AHMED ‘TUNDE POPOOLA, Founder, Tomeb Foundation for Youth Development and Sustainability and Member of Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), Nigeria Team.
On Saturday March 15, 2014, Nigerians woke up to a bizarre. About 522,650 graduates assembled in major stadia across the country to write an employment test and go through physical fitness for recruitment into the elite cadre of the Nigerian Immigration Services. The candidates were all vying to fill about 4,556 vacancies in the Service, according to the newspaper sources quoting the Minister of Interior. If all the 4,556 slots were filled at the end of the exercise, less than one in a hundred applicants would have been employed. We do not know how many persons actually applied for the jobs.
The recruitment exercise was approved by the Minister of Interior, who also supervised the exercise in Jos, Plateau State. We have all seen the outcome of the exercise. At the end of the day, eighteen of the applicants died due to stampede while hundreds were injured in various locations especially in Abuja, Lagos, Porthacourt, Makurdi, Gombe, Calabar, Osogbo, Ibadan and Yenogoa. A typical scene was that of the National Stadium, Abuja where about seventy thousand applicants were scheduled to write a test and undergo physical fitness in a stadium with maximum capacity of sixty thousand.
The phenomenon of May 15, 2014 portrayed Nigeria in bad light and with serious implications. In the first place, the hapless candidates parted with the sum of one thousand naira each to undergo a recruitment exercise for appointment into the public service of Nigeria. The implication is that our country is ready and does not mind to swindle its own citizens or suck them dry, in an attempt to generate revenue.
This incident was not a handiwork of few unpatriotic individuals; it was formalized and intended to be a source of internally generated revenue either for the Ministry of Interior or for the Immigration Service or to defray the cost of engaging a recruitment consultant or to cover the cost of the recruitment exercise. Whatever it is, it exposes our government as an institution that is not ready to spend our taxes to provide services for us. In fact, it will be interesting to know whether the Ministry or its affected parastatal actually budgeted for the sum of over N500 million as internally generated revenue from a proposed recruitment exercise in their 2014 budget.
Further, this incident has opened another scenario in recruitment exercise. If a government institution is making applicants to pay for recruitment exercise, how can we dissuade the private sector organizations who do not receive any subvention from government and are profit-oriented from doing the same or worse? Incidentally, some organizations actually reimburse applicants for their cost of transportation, and sometimes, are responsible for their accommodation.
In addition, it needs to be made public how the Ministry of Interior had planned to conduct employment test for 60,000 candidates in a stadium at the same time where every candidate must be physically present. If a private enterprise was to come up with this type of arrangement, it would be described as a fraud and the organizers would be promptly arrested and, possibly prosecuted. Hence, this incident once more brings to the fore the quality of thinking and leadership at strategic levels in our country. This is one action that has brought to the public, the quality of decision making in our various government offices. That a proposal to conduct recruitment exercise in the way we have seen sailed through all approval levels in a federal ministry speaks volume. It is a shame and an absurdity that should be condemned. It portrays our country as backward and our country managers as intellectually lazy, and lacking in ideas and in the ability to execute simple project. I personally feel for the Minister who, I believed would have been propelled by a patriotic zeal to give equal opportunity to all qualified graduates and to be seen to be open and transparent in the recruitment process. But the opportunity to show this was hugely bungled.