Outrage is raging against the death of 19, among them four pregnant women, at the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, recruitment exercise. Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, in reaction to calls for his resignation, said he needed to stick around to fix the problem. Nigerians seem aghast at the disregard for life. Why the hypocrisy?
Is this the first time people died during NIS recruitments? What happened about the screaming headlines? When did lives become so unimportant in Nigeria?Morro may be sacked or keep his job. None of the options scratches the problem; none would ensure there is no repeat next year with more casualties.
The only gain from his sack could be that government would start punishing those who allow things go wrong under their charge. It would open a chapter of responsibility in our national life and expectedly new challenges. Who would be punished for thousands of lives lost to Boko Haram attacks? Everybody or nobody, some would argue, since terrorists took those lives. There seems to be a selective appreciation of life.
We mourn differently for plane crash victims, thousands who perish in terrorist attacks and the annual victims of NIS recruitment scandals. In the past, applicants died from the drills. With population increases, they die from stampedes, too many people chasing limited opportunities.
On the day of the NIS tragedy, more than 200 people herdsmen killed in villages in Kaduna State were being mass-buried. Outrage over their death was muted. Was it because they were villagers and no specific ministry was responsible for their death? We condemn all avoidable deaths. Our point is that Nigerians have to focus on the bigger picture or we would again miss the point. If lives are important, all lives must be important.
The mode of the NIS recruitment did not care about lives. It was primitive, the consultants did not know the capacity of the facilities where they were stuffing people into, and they seemed to have no plans to manage them, once they squeezed into the arena. Even with the best methods, managing more than 500,000 people would be tasking. A poor plan was a perfect recipe for tragedy.
Apart from these, the desperation of the applicants was obvious. Why would pregnant women sign up for such drills? The big picture is the high level of unemployment in Nigeria. It provides fertile grounds for deaths and good business for job scammers.
Unemployment is high and rising. Statistics belie the fact. It is hypocritical for governments to show concerns about these deaths without dealing with their causes. Until government policies generate jobs, safety and security, more tragedies, of more magnitude, are on the way. It is unfortunate.