Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Deaths In The Stadiums

Last Saturday’s Oriental derby between Enyimba and Enugu Rangers which the Peoples’ Elephants won 2-1 at the Aba Township stadium would have been a perfect lead subject for Soccertalk this week as the belated 2013/2014 Nigeria Premier League (NPL) season snailed into the second week of action.

Alternatively, I could have looked at the English Premier League (EPL) and focused on last Sunday’s 3-0 demolition of Manchester United by Liverpool at Old Trafford which has firmly established The Reds as title contenders, while confirming the Reds Devils as out-going champions.

Better still, I could have looked further to mainland Europe and done a preview on the “Original El-Clasico” between Real Madrid and Barcelona holding this weekend at the Santiago Bernabeu, and which may likely decide which way this year’s La Liga title will go.

But rather than the football action in Aba, Manchester or Madrid, it is the events that occurred in some other stadiums in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and several other major Nigerian cities that have occupied my mind and painfully so. Thousands of Nigerian youths converged on the various stadiums not to watch football matches, but to participate in a recruitment exercise conducted by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). It turned out to be a day of national tragedy as about 18 of the job-seeking youths died in the stampedes that ensued at the over-crowded and poorly organized interviews.

I am amazed at the seeming indifference demonstrated so far by the Federal Government to this national tragedy. President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly summoned the Minister for Internal Affairs, Mr. Abba Moro, and the Comptroller General of the Customs, Mr. David Shiku Paradang, ostensibly to quiz them on what went wrong. But on Monday, the president went ahead to inaugurate delegates for a so-called National Conference as if nothing had happened two days before!

The least that I expected government to do was to postpone the inauguration of the Confab as a mark of respect to the youth who died while responding to calls to serve their nation. It is unlikely that the Confab inauguration would have proceeded had there been a plane crash last Saturday and some “important personalities” had died.

No thanks to the murderous Boko Haram insurgents and other ethnic militias that have been spilling the blood of innocent Nigerians in recent times, the country is turning into a huge killing field. But the commonality of violent deaths should not make government to lose its compassion for the citizenry. Indeed, government may put on a brave face in defiance of the deaths and destruction caused by insurgents and militias. But it cannot wear a brave face and do business as usual when its youth are killed due to negligence by its own agencies.

Even if there were no deaths last Saturday, the multitude of people that turned up for the NIS interviews across the country should have been enough to make government stop and think.
There has always been data evidence of the high unemployment rate in the country as thousands of young graduates are churned into the labour market year after year. But the exercise by NIS must have brought the data starkly into life for people in government to see practically.

Arguably, the National Stadium in Abuja has never witnessed such a crowd before even for football matches as it was filled to the brim and spilling over. The pictures in the newspapers seemed to be jumping out of the pages and saying: “Here we are, the army of unemployed youths of Nigeria. We are real!” If those pictures did not prick the conscience of our leaders, then they are seriously lacking in true leadership qualities.

Personally, I am very saddened by the entire events of last Saturday and, even though I am not impressed by the government’s handling so far, I hope President Jonathan will redeem himself by ensuring that any officials found culpable do not go scot free.

On Tuesday morning, I listened on radio as an applicant that participated in the NIS interview at the National Stadium in Lagos narrated his ordeal in the following manner:

“We arrived as early as 6.00am, but the written tests did not start until around 12 noon. Even then, the question papers were not enough to go round and we had to struggle over the few copies that they brought. Some people got injured in the process.

“Luckily, I got a copy, so about 10 other people followed me to make photocopies so they could also write the test. Afterwards, there was nobody to collect the test papers from us and we just ran after one official bus that we saw and threw our papers inside. I have never seen that kind of examination before in my life. It was so poorly organized. It was terrible.”

Yet, reports say that the NIS and its consultants collected application fees of N1,000 each from the 522,000 plus candidates, thus raking in about N522million from hapless, jobless Nigerians even though there were only 4,556 vacancies. Just imagine the exploitation! This is a big scandal indeed.

While we await the action of Mr. President, I hereby extend my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives last Saturday. Government should pay compensation to the families and it should also ensure that the 4,556 vacancies are not filled by “highly connected” applicants who may not even have attended the interviews at all! That would be the greatest injustice of all to the souls of those who died on Saturday. 

There certainly are things that are more important than football and life itself is one of them. We’ll get back to talking soccer next week, insha Allah. God bless Nigeria, amen.

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