The free encyclopedia defines a ghost, in traditional belief and fiction, as the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear in visible form or other manifestation, to the living, who conversely, has flesh and blood, and can actually be touched.  Thus, in the absence of physical form, ghosts do not have the normal human burden of satisfying the needs of hunger, thirst, shelter, etc, and therefore, have no reason to seek for jobs and earn a living!

Curiously, however, the Nigerian public service at various levels is reported to be heavily burdened with a ghost population, who unexpectedly not only write job applications and present themselves for interviews, but who also open bank accounts and collect salaries, despite their human shortcomings!  Thus, in the past two decades or so, real (not virtual) public servants consciously apportioned and paid salaries into the bank accounts of thousands of ghosts, who inexplicably dutifully collected their salaries every month, before literally disappearing into thin air thereafter!  

Curiously, the CBN’s “know your customers” directive to banks was obviously no deterrent to the establishment of bank accounts for such ghosts!

In a strategic move to forestall detection, these ingenious spirits discreetly also infiltrated the Nigeria Police Force, where a 2010 staff-audit revealed that ghost officers accounted for over 100,000 members, out of the officially registered 330,000 policemen.  The audit reports further revealed apparent collusion amongst the Police pay officers, accountants as well as bank officials to successfully rob the Police Force of over N36bn annually! 

Thus, in the ambience of a ‘bewitched’ police community, ghost rats have had a field day in several states and federal government establishments such as PHCN and Defence Ministry. 

Similarly, Alhaji Mande Lofa, Chairman of Tureta (LGA), also confirmed that a verification exercise carried out in July 2011 by the Tureta Local Government Area of Sokoto State led to the discovery of over 500 ghost workers.

Furthermore, in December 2011, Garba Tagwai, the Niger State Commissioner for Local Government Affairs also noted that "No fewer than 20000 ghost workers have been detected on the pay roll of the 25 Local Government Areas of Niger State".

While speaking at the Edo State Technology Day in July 2011, Governor Oshiomhonle also revealed that, prior to the advent of his administration, "the State had to contend with the phenomena of ghost workers and ghost pensioners in addition to other abuses of the payroll system".

Also, in July 2011, the Rivers State Universal Basic Education Board reported losses of N2.4bn annually to 1477 ghost workers, while the National Identity Management Commission, in the same month, also revealed that, after conducting a biometric data exercise, it had uncovered 4000 ghost workers out of about 10,300 employees on its payroll.

The Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has also lamented the realization that, prior to his administration, the Ekiti State government loses over N3bn annually to ghost workers out of a projected annual budget of N80bn.  

In May 2009, the House of Representative Committees on Customs and Excise also discovered that about 50% of the 20,000 workforce in the Nigeria Customs Service were ghost workers!  

Certainly, federal government is not immune to similar fraudulent revenue leakages; indeed, as far back as 2001, the incumbent Accountant General of the Federation, Chief Joseph Naiyeju, reported the discovery of 40,000 ghost workers following a man-power  verification exercise conducted by the federal government.  

Similarly, when Mallam Nasir El Rufai was Minister, of the Federal Capital Territory in 2006, 6000 ghost workers were detected after the completion of a staff audit, which also revealed that the FCT government was losing about $8m annually, due to ghost workers on its payroll.  

The Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) with El Rufai as Chairman, consequently signed a World Bank sponsored $4.9m contract with the Nigerian-based System Specs Consortium in October 2006, for the provision of a more coherent Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).

Former Finance Minister, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, in July 2011, reported that the federal government  had removed a total of 43,000 ghost workers  from the old payroll of 112,000 employees in several MDAs,  between 2010 and 2011, through the implementation of the IPPIS!  The IPPIS system is a biometric system, where the data of every government employee is captured so that salary payment can be made directly into the correct bank account.   

Curiously, also, Chairman of the Nigeria Pension Reform Task team, Ahaji Abdulrasheed Maina disclosed in February 2012, that on completion of a successful nationwide biometric verification of pensioners, his team detected 71,133 fake pensioners.  Furthermore, N151bn fraud was also uncovered in Pension offices across the country, with the assistance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.   Regrettably, apparently less than N40bn have so far been recovered, while about 66 illegal bank accounts relating to the Pension Fund scam have also been identified.

In June 2013, the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said “215 MDAs (153,019 staff) are on the IPPIS as of January 2013.  Savings on payroll cost to date is N118.9bn and work is ongoing to bring in other 321 MDAs not yet on the IPPIS.  About 46,821 ghost workers have also been identified.”

Inexplicably, despite inevitable documentary evidence available, especially with the banks, none of the known beneficiaries of the ghost worker scam has ever been prosecuted and convicted or indeed, constrained to return either the stolen funds or forfeit assets or property derived therefrom.  Critics would therefore be blameless to insist that this lacuna speaks volumes on the seriousness of the current administration’s fight against corruption!  Ultimately, in the absence of severe sanctions for such crimes, even the IPPIS would not be adequate deterrent to similar ghost beneficiaries of our commonwealth; instructively, ghost contractors, ghost farmers, ghost fuel subsidy scammers, etc, etc, will continue to flourish and rule our world with active collaboration of public servants, unless President Jonathan quickly and committedly step up the war against these enemies of our people!