TWO teams set up by Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, to audit primary school teachers and local government workers in the state recently found that a total of 22,556 ghost workers were in the payroll of government.
Of the 22,556 ghost workers, 14,762 were discovered at the local government level, while 7,794 were found to be collecting salaries from public primary schools without being teachers. This fraud costs the state government N420 million per month!
That is not surprising. The problem of ghost workers has been a recurring issue in both federal and state civil services in Nigeria. Year in, year out, government carries out endless biometric verifications. At the end of each verification, numbers representing discovered ghost workers and money saved are rolled out. No one is ever arrested or prosecuted. The scam continues.
Claims of discovery of ghost workers by politicians and of beating of their chests for saving money have become political gimmicks which politicians occasionally flaunt as achievements. The ghost workers syndrome is neither limited to one state, nor is it a new trend. A former governor of Kwara State once disclosed that the ghost workers syndrome has been with us for more than 30 years. That is a conservative estimate.
As at June 2016, it was reported that the Federal Government and ten other states had in the last five years lost over N538bn to ghost workers. Out of that staggering amount, the Federal Government paid N220bn to 103,000 ghost workers between September 2013 and May 2015. The other N318bn was paid by ten states, namely: Katsina, N30bn; Kano, N17bn; Rivers, N60bn; Benue, N10.2bn; Oyo, N18bn; Abia, N26.5bn; Adamawa, N20.4bn; Akwa-Ibom, N15bn; Bayelsa, N120bn and Ekiti, N1.2bn.
As revealed by Partnership for Transparency Fund, PTF, in Nigeria, a one-month-old baby made $150 a month as a public sector ghost worker. PTF is a New York-based international organisation that works with Civil Society Organisations across the world to facilitate citizens’ engagement in fighting corruption and holding of governments and public officials accountable.
In 2012, PTF calculated that ghost workers defraud the Nigerian government of $530 million each year, effectively crippling the national budget.
Nigerian politicians and government officials, apart from collecting deceased workers’ pensions for instance, register migrant workers to vote, and in return for their vote, the migrant workers are placed on the government payroll. Today, the problem, instead of abating, has worsened.
PTF located the problem of ghost workers at the core of corruption in Nigeria, echoing what the government knows but would not admit – that solving the problem is almost impossible so long as many political stakeholders continue to benefit from the system. Thus, the civil service in Nigeria, through the ghost workers scam, has become a horrific blackhole into which huge sums of public funds disappear. And the authorities appear unwilling to fix the problem because they are part of the syndicate.
Partly due to ghost workers, every year, recurrent expenditure swallows a larger part of the budget, leaving little or nothing for capital expenditure. These are reasons there are perpetually not enough money for road maintenance, electricity, public transportation and other public infrastructures.
Unfortunately, until Nigerians learn to elect people with proven records of integrity as leaders, and shun those known to have acquired their wealth through dubious means, the problem of ghost workers will remain.
The Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System designed to check this fraud also needs to be extended to every department, ministry and agencies of both federal and state governments.
Vanguard News Nigeria