In the early hours of Saturday, March 15, 2014, thousands of job applicants made their way to 37 test centers nationwide as directed by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). The test centers comprised trade fair complexes, football stadia, high schools and tertiary institutions. Applicants were further instructed to come along with the following – acknowledgement slip, means of identification, writing materials and clothing suitable for physical exercise.
Matter of fact, the recruitment exercise did not start here. September 2013, the NIS published a notification for general recruitment. Applications were solicited from suitably qualified candidates (SSCE, NCE, ND, HND, BSc, PhD holders). The outlined process required interested applicants purchasing an ‘Access Code’ for a sum of one thousand naira (or more… the jury is still out on how much was required) via designated bank(s). This code was then to be used to complete an online application. Candidates who completed this successfully got an acknowledgement slip issued to them.
As expected, in November 2013, there was public outcry against this application fee charged to interested candidates. In response to this, the Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, explained that the one thousand naira fee “is the charge by the consulting firm to defray cost of accessing the website to fill forms. This is also intended to save the applicants the cost of travelling to Abuja to submit their application forms, as well as avoid other inherent risks, including unauthorized middlemen activities and other abuses”.
Furthermore, personnel in the same Ministry expressed reservations about this levy citing that a potential six billion naira would be generated from an estimated six million candidates. Was this a recruitment drive or revenue generation gimmick? Did the NIS not include recruitment in its plan and budget for this financial year? How was this to be funded originally? Where in the world do employers charge job applicants as little as a dime?
Nigeria’s unemployment rate is put at 23.9% (2012), on the increasing trend over the past couple of years. Too many Nigerians are unemployed. They are available and able to work but a quarter of the labor force is out there seeking employment on a daily basis. It therefore is a no brainer that the response to an NIS job vacancy advert would be in the thousands. People are looking for jobs, and for a country where government is perceived to be the biggest employer of labor, the quickest means to inexplicable wealth, and the leapfrog catalyst from grass to grace, it is only normal to expect such a massive response to a government job vacancy.
While there is no confirmed official count of how many attended the purported NIS job test, informal reports have it that football stadia in Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja were appreciably filled to the higher tens of thousands. When a thirsty man hears there’s water around the corner, he will expedite his steps in that direction. It is likely the NIS and its consulting firm anticipated this massive turnout, influencing the choice of test center types, predominantly stadia.
What kind of recruitment test is conducted at a football stadium anyway? What was the plan to structure the seating arrangement for candidates? Was the personnel supervision requirement for this large expanse even considered? There was going to be a written test as applicants were asked to come with writing materials. Are there desks or writing pads in a typical Nigerian football stadium? How were applicants supposed to write? How would they have prevented examination malpractice in such a large and porous venue? Applicants were also asked to come with suitable clothes for physical exercise. Was this to be conducted at the same venue, in the same duration as a written test? What manner of thought process failure seems to be demonstrating itself thus? Was there no option to conduct the test first in batches, and then in phases with the physical examination/exercise/fitness phase done on a subsequent date?
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam is held annually in Nigeria, with well over a million candidates. Recently, JAMB announced the designation of 256 centers planned for the 2014 exam. Why couldn’t the NIS synergize its job test planning with such tested formats? What consulting firm was hired for this recruitment drive? Was there no plan to shortlist candidates from online applications as a crowd control measure?
Furthermore, candidates were requested to be at the venue by 7am. Access to the venues was definitely a challenge with the massive turnout and ill-prepared personnel. There are reports of candidates having to jump fences to get into the stadium. By the rule of convergence, when you have a large volume of substance approaching a narrow flow point, there is bound to be pressure build up. This principle is evident in traffic jams all over the country – 4 lanes reducing to 2, a jam results. Similarly, a few venue gates (say 8 hypothetically) serving a crowd of 20,000 people results in 2,500 people attempting to rush through 1 gate. This failure to plan and anticipate unknowns became a carefully orchestrated set up for a stampede. People desperate to get in, eyes on the prize – that government job with supposedly limitless opportunity, too few access points, more people trying to get in, impatience, fear, uncertainty, confusion, pushing, nudging, prodding … a breakdown of order.
Unfortunately, there were casualties. It is feared that there were as many as 7 fatalities in Abuja alone. Nigerians who left home in the morning, in pursuit of a job, ended up in the morgue. They came to the NIS for jobs, but got death in exchange. God rest their souls.
