who could not be reached on their cell phones were assumed dead.
Attention now shifted to the hospital where the victims were taken. Emotion enveloped those within the vicinity of the National Hospital, relations trooped in legions to confirm the status of their family members. It was gathered that at some point some of the victims were turned away from the National Hospital due to their huge numbers, and were subsequently diverted to other hospitals like Garki and Asokoro General Hospitals in the FCT. Those with minor injuries were taken home while some few others were admitted for proper medical attention.
Ominously, news of the deaths started filtering out throughout the ‘Black Saturday’.
In Edo state, a pregnant woman was among six applicants feared dead at Samuel Ogbemudia stadium in Benin City. Other deaths reportedly recorded that day include three in Niger and five in Rivers state.
Responding to the tragedy, the Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, while sympathising with bereaved families at the Abuja National Hospital, said, “It is an unfortunate national tragedy. This is not the time to begin to apportion blame but we, as a people, should console those who have lost their loved ones. I am a parent myself; I have children and will not set up this kind of examination for people to come and die. We have tried to decentralise it by establishing 37 examination centres. But it is unfortunate that despite this, people still died.
The minister also debunked claims that over 2million persons registered. According to him only 526, 650 people registered.
“I was reliably informed that people who did not register came for the aptitude test. You begin to wonder why this people were there. It was obvious that the number of people who came yesterday were more than the people invited for the exercise. We did our own analysis and thought that the National Stadium will be the best venue for those in Abuja, considering the number of those that applied.
“So our choice of the stadium was to be able to manage the crowd very well. But it was so unfortunate that some people had to die”, Moro said during his inspection tour to the stadium to assess the level of damage.
On whether the recruitment exercise into Nigeria’s para-military, especially the Immigration Service, is jinxed, considering previous exercise where people died, the minister said “there is nothing jinxed about the exercise. Let me say that everything that was required to do to conduct a hitch-free exercise yesterday was done by the Ministry of Interior and Nigeria Immigration Service. Right from the beginning, I took an undertaking to ensure that this exercise was going to be transparent, cost-effective and that we are going to avoid the mistakes of the past whereby all persons converged on Abuja and we had a stampede and deaths occurred. I assure you that we will do our best to ensure that it does not happen again.
Meanwhile, commentators were divided on apportioning blame to the Ministry and the Service. While some blamed the Ministry for conducting the aptitude test to the multitude at the same time, some blamed the applicants for poor conduct.
Speaking to our reporter, a civil servant, Alhassan Usman, said the Ministry should have conducted the aptitude test for the applicants on separate dates considering their number.
“The best thing that the Ministry should have done was to choose different date or locations for the applicants. They should have separated BSC from HND and other qualifications’ candidates. That way, they would have been able to manage the crowd effectively. We know that the stadium is adequate enough to contain the people; but to be on the safe side, more measures should have been taken so as not to overcrowd these people in the same place.
“We have schools in the FCT. These schools should have been used to spread the applicants across board, to ensure crowd management. Crowd management is very important in anything we are doing. It is very unfortunate but it is avoidable”.
Also speaking, a brother of one of the deceased, Mohammed Yakini, a lecturer with Federal Polytechnic, Lafia, said his sister, Oyisa Yusuf, was just a victim of unfortunate exercises in the country.
He said the Service shouldn’t have called for this number of people for the exercise in the first place. “I still believe that more would have been done to ensure proper coordination of the whole exercise”, he stated.
However, some people blamed the applicants for lack of proper conduct. Sunday Solomon, a film director, said “Nigerians are not just organised for anything. We are always in a hurry to nowhere. Our people lack proper conduct and do not respect constituted authorities. I was there with my younger brother who applied. We stood somewhere and allowed them to finish their rushing before we walked in.
“When I saw the crowd at the gate, I knew what was going to happen. I told my brother not to go close to the place. As soon as the gate opened, the applicants forced themselves in without waiting for further instructions. It was in the process that the seven people died and others were injured. It they were patient enough to coordinate themselves, this wouldn’t have happened.
“In Ghana, people coordinate themselves without waiting for government or constituted authorities to tell them what to do. The citizens too are responsible and know what to do. We must not be flogged all the time before we obey rules and regulations. We have our own problems,” he said.
Meanwhile, some observers say the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service should come up with a blue print that would put an end to all the issues of stampede that beclouded the system for a very long time so as to put an end to the long history of deaths in their exercises.