At least 16 people have been killed in desperate stampedes for government jobs in Nigeria when hundreds of thousands were invited to apply for fewer than 5000 positions.
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 per cent of the 170 million people or nearly 41 million unemployed. Unemployment among young people aged under 24 is even higher - 38 pe rcent according to official statistics and nearer 80 per cent according to the World Bank.
Moro was quoted as saying by the official News Agency of Nigeria that many of the applicants "jumped through the fences of affected centres 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 centres 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 1000 naira (about NZ$7) - apparently for the right to write tests at the application centres. The Education Rights Campaign said it was scandalous that the government had collected about US$3 million from applicants and demanded the money be returned.
It said it was unconscionable that the government was "preying on the misery of hapless Nigerian youths, especially graduates who suffer years without gainful employment."
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and has one of the world's fastest-growing economies - 7 percent projected for this year - but corruption and mismanagement have failed to translate that growth into much-needed jobs.