When The Ghosts Go Marching On By Olusegun Adeniyi
Because I know my readers very well, the expectation would most likely be that today, I will go after the PADDINGtons in the House of Representatives. But like my brother, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, I believe it is better to maintain a “dignified silence” over that for now. Therefore, I have elected to be more adventurous by travelling all over Nigeria to help the Governors look for the ghosts that have been consuming huge chunks of their monthly allocations. Since oil money is no longer flowing as usual, many of them are now waking up to reality by using Bank Verification Number (BVN) and all manner of committees to pursue these powerful ghosts with interesting results.
The Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa said last month that “from investigations done in the Asaba and Agbor zones within one week alone, “we discovered that there are over 28 strange names, 38 dead teachers, 15 retired teachers and other absconded teachers on the payrolls of certain schools.” Against the background that teachers were usually told to await their reward in heaven, it is interesting that in Delta State, some smart “deceased teachers” are still enjoying their own benefits right here on earth!
In May, Ebonyi State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Samuel Okoronkwo, announced the discovery of a scam involving 838 cemetery keepers, even when there is no government cemetery in the state. “The only cemetery in the state is in Abakaliki and it is being managed by the Catholic Church, so what are the cemetery keepers doing?” Okoronkwo asked.
I am not sure any of those ghosts who have been clever enough to hide in cemeteries (where else should they be?) has bothered to reply Okonronkwo. Meanwhile, in the same state, another set of 250 ghosts were also uncovered in the teachers’ pay roll. “We caught somebody, a level 10 officer, who is given three jobs. He is working in UBEB; Civil Service Commission and another ministry and he has collected about 10 million naira,” executive chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board, Hyacinth Ikpor disclosed.
Now, that is a proper “Okunrin meta” operating in Ebonyi, an identified crook who is above the law. But wait for this: “We have also uncovered a case where a teacher got somebody to be teaching for her since 2012 after she left. The person she hired has been in this school teaching and answering her name while she pays this auxiliary teacher N8, 000 monthly and she takes the rest. And neither the teachers nor the head teacher in the school complained and I was told she lives in Abuja,” said Ikpor. With an untouchable Ebonyi ghost living among us in Abuja, we should be afraid.
In June this year, the Abia State government raised a steering committee to automate the state’s workforce. “No matter the intimidation, we will get the issue of padding of salary right and clear the ghost worker syndrome in the system”, vowed Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s Special Adviser on Economic Affairs, Mr. Obinna Oriaku, while lamenting that “we have a lot of people who are in Abuja, London and other places yet receiving salary here (in Abia).” In this era of globalization, it is actually no surprise that Abia ghosts have gone global!
In the same month, the Bauchi State Government announced the discovery of 6,065 ghostson its payroll. According to the State Accountant-General, Alhaji Abubakar Gabi, “names of children between eight and ten years of age appeared as teachers on the payroll of the state. We also discovered that some of the pensioners duplicated their payment papers; had the same names, same BVN, same GSM numbers and same account numbers but with different photographs attached. Again we discovered instances where deceased families who had earlier submitted death certificates of their heads and were paid bulk pension entitlements, fraudulently work their way back (into the system) and are still collecting pensions.”
A diligent man, Bauchi Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar said: “Those forces (ghosts)will not fold their arms and allow us to put a stop to their activities; so they were fighting us all through. It is not as if it will happen today and stop tomorrow. They are creating all sorts of bottlenecks for the system.” Let us pray for Governor Abubakar that these ghosts will not overpower him with their “bottlenecks”.
On 29th May this year, Governor Simon Lalung of Plateau State disclosed that his government had traced 1,832 ghost teachers to a single individual who is not even a teacher. According to Lalung, the self-confessed thief who resided in the United States for several years admitted to him (Lalung) on phone that he (the intercontinental ghost) had been drawing salaries for himself and many others to fund a charity for widows and orphans. What a Good Nigeritan!
