The ghost workers should be exposed and punished

In a special write-up released last Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari revealed that nearly 550 million dollars has been saved from identifying ghost employees in the federal government payroll in the past four years. It is unacceptable that Nigerians should be periodically regaled with tales of discovery of ghost workers, while no visible attempts are made to get to the bottom of such fraud and bring the wrath of the law to bear on the perpetrators.

For a government that came to office with the agenda of fighting corruption, it is not enough for the president to announce figures. Nigerians ought to know, for instance, how and when some of these “ghost” names got on the payroll and for how long they have been there. It is also important that the security agencies tell Nigerians into what accounts the monies so fraudulently drawn have been paid over the years; and the total sum the nation has lost so far to this organised crime.

This blatant corruption, which runs into hundreds of billions of naira every year–from the federal to the state to local government—thrives, because there is no willingness to tackle what has become a perfect scam. Indeed, the problem of invisible workers has become a metaphor for Nigeria’s malaise. It is therefore time for the authorities to begin working to end the current system by which scarce national resources are pocketed by a few selfish individuals.

Unless the federal government adopts a structured and serious institutional response to the ever recurring problem of ghost workers in most government establishments, the syndicate that thrives on inflating the actual number of workers and fleecing the nation will keep smiling to the banks. Not long ago the Federal Civil Service Commission declared that over 30 per cent of the workers on its payroll are phantom staff. And then, almost every workers’ verification exercise carried out by agencies of government has thrown up thousands of fake workers who are on the payroll. Each of these ghost workers have been receiving regular salaries and allowances for a long time; and the sum runs into billions of naira.

The Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, (IPPIS) launched by the former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, uncovered several cases of the fraud through the use of biometric data capture machine. Because ghosts have no finger prints, the bubble burst for those behind the inflated staff figures. Many of the fake workers who have regularly survived the “pay at sight” charade of the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) stood out like sour thumbs. But it would seem that many are still in the system.

In the MDAs today, there are reportedly several fictitious names on the payroll. Unfortunately, while labour unions should be proactive in championing procedural and tactical transparency in the management of workers’ data, it has remained notoriously opposed to biometric for the workers’ verification exercise. The unions actually went public to say there were no ghost workers and vigorously resisted the use of the BDC machines for months, before most of the appalling revelations became public. It must be stopped.

We believe that it is the duty of labour unions to protect the interest of workers and protecting such interests include ensuring that the nation is not swindled in their name. It also includes ensuring that resources that could be deployed to engage more jobless Nigerians are not pocketed by a few selfish individuals. We also believe the federal government should take the issue of ghost workers more seriously by adopting a holistic, rather than ad-hoc, approach to tackling the menace. And those who are behind the racket should be exposed and brought to book. This mindless plunder of scarce state resources has lasted long enough.