It can be safely said that every state in the federation has been battling with the issue of ghost workers for decades.
But because the battle is half-hearted and leaders lack the political will to get to the root of the plague, the illicit project has been thriving in larger proportion that it has become the albatross that devours the finances of every single state in Nigeria.
The Federal Government is not left out of the gambit as the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun told a Senate committee in November that a staggering number of ghost workers had been fished out in the service only for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss, Ibrahim Magu, to corroborate the statement last week by revealing that his commission has so far detected 37,395 ghost workers in the Federal Civil Service costing
government almost N1billion.
Governor Yaya Bello of Kogi State, worried about this ugly trend, made it one of his priorities the moment he was sworn in. Determined to reduce this profligacy to its barest minimum if not totally eradicating it, named a tested combatant and feisty disciplinarian to head the staff verification and screening exercise and gave him wide powers to perform the onerous duty of fishing out ghost workers in the Kogi civil service and plugging the holes.
Brigadier-General Paul Okuntimo (retd), to be sure, is well known in military circles as a no-nonsense officer who could be brutal yet fair. He had served his country on numerous combat missions in the United Nations in
Lebanon and Angola and also at ECOMOG in Sierra Leone.
Back home, he was the dreaded Commander of the Rivers State Internal Security Operations in the early 90s.
Yet in spite of his antecedent which included heading the United Nations Verification Mission, Okuntimo was shocked at the large-scale fraud embedded in the underbelly of the Kogi civil service and the brazen nature of it.
General Okuntimo and his team found out that in Kogi
State, there are two popular ways of going about the scam.
There are the faceless ghost workers whose names are
cooked up in their hundreds by pay clerks and their
collaborators and whose entitlements are collected and
shared at the end of the month. The other method of
fleecing the state is through diasporian ghost workers.
These are workers who are duly employed but they never go to work.
Many of them have other means of livelihood or they can be students! They collect their salaries and allowances through ATM upon receiving alert at the end of each month.
Okuntimo discovered several non-existent schools, students and teachers all padded into pay books with monthly imprests regularly prepared and these have been going on for years. In the same manner, ghost government clinics and nurses are rampant too.
In Kogi State, Local Government Authority (LGA) and Local Government Education Authority are the bastion of the fraudsters, including the pensions board.
There is no doubt that the fresh vigour brought into the
ghost workers syndrome by Governor Yaya Bello has
reawakened the people of Kogi State to the change mantra and the proactive approach of the verification and screening team led by General Paul Okuntimo to expose the masterminds and save billions of naira for the state government has truly gone down well with the masses who see an administration that is determined to put an end to the activities of a few lawless citizens who are bent on sucking the state dry.
•Arowolo sent in this article from Ibadan To KogiReports.
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