There are not too many words fit to describe this sham of an exercise than failure – Failure to outsource aright; Failure to leverage and synergize; Failure to protect; Failure to solve; Failure to execute; Failure to deliver! What a mess indeed. A peculiar mess. A national embarrassment.
Over the last few weeks, Nigerians have again been faced with an age old occurrence, commonly dubbed fuel scarcity. This is a national phenomenon that has recurred over and again. There are numerous and quite memorable accounts of people taking turns to spend days and nights at petrol stations, on endless queues, in the attempt to buy fuel for use. Many have honed additional driving skills learning to maneuver their cars into the smallest available spaces, outsmarting sleeping drivers, all in a bid to buy tens of liters of premium motor spirit, petrol. It is appalling, having this particular problem persist over the years, same manner, similar process, typical triggers, without a true solution. Daily national demand for PMS continues to be an educated guess and has consistently ranged between 35 – 40 million liters in the recent past. In basic economics, scarcity arises from a limited availability or supply of resources compared with the attendant demand for the same. So what suddenly truncated national PMS supply? For a country whose citizens depend squarely on petrol (Premium Motor Spirit) as fuel to power their vehicles and household generators, why is the supply chain periodically challenged?
It will be odd to hear a crop farmer complain of hunger when his harvest is obviously full, except his produce is being constantly pilfered under his very eyes, or the infrastructure required to process the crops into valuable food is unavailable, dilapidated or out dated. However, this is a clear picture of the national situation. Sitting on such massive hydrocarbon reserves, we have been unable to effectively operate and manage the infrastructure to harness value accordingly. The four refineries with a total refining capacity of 445,000bpd operated at an average capacity utilization of approx. 28% YTD Oct 2013 – processing 124,600bpd of crude able to yield approx. 10 million liters PMS/day.
Comparing this local supply to the anticipated demand of 40m liters, there is a significant volume left to supply. Where an organic solution to production fails, an inorganic intervention may suffice. As such, the nation constantly needs to import the shortfall of products to satisfy demand. When importation is impaired, delayed or truncated for the slightest reason, scarcity results. According to the head of NUPENG’s tanker drivers, “importers got their permits for the first quarter only last week and this has created a shortfall in supply“. Why should import permits for 1Q14 be issued at the end of February, when two-thirds of the quarter is already gone? Consequently, fuel depots across the country have been emptying on the go, and most ran out of product supplies by mid-February, according to the union head. As at January, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) had shortlisted 32 marketing companies for importing petroleum products including NNPC (with the highest import allocation) and other major marketers. Yet, there is a shortfall supply spanning February to March.
What kind of planning results in this? Who is responsible to issue import permits? Were import permits really delayed? Why were they delayed? What happened to the principles of demand forecasting and fulfillment? Is there some unseen angle to the story? The solution to this scarcity is not seen in the reactive measure of inspecting petrol stations to apprehend those selling above the stipulated pump price. Such opportunistic behavior is only typical of the market, where price goes up in the face of rising demand and dwindling supply, with businesses attempting to maximize an economic rent while they can. The root cause is a supply side issue. Cause and effect – Eliminate the cause, eradicate the effect. Supply! Supply! Supply!
Again, one of the core concepts of change management within any industry is communication and involvement. In the execution of projects and/or daily operations, changes are bound to occur to typical routine processes, whether anticipated or not. What makes the difference for the manager or leader is the ability, skill and will to proactively communicate change effectively to the workforce and affected stakeholders, keeping them abreast of the what, the why, the how and when of changes. Sometimes, our government agencies need to take a cue from this. Be upfront about situations irrespective of causes. Is it such an arduous task to make an unambiguous statement on national news, clearly keeping the nation abreast of when and why there is fuel scarcity, what exactly the mitigation interventions are in the short term, and what the long term solutions to prevent its further recurrence are? Unfortunately, this is a country where information asymmetry is pretty much the norm.
Is the leadership of the nation pleased to have its workforce wake up early Monday morning, with worries of how to get fuel to drive to work instead of applying same ‘gray matter’ to develop breakthrough ideas that can foster economic growth? Will we grow our GDP (leave rebasing aside for a bit) when majority of the labor force spends most of their productive time running up and about town searching for petrol stations selling fuel? Or commuters stranded at bus stops for hours because even the commercial transport system is paralyzed due to the same situation? Or researchers and technocrats spending their time at fuel queues when they should be churning out solutions and formulating policies?
Someone, somewhere, needs to fix this recurring issue once and for all! Yet, given the foregoing, one wonders when import permits for the second quarter will be granted! Scarcity continua?