The images of hundreds and thousands of Nigeria’s youth in stadiums all over the country desperately trying to go through aptitude tests for employment in the Nigerian Immigration Service is one of the saddest images I have seen in recent times. Its also one of the most evocative and it tells the narrative of a heartless State with neither respect nor compassion for its youth.
As dozens were killed in various stadiums in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Minna, Benin and Kano, it was shocking to hear the minister of internal affairs, Abba Moro, expressly deny responsibility. It’s even more scandalous that he even went further to blame the young applicants for their own deaths, for being impatient and for not following “laid down procedure”.
If I were a young graduate and I have been searching for a job for years, and I turn up at Abuja stadium to see 68,000 other young people seeking the same job I need, like hell I would be patient. It would become clear to me that I must fight and struggle to get any chance of going through the test. With over sixty thousand people in the main bowl of a stadium, how can you not expect people to fight for forms and question papers? The whole scenario was deliberately set up to create chaos and desperation and when you do that to hundreds of thousands of young people, the obvious intention is manslaughter.
According to Minister Moro, 520,000 people applied for the jobs and they paid 1,000 naira each, which means they collected 520 million Naira. There are reports saying that an additional 3,000 Naira was collected or was to be collected for medicals which means we have to multiply the number by three.
Clearly, the Ministry, or any other organisation in Nigeria does not have the capacity to carry out aptitude tests for half a million people at the same time. There is simply no capacity, time or personnel to process such a large number. The only purpose of getting such a large number is to increase the money to be racked in.
The most painful thing about the tragedy is that most of those who were struggling for those jobs in various stadiums all over the country did not stand a chance in a million. The current practice in this country is that public service jobs are advertised and people are made to apply. When the money has been collected, the available jobs are then distributed to the Presidency, the National Assembly and State Governors who then give out the jobs to their relations and friends. The applicant who knows nobody in power therefore remains a permanent applicant seeking funds to apply for jobs that will never materialize. There cannot be a worse form of cruel cynicism against the poor youth in this country.
The Ministry of Interior and its agencies have been notorious for such practices and the Minister, Abba Moro and the Comptroller-General of Immigration should be immediately dismissed. There should be an investigation on whether the monies collected go to the public treasury as required by law. As we mourn the dozens of young people who died in stampedes in several places including Abuja, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Kano, Benin in Edo State and Minna in Niger State, the regime of state impunity must be challenged in this country.
There is a larger question posed by the reality of our demographics in Nigeria where we have a youth bulge. The concept of youth bulge identifies young people, (particularly aged between 15-29), as a historically volatile population and equates the high proportion of 15-to-29 year olds relative to total adult population to increased possibility of violence, particularly in developing countries where the capacity to support them is lacking. We have a youth bulge that is confronted with a double self-inflected incapacity. First, the incapacity to educate all of the youth. Today, we have 10.5 million Nigerians who are of primary school age and are not going to school. Secondly, most young Nigerians that do succeed in going to school and graduating do not get jobs. This means the process of social mobility for those who are not children of the super elite has stopped.
For any society, this is a potentially explosive situation. It is important to always remind ourselves that there is clear nexus between demography and conflict. Demography concerns the social characteristics of a population and their development through time. Of particular concern to Nigeria is the age distribution ratio. There is a clear connection between higher proportions of young adults as a ratio of total adult population and when that large proportion of young adults cannot progress, the likely outbreak of violent confrontation is always present. Many studies of violent conflict in various African countries have been linked to the youth bulge.
These studies show that in countries where young adults comprise more than 40 per cent of the adult population the possibility of the out break of violent civil conflict is twice as likely than those with lower young adult population. Also, countries with urban population growth rates above 4.0 per cent are about twice as likely to sustain the outbreak of a civil conflict. These studies, which focused on conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, told the story that is currently being narrated in Nigeria.
According to the African Youth Charter, a youth within the African context is anybody aged between 15 and 34 years. On the basis of this definition, young adults (age 15-34) comprised more than 50.0% of total adult population in Nigeria and neighboring countries. If today we have violent conflicts that have required the deployment of the army in 32 out of the 36 states of the country, the message from the youth is that they have had enough. The spectacle of calling hundreds of thousands of young people for a state sponsored 419-job recruitment process is certainly one extra level of provocation that we do not need. As I have argued previously in this column, our political class is totally bereft of a sense of enlightened self-interest. If we allow them, they will sink us into the abyss.