In June, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina announced the detection of names of children and wives of some prominent persons on the payroll of local government councils in the state. “It is unfortunate that these people have been on the list, collecting salaries for over 20 years. It is also disheartening to note that some people who do not live in the state are collecting salaries every month”, disclosed Masari. Who are these people? In Nigeria, there is a golden rule for that: Don’t ask. Don’t tell!
Last month, the Kebbi Chairman of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Alhaji Bello Barade, said 9,258 ghosts were uncovered in the 21 local councils of the state. At about the same period, 9,720 ghosts were also uncovered in the payroll of Kogi State government. The Auditor-General in charge of local governments, Alhaji Ahmed Ododo said “in Kogi State University, there was a case of double employment where a man filled two forms signed by him. He is on the staff of the university and also on the staff of its teaching hospital. This man draws salaries amounting to N560,000 each from the two places,” Ododo said. A teacher and healer combined; why is Kogi State so blessed?
In April, the Cross River State Universal Basic Education Board uncovered 248 fake teachers in nine local government areas. Curiously, the Chairman of the House of Assembly Committee on Education, Hon Friday Okpechi, directed the authorities in the state to “announce amnesty or give timeframe for fake certificate holders to surrender such certificates to the screening panel or face the consequence of dismissal”! Amnesty for thieves? Nigeria we hail thee!
Just about two weeks ago in July, Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government, Mr. Serena-Dokubo Spiff, said there were discrepancies in their payroll with cases of ghost schools, ghostteachers, fraudulent designation of status/grade level etc. “Some persons with criminal intention are short-changing the system to the detriment of the state. Members of the teaching staff who may be victims of the activities of these criminal gangs are advised to bring same to the attention of the authorities”, Dokubo-Spiff stated. I am not sure any of these ghosts has reported for arrest or has been brought to the attention of the authorities in Bayelsa State.
Last month (July), a total of 3,916 ghosts were discovered in Enugu State, following a staff audit conducted in the 17 local government councils. A month earlier in June, the Kaduna Head of Service, Mrs Alisabatu Dada-Onazi said 13,000 ghosts had been identified, following a verification exercise that reduced the number of workers from over 88,000 to 75,726 in the state. She vowed that those involved would be prosecuted. While Governor Nasir el Rufai is one man who does not run away from a fight, it will be interesting to see how he would take on the ubiquitous Nigerian ghosts.
In February, the Benue State Government said it had uncovered 1,061 ghosts who were previously on the payroll of public schools. Same month, Governor Willie Obiano announced discovering 850 ghosts in the Anambra state civil service in the course of routine efforts to identify areas of waste. It’s either many ghosts have fled these two states or they are too clever to be found.
In May, the Kano State Commissioner for Information, Internal Affairs, Youths, Sports and Culture, Alhaji Umar Faruk, “highlighted the progress made so far in which over 8,000 ghostworkers were identified in the interim report.” A few days later, Alhaji Adamu Garafini, the Permanent Secretary in charge of the Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the Niger State, announced the discovery of 7,000 ghosts in the payroll of the 25 LGAs.
According to Garafini, the consultant discovered that 207 staff duplicated salary accounts into which monthly stipends are paid simultaneously while 565 are under-aged children on the payroll. The Chairman of Chanchanga, Alhaji Inuwa Adamu Fuka, was later to reveal the existence of 22 ghost schools and 24 head teachers within the local government. In the same Niger State, a medical record clerk was found earning N332,000 every month as against N56,821 to which he was entitled. In a state where ghosts operate bank accounts, let us just say the clerk is another miracle worker!
Last month, the Adamawa government announced uncovering 12,609 ghosts in the state’s local government’s payroll. According to Mr. Maurice Vunobolki, who presented the report to Governor Muhammadu Jibrilla, 38,760 workers were cleared as against 51,369 earlier presented to the committee. About 5,000 workers did not turn up for verification while 1,780 among those that turned up were under aged employees. We all know there is child labour in Nigeria but child ghosts is another thing altogether!
