he recent discovery of 23,306 ghost workers among 312,000 federal civil servants so far audited has, once again, highlighted the endemic corruption in the nation’s public service. A special team recently constituted by the Federal Government uncovered cases of multiple salary payments and other irregularities in the accounts of 23,306 workers. It, indeed, appears that the fraudulent manipulation of employee payrolls that costs Nigeria billions of naira annually is still very much with us.
We strongly condemn this latest confirmation of the ravaging of the national treasury by unconscionable civil servants. Their rapacious looting of public funds through the placing of non-existent workers on the payroll is an affront to the sensibilities of well-meaning Nigerians and their resolve to do things differently.
Nigeria can never get it right if this deliberate stealing from the public trea- sury is unchecked. The persons behind this padding of the public payroll need a change of heart. Above all, they deserve to be fished out and punished in accordance with our laws to finally stop the practice and deter others from toeing a similar path.
The over 23,000 ghost workers discovered so far are likely to be just a tip of the iceberg of the ghost worker menace in the country. By the time the workers verification exercise is over, the final tally of ghost workers is likely to be mind boggling.
The deliberate inflation of workers’ payrolls is one of the oldest rackets in Nigeria’s public service. The fact that this has been on for ages shows how deeply entrenched the problem is, with the masterminds usually in the most senior echelons of the service. It should not be a surprise, therefore, that this criminal activity has flourished over the years. It will take a strong resolve by government and the deployment of foolproof, cutting-edge technology for Nigeria to substantially rid itself of unconscionable high level civil servants behind the ghost worker syndrome and their accomplices at the lower levels and in the banks they use.
We recall that it is for this very purpose of reducing this criminal conspiracy against the common good that the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Payment System (IPPS) was introduced by the Federal Government in the last few years. The system has so far saved the nation trillions of naira through the discovery of several thousands of ghost workers on thickly padded payrolls. Government should not relent in its efforts to smoke out these economic saboteurs and visit them with appropriate punishment.
The problem of ghost workers goes beyond the Federal Government. It is one of the ways through which corruption is perpetrated at the state and local government levels. Some unscrupulous bankers are also not left out of this criminal engagement as they ac- tively aid the perpetration of the crime with the setting up of fictitious bank accounts for a share of the gains from the evil enterprise.
The high incidence of ghost workers apparently explains Nigeria’s peculiar situation in which government’s recurrent expenditure perennially dwarfs the capital component. It also explains why the various levels of government in the country have failed to reverse the situation and align it with our development objectives. Until the modest gain in the 2016 budget, which made a 30 per cent provision for capital expenditure, most of the pre- vious federal budgets hardly provided more than 15 per cent for capital expenditure. In any case, it is this same meagre capital component that is sacrificed once the budget comes under any pressure.
The glaring results are the many abandoned and unrealised capital projects all over the place, to the eternal regret of the nation. It has left us with the dubious reputation of a country manifestly rich in resources but never actualizing its potentials; a country that has earned billions of petrol-dollars, but still grappling with the most basic of infrastructure: water, roads, power and primary health care.
This ghost-worker phenomenon clouds our national employment figures. When our public payrolls are swelled by ghost-workers who make up about 50 percent of the work- ers on the payroll, it creates a nightmare for national planning. First, it gives a false pic- ture of the unemployment level in the country with all of its consequences. Second, it puts huge sums of money in the pockets of corrupt civil servants.
This is why government must see the incidence of ghost workers as a big challenge to the Nigerian economy. Let the relevant authorities do everything within their powers to stop the padding of public sector payrolls. It is time to curtail this ugly activity. With strong determination, deployment of relevant technology and sustained monitoring of public payrolls, the menace of the ghost workers can be curbed.