When I was observing my National Youth Service in Calabar, Cross River State in 1991, I noticed a phenomenon in which some young corps members like me did their primary assignment in more than one organisation. There was the one organisation where they had to report daily – if they cared enough – and others in which they merely showed up on salary day. I never went with them, but some of my friends would show up at the corper’s lodge with salaries from three or four places of ‘primary’ assignments from time to time. It was the good old days, by Nigerian standards. NYSC paid us N550 per month and I supplemented with another N350 from University of Calabar, where I worked at the Institute of Education under the headship of Professor Ralph Omojuwa who had then just returned from the US. My direct supervisor was Mr. Sam Udokang, in the office of the Registrar, Mrs Duke. Both Mrs Duke and Professor Omojuwa were very fine people – physically and otherwise. I regarded them in awe.
And so it was that I was one of the few ‘mumus’ among the lot, who did not know how to play the game of ‘working’ in many places. Instead, I dedicated everything I had to this first job of mine and became a kind of darling to the Institute. I followed officials when they made their outreach travels to everywhere in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. Akwa Ibom was a bit new then, and hadn’t come into its vast wealth. We would travel to places like Nsit Ubium, Ukanafun, Ikot Ansa, Ikot Osurua, Ikot Ekpene, Urue Ofong, Itu, Oron, Eket and the rest. And at the Cross River end, everywhere from Akamkpa to Odukpani, to Biase, Ugep, Obubra, Ikom and Ogoja. They almost retained me, but as a starry-eyed youth then I had to run back to Lagos in search of merchant bank work. They were the ones reigning then. I ended up at Citizens Bank, Ahmadu Bello Way in Victoria Island, and thus began a banking career. The rest as they say, is history.
Back to Calabar. Some of the harder corpers would not even bother showing up at any place of primary assignment. Maybe those were the ‘wise’ ones who already knew what Nigeria was about as a joke. Some will lounge from one corper’s lodge to another, attending parties and pulling the chicks. Those were the big boys. Some just traveled back to Lagos or wherever it is they came from, altogether, and remained there until the service was over. While out of station, their salaries continued in the different places they were ‘serving’. Some would show up after a few months to collect their arrears in different locations.
Thinking back these days, I realise this could have been the beginning of the ghost workers’ syndrome. For if any of these guys had ended up in the civil service, there is NO WAY they would have been satisfied with only one salary, no matter how far they rise. The water they drink had been polluted from the beginning. I don’t mean that it started in 1991. I think by the time we served, it had become commonplace for corpers not to show up in their places of primary assignment, and so the bureaucrats that we met would actually suggest that you registered your name and get paid without showing up, while you went elsewhere and got another job. The Nigerian civil servant has always been devious, and the apparent neglect of his plight, the frequent inability to pay his salaries, has only made him/her harder and more heartless. With my interactions with younger people these days, I now realise that the bureaucrats always structure themselves into the deals. If a corper today would be paid, say N19,000, for not showing up at all, there is someone who takes at least N10,000 every month within the system. The system merely decayed further over the years, to its present level of abject dysfunction. As things stand, and with the level of desperation I’ve seen civil servants show, there will be greedy guys who would offer the corper just a tiny fraction, and sit on the rest these days.
There is always something to spend on in the civil service. Visit any agency – especially the ministries – on a Friday and you see them preparing for the weekend; travels for someone’s wedding or burial or oga’s birthday. Money needs to be raised. And we are talking of huge sums. If you attend these parties, you’ll be shocked to witness how civil servants spend money. Many permanent secretaries need at least N1.5 million every weekend. Their list of hangers-on and corporate beggars are a mile long. Those coming behind them have dreams too. And thus became entrenched the culture of ghost workers. Some will say it is the ‘cleanest’ way of cashing out every month. The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, made it a point to go after ghost workers as she was appointed, but painfully, we have not seen or heard of anyone sacked, prosecuted or jailed for benefiting from the fraud of the 30,000 ghost workers that she discovered – after and in spite of the cleanup efforts of Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. No names have even been published. Shocking. At every state level, they claim to be doing the same thing – even in the armed forces and police – but not a single beneficiary has been outed and made to pay from coolly pocketing so many billions based on fictitious names, dead people’s names and so on. My wager is that the racket is continuing and I even have a case on hand that needs be looked into.
The 200,000 New Employment on N-Power
The president announced recently that by December 1, 2016, state governments will start contacting/deploying the 200,000 young Nigerian graduates employed under the N-Power scheme. These young Nigerians are to be deployed into teaching, health and agricultural extension jobs, among others. The idea is a nice one, even though I would have preferred more focus to be put on jobs in the environmental sector, and on jobs that secondary school graduates could do. In my book, Change is Going to Come, I recommend something really close, which could take out at least 500,000 young people from the employment market, and unleash great productivity across Nigeria. My idea is that such an initiative should also be a veritable means of mobilising young Nigerians behind the initiatives of government. What is more? This could have been done with great urgency 18 months ago. At least it could have been started. But half bread, they say, is better than none.
