I think it is wicked for genuine workers to continue to take wages in percentages simply because of the excesses of criminals populating the payrolls; ghost workers effectively crowd out legitimate workers, robbing them of their full entitlements and benefits.
Kogi State has a shameful secret that is also an open one: it has one of the highest numbers of ghost workers and as the Kogi State Civil Service screening committee is winding down its exercise, the findings are quite troubling.
I write this piece with my heart in my mouth, literally. Because it is disheartening and exasperating when those whose pains you are determined to ease do not see the correlation between the action of a few and their own suffering. And because they cannot see this nexus, they exert energy criticising actions that are geared towards liberating them from the stranglehold of those growing fat at their expense.
Yet, the need to write this has become imperative as there is a prevailing gloom surrounding the economy that might take a while to pass, and before the outcome of strategic planning and purposeful governance starts to yield results. And my confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari at the centre, and particularly Governor Yahaya Bello here in Kogi stems from the fact that I see them as capable captains of the vessels they individually pilot.
The first tranche of bailout funds from the federal government has been taken custody of and I am sure that the State’s civil servants and their dependants don’t need reminding that salaries would be paid this week. I have it on good authority that they will not be disappointed.
However, it is worthy of note that the State government’s eagerness to plug leakages and cut down on economic losses is even more imperative now that the bailout has been received. The funds are by no means a largesse. This point needs reiterating. The bailout is no grant. It is a structured, long-term, repayable debt facility that we are beholden to spend responsibly and conscientiously with the future generations in mind.
That we have a gaping infrastructural deficit is obvious. And fill it, we must. It is non-negotiable. And in keeping with the economic concepts of choice and opportunity cost, alongside the need to prioritise capital spending is the need to prioritise workers’ remuneration. Legitimate and productive workers, that is.
As my home State winds down the electronic and offline-based screening exercise, several categories of ghost workers have been identified; and I will now attempt to frame these for context:
Actual Ghost Workers
This group exist only as fictitious names on the payroll, drawing from bloated workers registers in schools, hospitals and other individual units of the civil service. They also include deceased members of staff and retrenched workers whose names still make up the roll, with cabals feeding off other people’s misfortune.
Fake Certificate Workers
These are workers who are in the State’s employ on the strength of fake certificates and credentials. Besides being a criminal offence, the fact that they are unqualified and taking up spaces the state can ill afford means they really should go. Especially as many qualified Kogites throng the streets jobless, and looking for work.
Borrowed Certificate and Impostor Workers
Just as bad as the previous category, these workers hold down jobs in the state’s civil service using other people’s certificates. It gets worse when these identities are stolen, sometimes at the risk to the owners’ personal safety.
These are those who claim to be working in LGAs in Kogi State while they draw their salaries via ATMs in Sokoto, Maiduguri, Lagos, Port Harcourt and everywhere else but Kogi. The only period some of them are at their duty post is when screening exercises hold.
Together, they succeed in crowding out and cramping legitimate workers and conspiring to make governance all the more difficult in these difficult times.
It will not come to me as a surprise if these groups join the chorus, and claim to be retrenched for no just cause. But Onogwu Galacticus, who was Special Adviser on Media and Strategy to the former chairman of Dekina LGA sums things up with these comments he made via social media:
“…Definitely, those who never meant well will cry out, misleading the public. But the masterminds of ghost workers should occupy Koto prison to ensure (government’s) effort in building isn’t in vain and more importantly to serve as deterrent to others who may wish to resurrect these ghosts in future.”
I have always been one for taking tough decisions if they become necessary. Quick fixes hardly ever suffice. Unfortunately, in this case, there is no quick fix in sight. Long gone are the days of Nigeria having so much money, and with the problem being what to spend it on.
That the federal government deems it necessary to afford States a lifeline is not because the streets of Abuja are overflowing with easy dollars. These are some of the roughest times even for the government at the centre. Which buttresses my earlier point that these bailout funds calls for the most prudent management, especially considering the scandalous wage bill Governor Yahaya Bello inherited, relative to our income. That this situation will change is not in doubt. However, it will not change of its own accord.
What I initially found difficult to comprehend was the lack of adequate support for the government’s sanitisation exercise. Where one expected massive support for efforts at weeding out redundancies within the civil service, the opposition came as a surprise. Everyone with Kogi’s interests at heart should join hands to support tough decisions today for a better tomorrow.
I am all for facing reality and doing the needful. And I will encourage the governor to take the bull by the horns and take the plunge. At the end of the day, the legacy he leaves behind is what matters. I know he wants to be remembered as the leader who did not take the easy way out of difficult situations at the expense of the common good, but one who took the right but difficult decisions so as to right the wrongs of the past. This governor wants to write his name in gold and I reckon paying workers a fraction of their legitimate wages is not how he wants to be remembered.
Personally, I think it is wicked for genuine workers to continue to take wages in percentages simply because of the excesses of criminals populating the payrolls; ghost workers effectively crowd out legitimate workers, robbing them of their full entitlements and benefits.
Therefore, Kogi deserves more, Kogites deserve better and we all should fight for our right to the best.
Petra Akinti Onyegbule is senior special assistant on Electronic Media to Kogi State governor.