By DAN ONWUKWE
The ever-recurring tale of phantom w-orkers, otherwise called ghost workers, in government establishments and the grave economic damage the scourge has caused the country, came haunting like real ghost last week. This followed the discovery of 45,000 fake workers in 215 federal government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). This was made possible through the introduction of Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS).
The system is a technology empowered device that detects actual and fake personnel, with the bottom-line to enhance efficiency in personnel cost, planning and budgeting on actual verified number of workers, not estimates. Undoubtedly, the system has brought to the fore the level of corruption that pervades government ministries, departments and agencies across the country.
Last week, the Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama, unmasked the ghost workers’ syndrome and the extent of harm it has caused, both in revenue and image of the public service. According to him, over N100 billion has been saved through the exercise from 153,019 workers that have been audited so far by system. This was at the end of last month (January).
The finance ministry, he said, was able to uncover the scourge while preparing the current Federal Appropriation Bill, which President Goodluck Jonathan is still withholding his signature. The discovery of the 45,000 ghost workers is just a tip of the iceberg of a rather revolving door of corruption that has been going on in virtually all the states of the federation. This has arguably put the Nigerian civil service among the worst inglorious and corrupt-prone in the world.
It thrives on a chain of syndicates that feed on inflating the actual number of workers. While fleecing the nation of tons of billions of naira, the syndicates swim in their filthy lucre. Cases of ghost workers in some government agencies is like a horror story that rivets with each sordid chapter is stoked with unedifying tales of why Nigeria continues to stink in the eyes of international community.
Not long ago, workers’ verification exercise at the government-owned Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) uncovered 17,000 fake workers on its payroll. They were until their faces were unmasked, receiving regular salaries and other pecks of offices that ran into billions of Naira. Also last year, the Federal Civil Service Commission admitted ruefully that over 30 per cent of workers on its payroll were indeed fake. At PHCN, it was also discovered that another 6,000 names were inserted into its payroll as “casual workers”, when indeed such names did not exist.
Perhaps, how the fictitious names got into the payroll is what adds to the mystique called ‘ghost workers’. Besides in 2004, a verification exercise in the Federal Ministry of Information revealed that over 40 per cent of under-qualified staff and 20 per cent of phantom workers existed on its payroll. If the tale of ghost workers in the federal establishments is baffling, the prevalence of the scourge at the state level is dampening enough. No state is spared.
For instance, last year, the Plateau state government openly admitted “there is a fake commissioner’s name” on its payroll. Describing the development as “nauseating”, the state commissioner of information, Mr. Abraham Yiljap, put the matter satirically in perspective when he asked: “Did somebody appoint himself as commissioner and has been drawing salaries and other perks of office?” The commissioner knew how deep the scourge has permeated the service and how powerful the syndicate might be.
He introduced a new dimension to the scourge, saying, “some people are on Grade Level 8 but receive salaries meant for level 16 officers. Others have primary school certificates and are retiring on grade level 14”. That is why Plateau State has a monthly wage bill of N1.7 billion when government feels the actual wage bill ought not to be more than N1 billion. But government seems to know why its fight against ghost workers is not yielding any result yet. According to the state commissioner for information, workers in the service aid and abet the corrupt practice through the falsification of names.
Plateau States’ sad tale of ghost workers is just a folder of the larger, picture of what exists in other states. Last year also, the Oyo State Government revealed that 7,000 ‘ghost workers’ were in its civil service, and stressed its determination to extend the search for more ‘ghost’ workers to the local governments in the state. The actual number of workers in the state civil service is 38,000. In Kebbi State, at least 2,800 ghost workers have been detected in its public service. The discovery was the outcome of a report by the panel on salary and pension reconciliation set up by Governor Saidu Dakingari.
The reference of the committee was, among other things, to find out the exact amount the government was supposed to spend on its workforce. The committee found that every month, N230 million “disappears” from the coffers of the state, to pay ghost workers. The committee headed by Faruk Bunza also discovered that between 1999 and 2007, the state lost a princely N34.8 billion to ghost workers.
The committee discovered that indeed there was a revolving door that gives the syndicate behind the scourge the oxygen that keeps it alive and threatening to the system. According to the committee’s report, retired staff now on pension still have their computer numbers re-allocated to others and thereafter activated into the payroll. That, exactly is the conundrum according to the Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Mr Chris Onyemenam.
Some staff of the agency were recently up in arms against the management for terminating their appointments. But the agency’s boss stunned the nation when he said that over 10,000 workers that the agency inherited at its creation in 2007 from the defunct Dept of National Civic Registration were indeed ghost workers, some of whom had previous employment in other organizations while collecting salaries and allowances from NIMC.
According to him, more than 50 percent, or 6,000 workers of the agency are either fake or redundant workers. There are reports that the scourge has also creped into local government system. Ekiti state government has disclosed that it loses N757 million to ghost council workers annually, while the Abia state commissioner for local government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Emma Nwabuko says the state government has identified over 1,727 ghost workers in the state local government system.
The question is: what can be done? First step could be for states to borrow a leaf from the Federal Ministry of Finance’s tracking system that uncovered the 45,000 ghost workers. But the most effective anti-dote will be a hefty punishment such as long term imprisonment for those behind the corrupt practice.
Nigerians are in agreement that as long as the bad elements inside the civil service behind the crime are either shielded or untouched, so long will the scourge of ghost workers remain a present grave danger to the public service in the country.