Ondo State’s car-driving ghosts

An audit report submitted to the Ondo State House of Assembly revealed that 88 ghost workers got N48.2 million as car loans in 2018. The report also showed that some beneficiaries got double car loan while 86 workers in both the civil and teaching service collected loans above what they were qualified for. According to the report, N38.4 million was also given to 66 persons whose names could not be found in the state salary payment register and who were consequently deemed to be non-government employees.

While Ondo State gets the trophy for giving car loans to non-existing workers, the issue of phantom workers is a national malaise. It is a perennial problem that bedevils every state.  As a matter of fact, the incidence of ghost workers is one of the factors responsible for the country’s seeming arrested development. It appears that there are more phantom workers in Nigeria’s public sector than real ones. No aspect of the sector is spared; the federal civil service, state civil service, the police, the ministries, departments and agencies are all swarming with ghost workers with billions of naira going to the wrong hands monthly. This ugly scenario has been a source of concern to governments at various levels with many of them at one point or the other subjecting their workforces to endless screening exercises with a view to fishing out fictitious names on the workers’ payroll. But more often than not, the deleted names from the workforce have an uncanny manner of either getting back on the payroll or being replaced by new ones.

The fact is that the inclusion of non-workers on the payroll cannot be perpetrated by junior or middle level officers; the illegality can only be executed at the level of very high ranking officers of government. That explains why the problem has become almost intractable; those who should proffer the solution constitute the problem.

However, as terrible as the criminality of siphoning resources from government coffers through the inclusion of phony names on workers’ payroll is, it still pales in comparison with the larger consequences of this immorality on the nation. The backwardness of Nigeria in some aspects may be traced directly to this insincerity on the part of the top hierarchy of the nation’s workforce. For instance, Nigeria is said to be one of the countries with high maternal mortality rate with its 630 deaths per 100,000 births. This high rate is a consequence of the disproportionate ratio of pregnant women to birth attendants in the country. Contrary to the claims of government that it has employed many birth attendants to stem the tide of maternal mortality, the reality on the ground is that many pregnant women still depend on traditional birth attendants, who are not properly schooled in the art of taking birth delivery. Why would the government say one thing and the people see another? It is because government’s premise is faulty. The government may be told that there is a particular number of birth attendants in the hospitals whereas the personnel figure has been padded for the benefit of some ministry officials.

According to the Library of Congress Profile on Nigeria, there are 371,800 officers and men in the Nigeria Police, but the Inspector General of the Police, Muhammed Adamu, said last year that there were as many as 80,115 ghost workers in the police. Former police chiefs threatened fire and brimstone and assured that they would put an end to the scam. But not much has been done in this regard as there are still ghost workers in the force. The implication of this is that while the nation is releasing money to pay 371,800 policemen, only about 291,685 people are actually policing the nation. This then means that the nation is under-policed but it is hamstrung to recruit more men to facilitate effective policing because its assumption is hinged on the wrong premise of having a 371,800-man police force. This could be one of the reasons criminals are having an upper hand against security operatives in the country. Imagine what 80,000 additional policemen could do in a country like ours.

The same goes for employment. There are so many young Nigerians roaming the streets without any job, not necessarily because there is no room for them in government establishments but principally because the government is working on the wrong hypothesis that it has a bloated workforce whereas this is not true as some people have perfected a means of perpetually stealing from government by using names of non-existing workers.

The Federal Government in 2006 commenced the process of waging war against ghost workers when it introduced the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information Systems (IPPIS), but 14 years after, the story has not changed. The process has been painfully slow probably because some of those superintending over it unduly benefit from the current system that leaves room for phantom workers. But that can only happen in government, no private sector employer will spend over 14 years looking for fake workers.

However, if the government is not bothered about the humongous resources lost to ghost workers, it should be concerned about the other effects of this systemic inefficiency which is responsible for Nigeria’s reputation as the country with one of the highest infant mortality rates, the country with the highest number of out of school children and one of the most unsafe countries in the world.

 

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