In March, the Akwa Ibom Commissioner for Finance, Mr Akan Okon, said that the state was partnering with a consultant to help tie all civil servants on the payroll to their BVN. “I believe at the end of the day it will help us to reduce or eliminate ghost workers in Akwa Ibom civil service,” Okon said. Let us say Amen to that. Two weeks ago, Gombe State announced the commencement of the biometric verification of its 60,000 civil servants to determine the exact staff strength. “The aim of the exercise, which will last one month, is to come out with the exact figure of workers in Gombe State and also block leakages.”, said Malam Aliyu Kamara who added rather ominously, “the exercise is necessary because the income of the state is not even enough to serve the said 60,000 workers, much less attending to the social needs of the over three million Gombe citizens.”
In March, the Secretary to the Ogun State Government (SSG), Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa said “Ogun State is unique as we have continued to engage and dialogue with the Organised Labour. As part of our continued discussions, we have both agreed that we should take advantage of BVN system to ensure that our scare resources are not going to ghost workers”. In Nigeria, you have to negotiate everything, including eliminating thieves from payrolls!
In March, 71 ghosts were discovered by the Osun State government. According to the Permanent Secretary, Local Government Service Commission, Mr Dayo Olaluwoye “out of the 71 ghost workers, 39 were deceased while 32 were supposed living individuals that collect salaries without coming to the office.” Same month, 1,600 ghosts were discovered in Nasarawa state. And in the same March, the Oyo State government temporarily expunged the names of 16, 532 workers and pensioners from its payroll. According to the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Olalekan Alli, “after the forensic computerized data audit, the consultants found many instances of inconsistencies, variations and entry details that did not tally, involving 16, 532 employees, out of a total 100,250 workforce”. To date, not one of those crooks has been apprehended.
Also in March, Mr Simeon Nwakaudu, special assistant on electronic media to Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers told Nigerians that his boss now denies ghosts N1 billion monthly in the state. Since no further details were provided, we don’t know how many Port Harcourtghosts were sharing that jumbo sum among themselves. In June, the Taraba SUBEB announced the discovery of N52 million being paid to ghost primary school teachers every month in the state.
Last month, Alhaji Mannir Dan-Iya, the Sokoto State Commissioner for Local Government and Community Development, disclosed that a verification exercise carried out “yielded fruitful result, whereby about 12, 915 workers, comprising of seat-at-home and ghostworkers were fished out of the local governments’ staff payrolls.” In May, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe announced that several politicians and businessmen in the state have over the years connived to retain names of ghost workers in the 17 Local Government Councils’ salary system. “My administration has surprisingly uncovered the culprits. Let me use this occasion to caution the perpetrators of hoarding ghost workers in the 17 council pay rolls that all the names of suspects will be made public to face the wrath of law”, warned Geidam. We are still waiting for the disclosure!
To the extent that the ghosts we are talking about are fictitious workers put on the payroll to earn salaries, there is no way there can be this many in our system without a serious collaboration between the political elites and civil servants either in the states or at federal level. In some instances, even the traditional authorities are involved in this huge scam with many of them (as well as other connected Nigerians) allocated certain number of ghosts for the purpose of drawing funds from the public till. So, this scam is one big organized crime.
However, if you didn’t find your state among the foregoing, please don’t think ghosts don’t operate there. What I have simply done is to highlight 2016 cases. Yet, in all these details that have come to light, how many people have been brought to justice? Not a single person! But the problem is not restricted to the states as the Federal Government in May announced that “over 43,000 ghost workers have been removed from the payroll.” How did they get there in a nation where citizens have for almost five years now been subjected to multiple biometric data registration? Yet, notwithstanding all the revelations that we have been treated to in recent years on this payroll padding issue, the only man brought to justice in Abuja was the pension guy who stole billions. At the end, he was convicted and given a miserable fine which he practically paid from his pocket!
