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Nigeria: Many people, many ghosts

By Tonnie Iredia

One unsettled issue in Nigeria is the nation’s population figures. The nation’s census results including those of the most recent one which gave a population of 140,003,542 in December 2006 have been disputed.  The exact numerical strength of the Nigerian nation has therefore remained a subject of controversy.

That every census result is disputed also implies that no one can authoritatively pronounce upon the fraction of the Nigerian population that is made up of Ghosts! In this article, the term “ghosts” refers to a non-existent entity that functions as though it is alive when in reality it is not.

A fictitious employee in the payroll of an organization is a good example.  Oh yes, an overview of the history of ghost workers in Nigeria will easily reveal a rather large figure that is disturbingly high enough to make an analyst wonder if our ghosts are not more than the ordinary people. In October 2000, about 5,000 ghost workers were discovered among military ranks excluding pensioners.

In April 2001, the then Accountant General of the Federation Chief Joseph Naiyeju,  told the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriation that there were 40,000 ‘ghost workers’ in the Nigerian government service. In July 2003, 24,000 ghosts were identified in the pension’s unit of the Ministry of Defence.

In 2004, it was revealed that the then Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation had 40% percent under-qualified staff and 20 percent ghost workers. It was also discovered that the Ministry had a syndicate which was posting people to ministries with exactly the same letter as the one in use in the Civil Service Commission.

The story of ghost workers in Nigeria is thus an unending one more so as the subject is a national game that thrives in every part of the country. Here, let us recall the amazing story some four years back, of two ghost workers who were engaged in a public fight because each suspected the other of having aided the inclusion of his name among the 60 ghosts in the payroll of their local council- Isoko South area of Delta State as confirmed by its Chairman Chief Askia Ogieh. So, that Delta has ghost workers is stale news.

Indeed, the Head of Service, Mr. Okechukwu Ofili, who confirmed its existence in the State on November 19, last year also revealed that the subject was under intense investigation.  Steps taken in the last one year to block such wastages in different parts of the country have led to bizarre revelations.

In Niger State, 7000 ghost workers were according to Alhaji Adamu Garafini, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs discovered in the payroll of the 25 Local Governments Councils in the state.

In Imo State, Governor Rochas Okorocha successfully retrieved N650 from going to ghost workers and saved another N1billion from being used to pay phantom pensioners. The Governor angrily ordered the immediate transfer of all accountants in the state civil service although it was not clear if the Governor suspected that some of the accountants were either the ghosts or their associates.

In Lagos however, over 100 ghost workers and impersonators of deceased pensioners were caught ‘red-handed’ while more than N82 million was recovered as confirmed by the Permanent Secretary/Auditor-General for Local Governments, Mr Mohammed Hassan.

In Abia State, 558 ghost workers, whose monthly salary amounted to over N20million, were discovered in the state civil service.  Chief Don Ubani the Commissioner for Information and Strategy said the discovery was made in the first phase of government’s staff salary verification.

Earlier, the Sagbama Local Government of Bayelsa state was found to be losing about N10m to ghost workers monthly. The money according to reports was being shared by 500 people whose names found their way into the pay list of the local government but who rendered no service whatsoever to the council.

In Kano State, 5242 workers under the unified local government service were found to be ghosts.  In Kaduna State, it was the Head of Service, Mrs. Hanatu Ugah herself that announced the discovery of 2000 ghost workers for which N118 million was being lost every month.

Her counterpart in Sokoto, Alhaji Abdullahi Wali confirmed the discovery of 639 ghost workers illegally earning over N25 million as monthly salaries.  In Bauchi State, the Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa confirmed the existence of over 5000 ghost workers across the 20 local government councils of the state.

In Kogi State, the Sani Adamu committee found that “Lokoja remains the dirtiest city in Nigeria” despite huge resources channeled to sanitation because of indiscriminate recruitment of staff in the State sanitation board.  The committee also discovered 500 teachers who had found their way into other employments while their salaries were still being paid by the education board.

In Oyo State, Dr. Festus Adedayo, Special Adviser, Media, to Governor Abiola Ajimobi disclosed that among the recently sacked 3000 workers in the State were people who had falsified age claims, falsified certificates and some others who had no letters of appointment as well as persons who had retired but were still on the payroll of government.

As for federal workers, the stories of ghosts in government offices have not been different.  Indeed the Federal Civil Service Commission declared not long ago that over 30 percent of the workers on its payroll were phantom staff. The same is true of agencies.

At the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) for example, 17,000 fake employees and 6,000 casual workers were found on the payroll of the company. No wonder the same quantum of work which independent power producers like Shell and Agip do with less than 1,000 staff is done by PHCN with over 50,000 staff.

Surprisingly, the National Identity Management Commission which is one federal agency that can rescue the rest of us discovered at the end of its own biometric data capture exercise that as many as 4000 of its 10,000 workers were ghosts.

Nigeria may therefore not be able to resolve the issue of ghost workers for a long time to come especially against the backdrop of certain weird happenings in two States-Zamfara and Plateau. In the case of Zamfara, one of the over 2000 ghosts recently discovered on the State government payroll was a month-old infant earning N24, 000 a month.

The situation in Plateau State on the other hand, showed that apart from the post of State Governor and perhaps his deputy, there is a possibility that a ghost can be found in every other post. This is probably the best way to understand the discovery of a fake commissioner on the payroll of the state government.

In the words of the State Commissioner for Information, Mr Abraham Yiljap, “I mean somebody appointed himself as commissioner and has been receiving salaries and other perks of office as one”. If everyone is therefore a potential ghost in Nigeria, whether there are more ghosts than citizens in the country will make a good topic for an exciting debate.


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