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An Economy Haunted by “Ghosts” 

WHEN the Federal Government announced that it had discovered about 45,000 ghosts on the payroll of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), no one was spooked or unduly worried by the existence of otherworldly characters among the living. “Ghost workers” are the lucrative name Nigeria’s government fraudsters christen the ficticious names they add to bloat the public payroll to enrich private pockets. It was not the first time the Nigerian authorities would spring such a ludicrous tale on the hapless citizenry. Administration after administration have shamelessly told the populace that top civil servants have been fleecing the treasury by drawing salaries for fictitious, non-existent workers. The current administration, like those before it, hopes to place the blame for the wanton looting of the treasury and the resultant tottering economy on nameless non-existent civil servants. Worse, the Ministry of Finance claims that the 45,000 ghosts so far discovered operate within just 251 MDAs of the total 572. The implication is that by the end of its audit, there may be over 100,000 such phantom workers sucking off billions of naira from the FG’s overhead budget each month. The Finance Ministry’s mouthpiece have always said that personnel cost constitutes the highest element of the recurrent expenses which stands unsustainably at about 75% of total FG budget; leaving too little for development-promoting capital expenditure. Right-thinking critics see the ghost workers’ ruse as government’s way of evading the responsibility of bringing down overhead costs in line with global best practices. Unfortunately, that excuse can no longer fly. Ever since government started allegations of the existence of ghost workers on federal and state payrolls in the 1970s, not a single ‘ghost’ has been exposed or ‘exorcised’. Nor has a single public officer been indicted for paying ‘ghosts’ from government coffers. Are we to conclude that government cannot rightly identify the ministries, departments or agencies where phantom names appear in payrolls? How then did the authorities compile the 45,000-or-so “ghosts” who supposedly spirited away funds from the salaries and wages pool? Who are the public officers raising these “ghosts”? The truth is that we may never know. Nigerian governments seem to love ghosts. Consider how the great rip-off of the nation in the guise of petroleum subsidy was attributed to a ghostly cabal of public servants and businessmen. Not until the controversial National Assembly-led probe exposed some high and mighty men in the corridors of power as possible members of the so-called cabal did anyone know what the entire racket was about. Even so, has anyone heard or seen any public servant collaborators of the “ghost-cabal”? Do the “ghosts” sneak into government offices, fill in the fake names and issue payment vouchers to themselves? Consider also, the ghosts popularly referred to as Boko Haram. Has the administration not told Nigerians that they exist even in the topmost niches and echelons of society and government? Who are they? Why can’t they be named? All these lead us to a reflection of the immortal lyrics of the late Afrobeat musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who lamented another type of “ghosts” after his house was burnt down and his mother murdered in a government-sponsored raid in the 1970s by “unknown” soldiers. The fiery social critic bewailed “unknown police”, “unknown civilian” and concluded that “all is equal to unknown government”. The sarcasm in the song was aimed at a government that irresponsibly blames its own inadequacies on “unknown” quantities. Today, such “unknowns” are conveniently termed “ghosts”. Normal ghosts are intangible, invisible and are known to be held down through spiritual warfare. The Nigerian ghosts are not that sophisticated. Just follow the money trail and you will catch and punish these criminals.


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