What does the foregoing say about our country? The simple answer is that we are running a system with no accountability. And because of that, everybody is designing for him/herself looting empires. That is what all the salacious tales about budget padding in the House of Representatives is all about and nobody should believe anything will come out of it by the time the drama is over. For instance, in year 2012, Nigerians were for weeks entertained by revelations of the trillions of Naira siphoned into some private pockets in the name of fuel subsidy (you can check out my book on that monumental fraud, The Verbatim Report, onolusegunadeniyi.com). What happened? Nothing!
In any case, when you talk about budget padding, unilateral insertion of projects, sharing of money meant for the purchase of arms and all that, you are invariably telling the story of Nigeria. Payrolls are padded; census figures are padded; voters’ registers are padded etc. The reality of the day is that when statistics have financial implications in Nigeria, there are far too many people who would fiddle with it. Yet, these crimes are committed with impunity because there are almost always no consequences.
On Tuesday, the panel set up by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to look into the crisis in the House of Representatives said it had met separately with the parties involved. ”They are our members; we should know from them directly what is really going on so that we can see how to handle the situation without necessarily making it a town square dance,” said the APC National Deputy Chairman (North), Senator Shuaibu Lawal. That should give you an idea of how this criminal issue would end.
However, if President Buhari is really serious about fighting corruption, that matter should not become, as it was in the past, another “family affair”. On the issue of ghosts, there is need for a proper audit of the payrolls of all 36 states and the Federal Government. If we subtract the emoluments of ghosts from what is due to genuine workers, we may get an idea of our national salary obligation so things may not be as bad as we thought.
All said, it is also glaring that Nigeria will not develop until we can manage to conquer theghosts in all of us. In a set up where the sharing of government money is the single largest industry, far too many Nigerians are ready to create their own ghosts if only to partake in the bazaar. And in a sense, Nigerians may have hit another world record not yet known to Guinness: the greatest manifestation of the duality of man and spirit; all for dubious gains!
Why Atiku Deserves Attention
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar last week restated his call for the restructuring of Nigeria, which he said had become inevitable. “I believe that restructuring will eventually happen whether we like or support it or not. The question is whether it will happen around a conference table, in a direction influenced by us and whether we will be an equal partner in the process. Or will it happen in a more unpredictable arena and in a manner over which we have little influence? It should be at a table and we need to be at that table. A nation is an organism; it grows, it evolves, it changes, it adapts. And like other organisms if it does not adapt, it dies.”
Whatever anybody may say about Atiku and his politics, I think he has been consistent on this issue and that is why he deserves our attention, especially given that it is now very clear that our nation cannot achieve its optimum under the current structure. That is the point I was making last week, when I expressed sympathy for President Buhari who “inherited a broken system”, even though my brother, Reno Omokri, deliberately chose to misinterpret me. The statement had nothing to do with the stewardship of President Goodluck Jonathan nor can I justifiably be accused of making excuses for President Buhari that I had accused of compounding the problems of Nigeria by the choices he has made or refused to make since coming to office.
But back to Atiku, although I was in the United States for most of 2010 and 2011 and did not witness the presidential election, I remember the former vice president pledging in the course of the campaign for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket which he lost that if elected president, his medium-term (a four-year period) strategy would be to ensure that recurrent expenditure was financed fully with non-oil revenue while every kobo earned as oil revenue would be devoted to investment in infrastructure, security, education and health.
Highlighting his plan at the period, Atiku said: “Oil revenue is highly volatile and exhaustible. We must have a plan to wisely use it to build capacity for the future – invest in infrastructure and in the people – and not consume it today. We would also encourage all state governments to set an agenda and timeline within which they would no longer depend on oil revenue for recurrent expenditure. Our regional governments did not get oil revenue but massively developed the country. We must return to the responsible path. The FGN would develop an incentive system (grants-in-aid) to encourage states which are succeeding in making the transition. This agenda is fundamental to motivating all tiers of government to develop the non-oil sectors of the economy and hence diversify the economy.”
