The Guardian (Nigeria) – Sent by Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN
This is a country that the world classifies as one of the fastest growing economies, focusing on economic growth and ignoring 61% of the people living in abject poverty. Eucharia Madueke
Written by Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt) Karls Tsokar, Ezeocha Nzeh, Joke Falaju (Abuja) and Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu (Benin City), Murtala Muhammed (Kano)
STAMPEDE involving some 90, 000 applicants for the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) job, yesterday, killed, at least, 19 people and injured many others in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Edo, Minna and Kano.
The applicants were struggling to gain access into the stadia, the recruitment test venues of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). Three, including a pregnant woman, died in Kano, while the stampede also claimed three in Minna.
About 65,000 (well over the stadium’s sitting capacity of 60,000) job seekers fought to enter the National Stadium Abuja venue of the aptitude test in the ensuing surge, many of them were trampled underfoot and some of them died as confirmed by the National Hospital.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said it recovered seven bodies and hospitalized 40 in Abuja, even as another stampede at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium venue for the recruitment exercise in Benin Zone claimed two victims. There were conflicting reports about actual number of deaths at the Benin stadium. An online report, for instance, claimed that 20, including a pregnant woman, died in the stampede.
The Abuja stadium has more than 30 entrances, most of which were locked at the time the candidates were being expected to come for the screening and test, scheduled to start by 7.00 am.
Some of the candidates, who were there earlier than 6.am could not gain entry to the venue. Even when two of the stadium gates where opened, it could not contain the surging crowd of desperate job seekers.
Although the Public Relations Officer of the NIS, Mr. Chukwuemeka Obua, could not be reached (as calls placed to his phone went on “forwarding” and alternate telephone number switched off), sources at the headquarters said the number of persons they saw at the stadium overwhelmed the officials that were sent to conduct the test.
“The number of applicants is massive. We knew that it would be like this; that was why the stadium, like in all parts of the country, was selected to host the large number in the belief that it could contain them. Unfortunately, we were overwhelmed; we could not even control the crowd.
“So the unfortunate incidence occurred basically because of the rush, some of the candidates, if not all of them, wanted to be inside the stadium first, so as to finish early; and some of the entrances were also locked. As a result, the incidence could not be averted,” an NIS source said.
Meanwhile, at the National Hospital, where some of the injured were taken, the actual number could not be confirmed, as some of them were taken to other government hospitals in Garki and Maitama.
Many of the injured candidates were assisted into a medical facility on stretchers, and many more supported by officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), who were on hand to assist in maintaining order but could not control the crowd of desperate job seekers.
The NIS actually advertised for 4,500 vacant positions into the Service but about 700,000 Nigerians paid N1,000.00 n to register online for slots. This translates to N700 million in revenue.
Comptroller General, David Parradang, last month, said the NIS had to stay action on recruitment because of inadequate funds.
“We started the process of reconciliation when the board announced we got the approval to recruit 4, 000 and above, but there was no budgetary provisions for funding that process,” Parradang said. “If we recruit the people, there will be no salaries for them; so, we have approached the Budget Office. They said it was late and that it cannot make available that amount of money and we calculated that; but N4bn would be able to pay those officers that are expected to be recruited for the year 2014.”
At the Liberation Stadium, Elekahia, Port Harcourt, where four persons were trampled to death in a similar manner, the teeming applicants estimated to be over 23, 000 tried to force their way into the 16,000 capacity Liberation Stadium, venue of the enlistment exercise.
The Guardian gathered from some of the survivors of the stampede that hundreds of persons started arriving the stadium as early as 7.am, but were prevented by security operatives from accessing the main bowl. After three hours of waiting, Immigration authorities decided to open one of the gates to commence the screening exercise. Considering the process as slow, agitated applicants began pushing those in front, and, in the process, many went down and were trampled by those surging from behind, resulting in the death of four persons.
Amid wailing and groaning, some of the applicants who barely survived the tragic accident, lost vital documents, such as original copies of their degree certificates, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) discharge certificates. Photocopies of resume and passport photographs were seen littering the scene of the stampede.
An army ambulance vehicle, with registration number NA 307 EOI, and two police operational Toyota Hilux vehicles were, shortly afterwards, deployed to the stadium to convey unconscious applicants to hospitals.
A medical doctor, who pleaded anonymity at the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital, Port Harcourt, disclosed that four persons among those rushed to the hospital were dead. He also revealed that four others were in critical conditions, while others who sustained minor injuries had been treated.
One of the victims of the stampede, who was luckily revived at the stadium, Jasper Saturday, lamented that he had lost a bag containing original copies of his degree and NYSC discharge certificates.
“More people would have died today if the officers had not shot into the air. The shots scared those that were pushing us from the back. The crowd here today is too much for this stadium. There is no way the security men on ground here could have managed this crowd. I don’t think inviting all of us here was a wise decision,” he said.
In Edo State, where at least one applicant died in the stampede, The Guardian gathered that many other persons sustained variouis degree of injuries as they struggled to enter the main bowl of the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium, Benin City.
Many of the over 24000 applicants had arrived the stadium as early as 6 am for the exercise scheduled for 7 am. Some immigration officials also made brisk business as some unsuspecting applicants parted with as much as N1000 to gain entry into the venue.
Trouble started around 10am, when the immigration officials in charge of the screening lost control of the crowd, prompting the soldiers on guard to start shooting sporadically in the air.
As at the time of filing this report, many applicants were still receiving treatment in hospitals.
“I can confirm that one person, a lady, died as a result of the stampede. We deposited her body in the mortuary. We learnt that she gave birth not long ago,” an official of the Service confirmed.
Mr. Isaac, one of the applicants, expressed shock over the manner they were being treated by the recruiting officers.
“Can you imagine sir, this is 2: 10pm, and we are still loitering around with no concrete information from the recruiting officers.”
In Kano, three applicants, including a pregnant woman, collapsed during a stampede. Over 15,000 applicants had besieged the Sani Abacha Stadium, venue of the aptitude test, as early as 6.am from Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano,Jigawa and Sokoto.
Abubakar Isaq, who was at the venue, told The Guardian that three candidates died during the screening process. Amina Ginta also took part in the aptitude test; she confirmed death of a pregnant woman.
In Minna, Niger State capital, about 11,000 candidates attended the screening exercise, which took place at the Women Day Secondary School.
Tragedy occurred when another stampede claimed lives of three job seekers.