Those who are behind the racket should be exposed and brought to justice

It is regrettable that nothing has been heard about the federal government investigation into a report by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) indicting some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of harbouring thousands of ghost workers. In the report, the ICPC disclosed that it uncovered N49.9 billion paid as salaries to ghost workers between January and June 2022. For now, there is no sign that anything is being done to stop this blatant fraud and the next administration must begin to plan the strategy to effectively deal with this vexatious malaise.

For decades Nigerians have been regaled with tales about how government, at the federal and states, have been able to ‘eliminate’ certain numbers of ‘ghost workers’ from the public payroll. But the issue here is not discovering ghost workers as the regular announcements have become rather boring. It should not be difficult for the security agencies to locate the 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. Therefore, what Nigerians would like to know are the steps being taken to deal with confirmed cases and preventing new ones.

Unless there is 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 number of workers and fleecing the nation will keep smiling to the banks. Beyond this, there is the matter of the criminal collusion of principal officers of state who carry out their policing and monitoring roles in the breach. 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 perpetrators.

  The use of biometric capture data machine and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, (IPPIS) should be able to resolve this ancient problem since ghosts have no fingerprints. But there has been a strong resistance from some critical stakeholders, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The level of collusion here is really the issue and queries should be raised about auditing irregularities. Many labour unions that should be proactive in championing procedural and tactical transparency in the management of workers’ data have remained curiously opposed to the use of biometrics for the verification of workers. In several ministries today, you find fictitious names on the payroll.

Ordinarily, it is the duty of labour unions to protect the interest of workers and such protection includes ensuring that the nation is not swindled in their name. But union leaders are almost always opposed to policies that would expose these fraudulent actors. Not long ago the Federal Civil Service Commission declared that over 30 per cent of the workers on its payroll are phantom staff. Indeed, verification exercises carried out by agencies of government have at different times thrown up thousands of fake workers on the payroll. 

We ought to know how and when some of these “ghost” names got on the payroll and for how long they have been there. Not only should the authorities, at all levels, take the issue of ghost workers more seriously, those who are behind the racket should be exposed and brought to book. This mindless plunder of scarce resources has lasted long enough. It must be stopped forthwith.

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