Nigeria as a country faces so many developmental challenges. But many of these challenges are straightforward and can be solved with little or no creativity or expenditure of huge resources. Also, many of these challenges are products of the human mind when it thinks rather negatively than creatively. Indeed, many of these challenges can be solved if everyone insists on doing a competent and honest day’s job while expecting his proper remuneration.
The recent disclosure that the 42 police commands recorded 80,115 “ghost” officers is one of such challenges. The Nigeria Police authorities have always quoted the staff strength of the police as 371,800 but the full integration of payrolls of the country’s 42 police commands and formations into the Federal Government’s Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System last February, showed a staff strength of 291,685 only! The gross salary was stated to be about N22.3bn. Thus, we have a situation where the police leadership added 80,115 “ghost” officers which is over one quarter of their actual workforce, imaginary and “ghost” officers into the pay roll, paid them salaries and possibly gratuities and pensions for those “ghosts” who served “honourably” and retired after “meritorious” service. And this might have been going on for several years.
This is not the first time that we are having this kind of revelation. During the Jonathan administration, tens of thousands of “ghost” workers were also discovered when many Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government were audited and enrolled onto the IPPIS platform. It seems the reaction of the fiscal and anti-corruption authorities during the Jonathan days will still be the reaction of the authorities this time round. In those days, no one was investigated, punished or asked to return the stolen money; the chapter was just closed and the government simply used the discovery as evidence that it was fighting corruption and reforming the fiscal system. In Nigeria, investigation and diligent prosecution are disconnected from crimes and the message is sent clearly to criminals: steal, maim and destroy as much as you can and you will get away with it.
Let us put this police “ghost” officers challenge in its proper perspective. In the last couple of years, Nigerians know as a fact that no one is asked to line up in a field or office and paid cash as their salary or other emoluments. Every worker was being paid through a bank account which has a picture of the account holder, address and very importantly, the Bank Verification Number. Thus, it will be very easy to trace the persons who received these salaries and emoluments and bring them to justice. Even if we cannot get at the recipients of the huge sums of money, in the event they are fictitious, then the government should get at those who put the names on the payroll, recover the money from them and send them to long terms of imprisonment. This is a monumental scam that involves not just the names of a few tens of “ghosts”, not but over 80,000 “ghost” officers.
It appears to me that this kind of scam could not have been pulled through by low level officers or just a few miscreants in the accounts department. To achieve such a huge scam would require collaboration from the highest levers of power in the police and would involve a conspiracy of tens of personnel. It is imperative to note the pre-eminence of the accounting officer or chief executive in the public service. He is deemed to be in full control of the human, material and financial resources of the ministry or extra-ministerial department. His general duties under the relevant Financial Instructions include “ensuring that proper budgetary and accounting systems are established and maintained to enhance internal control, accountability and transparency. Ensuring that the essential management control tools are put in place to minimize waste and fraud.” Thus, whoever is the accounting officer in the police should be brought to book, whether they are directly involved or not because, even if not directly involved, negligence or dereliction of duty of this magnitude is unpardonable.
The other angle to this is to remind Nigerians that the police are basically established for the maintenance of law and order and investigation and prosecution of offenders. If such an institution will now be in the thick of a monumental fraud, it becomes not just the allegation or prima facie evidence of a crime, but a matter of national security that should be properly investigated. It is a matter of national security because if persons entrusted with the security of the nation cannot be relied upon and are busy committing the same crimes they are supposed to be investigating, then the nation is imperilled. This matter should therefore attract the attention of the President and Commander in Chief as well as a detailed investigation by the National Assembly.
This matter should not be swept under the carpet because doing so sends the most wrong signals about our country. We recall that the nation is virtually cash strapped and has been borrowing to finance the budget, at a time when its high ranking officials are busy mismanaging the available resources. It is the duty of the highest level of leadership to recover stolen money and pout it to good use.
Capturing the MDAs on the IPPIS platform has been ongoing for over eight years now. One wonders whether this has become an exercise in perpetuity. It should have been completed by now if the government has been serious about it and will simply require a yearly updating. The fact that there are still agencies not yet on the platform says a lot about the official commitment to this reform. It is now clear that public agencies and departments who have been resisting being captured on the IPPIS platform have something to hide. Their leadership could have been involved in massive fraudulent claims which the IPPIS would reveal. The Federal Government should proceed expeditiously to capture all the MDAs on the platform before the end of the tenure of the present administration.
Finally, as time does not run against the state, it is imperative that the government goes back to the records to prosecute and recover money from all those who have been part of the “ghost” workers scam across various MDAs. The “ghost” workers syndrome does not require high level forensic and technical investigation to prosecute and convict the clear perpetrators.
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