President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday queried the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro and the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, David Paradang, over the loss of 18 lives during the NIS recruitment on Saturday.
The deaths which have generated national uproar occurred during stampedes at the venues of the NIS recruitment in different parts of the country.
The presidential query for the minister and the NIS CG came as the wife of the Senate President David Mark, Helen, denied reported relationship with the consultants than handled the exercise.
Mark’s wife, in a statement signed by the Special Adviser (Media) to the President of the Senate, Kola Ologbodiyan, said she was shocked by the reports of her involvement in the exercise.
She said the reports were based on a rumour and “a mere fabrication of the imagination of those behind it. I have no relationships of any sorts and in whatever form with the said consultant,” she said.
Both Moro and Paradang who were on Monday summoned to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to explain the circumstances that led to the incidents, which a presidency source said had portrayed the present administration in a bad light, first met for about three hours with the Chief of Staff to the President, Brig.-Gen. Jones Arogbofa (retd.), in his office.
A source said they used the opportunity of the meeting with Arogbofa to marshal the arguments they would present before the President.
The CoS later led the minister and the NIS boss to meet the President for almost an hour. Neither Moro nor Paradang spoke to journalists after the session with the President.
Prior to the arrival of the minister and the NIS boss, Jonathan had met behind closed doors with the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, the meeting which sources said also centred on the tragedy that attended the NIS recruitment.
President Goodluck Jonathan said his administration had commenced investigation into the circumstances that led to the stampedes that claimed 18 lives at the venues of the recruitment.
In his preliminary remarks at the inauguration of the national conference held at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, Jonathan described the incident as a sad one coming at a time preparation was being made for the inauguration.
Jonathan, however, said he would not bore those in attendance with the details of the investigation his administration was conducting on the event.
“As we are preparing for this inauguration, a sad incident happened on Saturday. We are looking into the circumstances of the sad event. I won’t bore you with the details of that event that left some innocent youths dead,” the President said.
Jonathan thereafter called for a one-minute silence in honour of the victims of the stampede.
Abba Morro has however rejected calls for him to step down after he blamed job seekers for their deaths in Saturday’s stampede.
Moro told the BBC that there had been “poor handling” of the event by officials, adding that those in the crowd should have been more patient.
He said his resignation “did not arise” until after an investigation.
Moro told the BBC’s Newsday programme that “unauthorised” people had broken through the fence into the National Stadium, Abuja, where the tests were being held, and caused the stampede.
Similar statements over the weekend had led to calls for him to resign.
Although he said he accepted responsibility for the incident as only one out of the numerous entrances to the stadium was opened at the time, he said he would not step down.
One of the applicants, Mohammed Yusuf, told the BBC that he saw two people crushed to death in front of him, saying it was “very terrible.”
He blamed the officials in charge of the stadium for the deaths, saying that more than one gate should have been opened.
But the Nigeria Labour Congress in a statement in Abuja on Monday by its president, Abdulwaheed Omar, said, “The explanation by the Minister of Interior, Abba Morro, that 520,000 applicants were invited for screening for 4,556 spaces and that the applicants died in a stampede due to impatience and non-adherence to laid-down orderly procedure, is rather weak and untenable.”
Omar wondered why 520,000 applicants were invited for screening for 4,556 spaces.
“To invite so many applicants for such few spaces, in all sense of administration, was a call to anarchy and highly irresponsible of the immigration service,” he said.
Omar urged the Federal Government to investigate the NIS and query the methods it adopted in the job recruitment.
He also asked the government to probe why the NIS collected “money from hard pressed applicants”.
Describing this as a “rogue method of head hunting,” Omar said the current scale of unemployment was a challenge, which should get the government worried instead of its agencies extorting money from the unemployed.
He said, “We condemn in the strongest terms possible, the recruitment protocol adopted by the immigration department. It is grossly unfair for the immigration department to have invited several thousands of our youths to physically present themselves to compete to fill a miserly four thousand vacancies.
“Nothing but crass opportunism can explain this heartless scam. A more rational and discerning recruitment process could easily have reduced the numbers by insisting on raising minimum standards.
“The immigration department refused to employ this option in order to maximise the opportunity to bleed the applicants, each of whom, was asked to pay N1, 000.
“The spectre of over 80,000 youths in a stadium in Abuja, assembled, not to watch an A- list football match, but rather, challenged by an epic hunger to have something to do, must break all hearts.”
Also, the Muslims Rights Concern, in a statement in Lagos, urged the Federal Government to compensate families of the victims.
The MRC statement was signed by its Chairman, Prof. Ishaq Akintola.
The group also demanded a public apology by the government to the families of the victims and called for “immediate compensation for the families of the victims (at least N10m to each of the family of each victim and N15m to the families of the pregnant women who died).”
The group said that the exercise should be repeated online as soon as possible, noting that the government obviously underestimated the high rate of unemployment in the country.