I came back to the country in June 2011 and on 29th September, I started what I thought would be a long series titled, “The Atiku Abubakar Formula…1”. Unfortunately, after the second part, published a week later on 6th October 2011, I had to discontinue the idea when I started getting feedbacks from people in government that I had already launched the 2015 presidential campaign for Atiku!
Interestingly, a year later, in August 2012, at a Leadership Newspaper event in Abuja, Atiku, who expressed his opposition to any agenda to hide behind restructuring to divide Nigeria, said most memorably: “there is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre. And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating. There is need, therefore, to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geopolitical zones as regions and the states as provinces. The existing states structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance.”
Debunking the insinuation that the idea could lead to the country’s break up, Atiku had asked, “why should we be talking of federal roads and federal secondary schools?” and then, he added: “national unity should not continue to be confused with unitarism and concentration of power and resources at the federal level.” That was four years ago.
However, on May 31 this year, at the public presentation of Chido Onumah’s book, “We Are All Biafrans”, Atiku reignited the issue: “The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation. Some may say that we are saddled with more urgent challenges, including rebuilding our battered economy, creating jobs, fighting corruption and securing our people from terrorism and other forms of serious crimes. I believe, however, that addressing the flaws in our federation will help us address some of those very economic and security challenges facing this country.”
To underscore Atiku’s position about the weaknesses of the states and such structural deficiencies noticeable in the country today, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo announced last week that he was considering reducing the number of work days in the state from five to three, to enable the government cut salaries. “I encourage Imo workers to find additional things to do to support their families because of the economic situation we are facing in Nigeria. We are considering to reduce the working days from five to three in Imo, so that workers will use the rest of the days to work and support their families’’, he said.
Before then, his Benue counterpart, Mr. Samuel Ortom had approved that Friday every week would be made a work free day in his state to enable as many workers as possible produce food to feed their families in the current economic downturn which has made the regular payment of salaries a major challenge in his state. The way things are going, I will not be surprised if other governors join in asking the workers to stay at home and be looking for “ways and means” to survive. How can you run a system without civil servants?
While we can always argue that the major challenge of our country today is the absence of good governance at practically all levels, we must also acknowledge that we have a serious structural problem. As it is now evident, majority of the 36 states depend almost entirely on allocations from the Federation Accounts, the bulk of which they expend on payment of salaries and other recurrent expenditures. And with the fall in the price of oil and dwindling returns from that end, many of these governors are clueless about what to do, leading to severe consequences for the livelihood of many Nigerian families. That is why Atiku’s campaign should be taken more seriously.
Abuja Teens Career Conference
I have been receiving calls and messages from readers about the career conference for teenagers in Abuja being organized by my church with the theme “Your Life, Your Future, Not a Laughing Matter” on 13th August. As earlier stated, attendance is indeed FREE of charge. But all intending participants MUST register online. Seats are limited, so once the maximum number is attained, the registration portal, http://www.rccgteaptens.org/ will be closed. All duly accredited participants will be sent mails on 11th August that will admit them to the conference.
The speakers include the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele; the former Chairperson, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and current chair of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru; the Director General of PenCom, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu; ace comedian, Mr. Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere (aka Ali Baba) and Pastor Eva Azodoh, a medical doctor (consultant urologist) and retired colonel of the Nigerian Army.
The objectives of the conference are to teach the teenagers to take responsibility for their future; have their imaginations fired through interaction with accomplished professionals; make them realise that no matter the odds, they can reach their goals and getting them to understand that God still intervenes in the affairs of men.
Meanwhile, readers can enjoy some interesting 2001 and 2002 Verdicts that have just been uploaded on my web portal, olusegunadeniyi.com.