ABUJA, Nigeria — At least 16 people were killed in 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 number of unemployed at nearly 41 million of the 170 million population. 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.

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.