By NBF News
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Within the past two weeks, there have been no fewer than three reports of discovery of ghost workers fleecing the public treasury of badly needed funds. Ghost workers, for those who may not be familiar with the Nigerian parlance, are non-existent workers collecting salaries from public institutions.

These ghosts are not the bodiless spirits that scared children in the folktales of old, but non-existent characters for whom bank accounts are opened and operated by some unscrupulous people who pay salaries into them in grand theft schemes that have been an albatross for government over the years.

The public offices at which ghost workers have been detected of late are the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), which confirmed that 4000 of its 10,300 workers are ghosts. This problem came to light after completion of the commission's biometric data capture system. The Director General of the Commission, Mr. Chris Onyemenam, said apart from the 4000 ghost workers, 800 employees could also not show up during a staff identification process. Elimination of the ghost workers is expected to save the Commission millions of naira that would have been paid out as salaries.

The Rivers State Universal Basic Education Board (RSUBEB) has also discovered 1,477 ghost workers in the state's Ministry of Education. The chairman of RSUBED, Mr. Ali Oruitemeka, said about N200 million would be saved monthly following the deletion of names of the ghost workers from the ministry of education payroll.

Also, Olusegun Aganga, former finance minister now minister of trade and investment, said about 43,000 ghost workers were detected and removed from government payroll in the last one year. He explained that the fictitious names were padded into the payroll of 36 government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) but were discovered through the newly introduced Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System  (IPPIS).

He said the problem led to a situation in which personnel costs in the Federal civil service increased to N1.3 trillion from N850 billion between 2009 and 2010. About N12 billion, he said, was recovered as a result of the discovery. The Inspector General of Police, Hafeez Ringim, also sometime ago disclosed that about 30 per cent of the entire police workforce of 337,000 are ghost policemen who have been collecting salaries from the government for many years.

He said an audit of police personnel revealed that there are no fewer than 107,000 ghost policemen in the country.

With so many ghost workers in the public service, it is no surprise that all tiers of government are complaining that they cannot fund the wage increase.

To free funds for higher wages, all tiers of government should embrace the new Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System used by the federal government to detect ghost workers at the federal level.

Ghost workers should not be allowed to cripple the nation's payment system. If ghost workers are dealt with, it will leave more funds that could assist in payment of the National Minimum wage to workers, and also fund development of infrastructure

It is, however, necessary to go beyond the frequent identification of ghost workers on the government payroll. It is also important to ask how names of those ghost workers got on the payroll in the first place.

For example, we have been told that N200 million is being saved following the discovery that that amount was being paid to ghost workers monthly at the Cross River State Ministry of Education.  But now that the ghosts have been detected, is it not possible to detect the public officers, bank officials and others that put these ghosts on the payroll, and benefited from their inclusion?

These ghost paymasters must be brought to book to ensure that they do not engage in such bad practices, henceforth. It is necessary to clean up the payroll system to ensure that only genuine workers take salaries. This should be done in conjunction with reduction of waste in public expenditure. Everything should be done now to end the era of ghost workers in the public service.

The mass murder in Norway
My heart goes out today to Norway, where a crazed man identified as 32-year old Anders Behring Breivic detonated a bomb in a government office in the country's capital, Oslo, killing 7 people. He put on police uniform and headed to a Labour youth camp where he shot indiscriminately into a crowd of about 500 youths attending a youth league meeting. At the end of the crazy rampage of the man who described himself as a 'moderate agnostic' who went on to become 'moderately religious', an additional 85 people were dead, 96 injured and many are still missing.

The mass murderer reportedly shot many who tried to escape his shooting spree by swimming away from the island where the youth programme was going on, with many dying in the sea. A total of 92 people died.

This sordid incident has drawn reactions from across the world, including from America's Barack Obama and Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan

The world is still seeking for answers to the mass murders, which the killer described as 'gruesome, but necessary.' What could have gone wrong? What button went loose in this killer's brain?

While the world searches for answers, one can only condole with the families of the dead. It is so sad for them to lose loved ones who were neither ill nor known to be engaged in any risky activity. The youths were only participants in a youth camp when they were gunned down by Breivic who has confessed to being solely responsible for the attacks.

At the time of writing this, he had not given any reason for the callous murder of 93 people. But, he promised to do so in court. One lesson that this saddening murdering spree, and similar cases of mass murders and suicides across the world has thrown up is the need for sensitivity to the emotional status of people, especially those who have access to guns and other weapons.

Obviously, the man did just go from being a good, moderately religious man to a mass murderer. There must have been signals that were missed by those around him. While the effort to make sense of the dastardly killings continues, I condole with the families of the dead and ask God to grant them strength to pass through this very difficult time of their lives.