Despite raking in about N1 billion from sale of forms, only N45 million was released for the conduct of the tragic 2014 immigration recruitment exercise, a witness told the court on Friday
Tabugn Sylvanus, a retired Director and Secretary of the Board of the National Immigration Service, NIS, said N201 million was actually required for a proper conduct of the exercise.
Mr. Sylvanus also told the Federal High Court that a last minute adjustment made to the recruitment exercise moved the number of expected participants at the Abuja test venue from 6,800 to over 66,000.
Mr. Sylvanus is the second persecution witness to testify in court during the ongoing trial of former Interior Minister, Abba Moro.
Mr. Moro, who was also the chairman of the board of the NIS, is accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of job seekers, who paid N1,000 each for the recruitment test.
Despite raising about a billion naira from the job seekers, the tests were poorly organised at different centres across the country, resulting in deadly stampedes with at least 18 deaths confirmed, majority from the Abuja stadium stampede.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, said part of the proceeds of the recruitment fees was used to buy choice property in Abuja.
The anti-graft agency charged Mr. Moro alongside Anastasia Nwaobia; a deputy director in the interior ministry, Felix Alayabami; and a company, Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited.
Narrating the circumstances that resulted in the deadly stampede during the March15, 2014 NIS recruitment exercise, Mr. Sylvanus said the cheque of N45 million which came from the contracting company, Drexel Nigeria Limited, was placed in the accounts of the various officers coordinating the exercise on March 12.
“We wrote the chairman (Mr. Moro), indicating the cost of the exercise. We came up with N201 million and forwarded to the honourable chairman for approval. The chairman gave his approval and conveyed same to Drexel,” Mr. Sylvanus said.
“The company fired back that they were not supposed to be responsible to fund the exercise. But as a benevolent gesture; they attached a cheque of N45 million as their contribution to the exercise.
“The cheque was received around March 12 at 3 p.m.
“Immediately we informed the chairman who ordered that we trim the budget to meet the available sum of money. We launched the cheque of N45 million. Officers were able to get their alert on Friday, but a few others could not get the money till the following day,” he said.
Mr. Sylvanus explained that the Federal Government incurred no cost during the preparations for the recruitment exercise.
When asked if he knew why the government resolved that each applicant pays N1,000, the retired civil servant said he was not aware because he was not present when the decision was made.
According to Mr. Sylvanus, after receiving the cheque and making the necessary adjustments, they met Mr. Moro for approval.
The board chairman glanced through the arrangements for the exercise and called for an adjustment of the arrangement for venue, he said.
“The chairman took a glance at all our plans and said we should proceed. The only objection he had was that the initial arrangement for candidates to sit for the exams at their various states was altered because candidates had indicated preferences.”
It was this change in plans that led to the disaster, Mr. Sylvanus explained.
“Because of the change in the announcements that candidates should sit at their choice venues, FCT that had about 6,800 now got up to 66,000 candidates,” he said.
“They now came looking for the National Stadium and for that, an additional N3 million was required. From the budget, we had to collapse what we had proposed for marking and for fuel to be able to get N2 million.
“The Comptroller General, Immigrations also sent in N1 million making N3 million,” Mr. Sylvanus said.
OFFICERS FORESAW TROUBLE
The ex-immigration official also told the court that officers who went to survey the National Stadium, Abuja, that Saturday at 4 a.m. reported that some applicants slept at the stadium, awaiting the exercise.
“I took that as a warning sign that the security architect that was duly placed may not hold,” he said.
Mr. Sylvanus said he immediately made several calls to the board chairman but could not hear him because there was too much noise in the background.
He said they then tried to reach Mr. Moro, but could not. He said they were later told that Mr. Moro was in church and had switched off his cell phone.
When the minister was contacted, Mr. Sylvanus said, he went with them to get the details of what transpired.
“At 11 o’clock after we had gotten in touch with all the states, we went to the National Stadium, but could not get in. While we were trying to get in, we got a report from the officer in charge of the FCT recruitment that there was an incident in the western gate. We went to the National Stadium where the security explained to us and the honourable minister what had happened.
“What happened was that there were people from inside the gate that were trying to get out and some from outside who were trying to get in. The number of those trying to get in was more that those from inside trying to get out. So while they were trying to get in, the ones outside fell the gate and on those inside and they were trampled upon.
After about five hours of hearing the witness’ testimony, the trial judge, Namdi Dimgba, adjourned the matter till October 14 for further hearing.