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.

The Nigerian Red Cross and some hospital officials said that many seriously injured patients were admitted and that 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 Campaign, an activist group. Applicants said they each paid 1,000 naira (about $6) — apparently for the right to take tests Saturday at the application centers.

The group, which has called for Interior Minister Abba Moro to be fired over the deaths, said it was scandalous that the government had collected about $3 million from applicants and demanded that the money be returned.

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

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.

Moro held the applicants responsible, saying they “lost their lives through their impatience.” The official News Agency of Nigeria quoted him as saying 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, however, accused the Interior Ministry of inviting more applicants than centers could accommodate and not providing enough security. The group cited the example of Abuja National Stadium, which has a capacity for 60,000. It said that 65,000 applicants were invited and that seven people died.

The other deaths occurred in Minna, Port Harcourt, Dutse and Benin City, Moro said.

— Associated Press