EXCLUSIVE: Finance Ministry, Budget Office, among agencies with thousands of ghost workers

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

More than four months after uncovering a monumental “ghost workers” scam, the finance ministry has yet to expose those involved

Despite openly campaigning against the squandering of billions of naira as annual wages to fictitious government workers, Nigeria’s finance agencies, including the Ministry of Finance and the Budget Office of the Federation, indeed helped flood government’s nominal roll with thousands of ghost workers, PREMIUM TIMES can report today.

The two offices, alongside sister departments- the office of the Auditor General and that of the Accountant General- all responsible for managing government’s resources and checking abuse – were among agencies with the highest number of fake staff on their nominal rolls.

Together, 46,639 ghost workers were uncovered between 2007 and 2012 in government ministries, departments, and agencies, and they accounted for N118.9 billion in losses to public funds, Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said in March.

The huge sum ended in the pockets of corrupt officials who fed non-existent names into the payroll.

But more than four months since informing the nation of the scam, the government has failed to identify the officials responsible and no one has been punished.

New details obtained under the Freedom of Information law has now shown how government agencies scramble to outshine one another in feeding “ghost” names into the nominal roll, with corrupt officials pocketing salaries and allowances earmarked for the fictitious personnel.

The FOI request was filed by the Abuja-based Centre for Social Justice, a well-regarded anti-corruption non profit.
In all, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Works and the Defence Ministry reported the highest number of ghost workers with 9,463; 5,167 and 4,457 respectively.

A number of agencies reported zero ghost workers, among them the Police Service Commission; Centre for Basic Space Science, Nsukka; Community Health Practitioners Registration Board of Nigeria; Nigeria Football Federation; and the Nigeria Institute of Science Laboratory Technology.

The details came to light after the government launched the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, between 2007 and 2012, to help reform a system steeped in a multi-billion naira fraud for decades.

Finance Ministry makes the list

While the Education and Works Ministries took clear lead in the scam, the Finance Ministry and the Budget Office, with at least 1,000 “ghost names” each by 2007, turned out the biggest surprises in the fold.

The Accountant General’s office, and the Office of the Auditor General, reported 255 and 151 ghost workers respectively.

The four agencies are directly responsible for managing Nigeria’s finances and spending, and have in the past led campaigns to block leakages occasioned by the smuggling of fictitious personnel into payrolls.

But the IPPIS reviews conducted between 2007 and 2012 showed how the same offices helped themselves with the same evil they pretended to be fighting.

The Finance ministry was among the first six federal agencies to be administered with the IPPIS in the pilot phase in 2007. The exercise revealed the number of staff per office before the review, and after.

The results showed that while the Ministry paid salaries to 2,000 workers up until 2007, it actually had 633 employees on its staff.

Also, while the Budget Office claimed it had 1,500 workers, the actual number was 340.

The Ministry of Finance would not explain how the large-scale theft thrived right under its nose. Repeated requests by PREMIUM TIMES for explanations were ignored by officials.

Paul Nwabuiku, the spokesperson for the Minister, did not comment after initially promising to do so.

The Finance Ministry scam, according to the IPPIS review, lasted years including the period covering Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s first tour of duty as minister between 2003 and 2006.

In 2013, two years after returning as minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala launched what seemed a determined effort to draw public attention to the evil of “ghost workers”, speaking at various fora about how the government lost billions of naira annually to the scam.

In 2014, the minister explained how the IPPIS saved billions for the government, a point she also raised to underline what she portrayed as her government’s solid anti-corruption effort.

But some Nigerians have challenged Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala to expose the officials behind the scam. In response, her office said the names had been forwarded to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission [ICPC] for further investigation.

“The Federal Ministry of Finance has taken the additional step of referring the issue to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, for further investigation so that any identified culprits can face the full wrath of the law,” Mr. Nwabuikwu said on March 13.”

The ICPC denied that claim.

Anti-corruption campaigners believe the process of investigation should not be difficult as accounting and payroll officials for each of the agencies involved could easily be identified, investigated and prosecuted.
But for more than four months since the announcement, the list has not been forwarded to the ICPC, PREMIUM TIMES understands.

“The claim by the Minister that the matter has been transferred to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Commission for investigation and possible prosecution, when no names of culprits were actually submitted, was only an attempt to play smart and divert attention,” said Eze Onyekpere of the Centre for Social Justice.

Other civil society groups say they are suspicious the government is shielding the offenders.

In an interview, the ICPC chairman, Eyo Nta, told PREMIUM TIMES the commission did not receive any list from the Finance ministry.

“When one talks about names (submitted to ICPC), I am a bit surprised,” Mr. Nta said. “I am not too sure she (the Minister) said names were submitted. Perhaps what the minister said was that the matter (of ghost workers) had been passed on to the commission (for investigation).”

He said the anti-corruption agency was however conducting its investigation into the scam but refused to give a timeline for its completion.

“We are looking at all the ministries, departments and agencies in the Federal Civil Service. It is not something one should rush. We are taking each ministry step by step. We have made substantial progress on it right now. But, I can assure you that any public officer constituting an obstacle to the process, no matter how highly placed, would be arrested,” he said in April.

But a senior official of the commission told PREMIUM TIMES separately that the commission contacted the Finance Ministry 24 hours after she claimed the names were forwarded to the ICPC.

“We went there the very next day but got nothing. Till today, nothing,” the official, not wanting to be named because he was not authorised to speak to journalists, said.

Other Offenders

On the long list of agencies that also had fictitious names on their payrolls in 2007 was the National Planning Commission [NPC], which had Sylvester Monye as Permanent Secretary.

Mr. Monye is the current Special Adviser to President Goodluck on Project Monitoring & Evaluation.

At the time, out of the 1,000 workers on the NPC’s nominal roll, only 251 were genuine.

In the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, then headed by Yayale Ahmed, only 449 out of 1,773 workers on its nominal roll, were genuine. The IPPIS review for the agency was done in July 2009.

At the Federal Ministry of Information, which had Frank Nweke as Minister and Abubakar Muhammad as Permanent Secretary, the verification exercise showed that out of a total of 6,500 workers pre-verification, only 2,785 were genuine staff.

The Federal Ministry of Education, which at the time had Obiageli Ezekwesili as Minister, and Oladapo Afolabi as Permanent Secretary, had a total of 29,000 workers on its nominal roll, pre-verification. Only 19,537 of that figure were confirmed to be genuine. About 10,000 names were fictitious.

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