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At Least 16 Nigerians Killed in Stampedes Over Jobs

Applicants struggle to submit copies of their acknowledgement forms to an immigration officer during a recruitment drive for the Nigeria Immigration Service at the National Stadium in Abuja March 15, 2014. A stampede occurred during the drive when 20,000 applicants forced their way into the stadium resulting in injuries for several candidates, local media reported. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde (NIGERIA - Tags: EMPLOYMENT)AFOLABI SOTUNDE / Reuters

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ABUJA, Nigeria — At least 16 people were killed in desperate stampedes for government jobs in Nigeria when hundreds of thousands were invited to apply for fewer than 5,000 positions, officials and activists said Sunday.

Interior Minister Abba Moro held the applicants responsible, saying they "lost their lives through their impatience." Activists blamed his ministry and called for him to be fired. Emergency officials said the death toll could rise.

Nigerians are desperate for work, with official statistics putting the unemployed at 24 percent of the 170 million people or nearly 41 million unemployed. Unemployment among young people aged under 24 is even higher — 38 percent according to official statistics and nearer 80 percent according to the World Bank.

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 A view of the national stadium where tens of thousands of Nigerian jobseekers turned up to take a recruitment test in Abuja, Nigeria on March 15, 2014. A stampede at the stadium killed several people. DEJI YAKE / EPA

Moro was quoted as saying by the official News Agency of Nigeria that many of the applicants "jumped through the fences of affected centers and did not conduct themselves in an orderly manner ... This caused stampedes and made the environment unsecured."

The Education Rights Campaign blamed his ministry for inviting more applicants than centers could accommodate and not providing enough security. The campaign, which called for Moro to be fired, gave the example of Abuja National Stadium, which has a capacity for 60,000. It said 65,000 applicants were invited and seven people died. The other deaths took place in Minna, Port Harcourt, Dutse and Benin City, Moro said.

The campaign said scores of people were killed. The Nigerian Red Cross and some hospital officials said many seriously injured patients were admitted, and some could die, raising the toll.

About 500,000 applicants were invited to apply for 4,556 vacancies at the Nigeria Immigration Service, according to Education Rights.

Applicants said they each paid 1,000 naira (about $6) — apparently for the right to write tests on Saturday at the application centers. The Education Rights Campaign said it was scandalous that the government had collected about $3 million from applicants and demanded the money be returned.

—The Associated Press

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