Alas, I have cause to be very worried about this N-Power employment of 200,000 Nigerians. I believe a great fraud is about to happen, and it is a fitting observation given how desperate Nigerians have recently become. From my little observation of a single page in the N-Power employment scheme, I believe some Nigerians are now so angry with the whole Nigerian project, they are willing and able to do any and everything to continue milking the system, right under President Buhari’s nose. If the plans of these bad guys are successful, they will be the ones pocketing MOST of the disbursements made to these fortunate N-Power employees. That would be N4.6 billion monthly, if those 200,000 people are paid N23,000 each as promised by government. Of course some of the employees are genuine, but come with me and see the anomaly.
N-Power Recruitment Process
Below is a step-by-step guide to applying for jobs on the N-Power platform. As is obvious, the jobs are targeted at indigent but IT-savvy young Nigerian graduates.
- Visit the NPower portal npower.gov.ng;
2. Click on the various programmes on www.npower.gov.ng and carefully read through them;
3. Choose the programme that you are qualified for and best suits your aspiration;
4. Click on the APPLY button at the bottom of the page to apply for your preferred programme. (Note: You will need to first register and then sign in with a unique username and password). Fill the form carefully and be certain to provide accurate information and documents to support your application;
5. After submitting, you will receive an acknowledgement email letter confirming the receipt of your application;
6. After 48 hours, you will be notified by email and in your portal profile whether you are eligible or not for the N-Power programme;
7. If you are unsuccessful, you may apply for future N-Power programes, if you meet the eligibility requirements;
8. If you are successful, you may then proceed to the test page at MY N-POWER PORTAL;
9. You will be required to write two tests; a general skills test and a programme specific test;
10. Depending on your choice, there may be a final interview before you are conditionally accepted into the N-Power programe. Otherwise you will receive an email confirming your provisional acceptance into the N-Power programme;
11. You will have to confirm your acceptance to secure your place;
12. Specific enrolment and training information will now be made available to you;
If you have any difficulty at any point of your application process, please send an email to email@example.com
From the attached single page taken off the N-Power list of employed candidates who will soon be taken over by state governments, I made these observations:
- For a list generated by people who visited the Internet for registration, only two out of these names have any presence whatsoever on the Internet. These ‘young’ Nigerians who are also graduates, have no Facebook accounts, no twitter, no Instagram, nothing. These days, all around the world and in Nigeria too, the first thing people do when they meet someone is to ‘google’ them. Almost all these names taken as a sample, are not google-able;
- This sample list – which I recovered off Facebook – drew attention because of the oddity of the types of names coming from Borno State. We understand that these are meant to be ‘residents’ of Abadam Local Government in Borno State. In view of the activities of Boko Haram in that part of the country, it is intriguing that on a single page, there will be such density of non-indigenes. But let us assume they are just patriotic Nigerians. We can put that in our left hand and forge ahead;
3. A simple Internet search revealed that there is no presence for “Obaseki Recebah” online except the one that registered at N-Power. I tried Obaseki Rebecca. That generic name exists but is an adult that doesn’t live in Nigeria. There are two “Ibe Ije”s on Facebook – or online in general. Both live in lagos. One works for an insurance company, the other is a businessman who graduated in 1994 and whose profile shows is married. The only Godson Ihemere online worked with BUA Group and now works with one ady.ng. according to his LinkedIn page. He is not a young man per se and doesn’t stay anywhere near Borno. Interestingly, the only Michelle Okwesa available online works with Prof Pius Adesanmi at IAS Carleton Uni, Canada according to her LinkedIn page;
4. Further, even though Murtala Mohammed should be a generic name in the North, it isn’t. Three people bear that name online when I searched. Only two bear that exact combination. One is an elderly person with whom I share about 278 friends on Facebook. He is a very active fellow on social media. The other is a cool guy who was an ex-bank worker, but now runs his own company;
5. Gamsheya Gara does not exist anywhere on the Internet and has no footprints, except when he showed up as a government employee. The only Joel Otalu online is a staff of Standard Chartered Bank; Bulus Kururtsi does not exist anywhere but on N-Power employment list; Cynthia Adaeze are both female names (no surname). Juliana Aboyi does not exist anywhere as well. The same goes for Osarenoma Ohiwere, and Aboi Dorothy. Oriyomi Attairu sounds like a cynical Yoruba name to me, in the league of ‘Omoshetan Omorele Oyinbogo’;
- Another interesting phenomenon obvious in this little sample is where people’s surnames are not known. So we have Ezeani U. (Ezeani is usually a surname, so in this case, U is unknown. It could be Uche, it could be Udo, or anything else); we have Adekunle G. (whom I initially thought would be a junior brother to the famous saxophonist, Kenny G, but someone explained to be that it could be our own famous musician, Adekunle Gold, trying to change his career and being humble about it). Then we have the joker of the bunch, “Na’ajatu NONE”. No, that is not some exotic African name. It is to tell us that Na’ajatu has no surname, simple;
7. Let us even crown a King for the lot. And that would be Igwe Eze. Now, that must be a prince from East of the Niger. The two names mean that this is an important personality. If one meets an Igbo man with such names, one asks questions about his lineage because he may go far in life. There are two Igwe Ezes online. One worked with UBA and became a big man. He now runs his own company. The other is a hard core Biafran who does business in Lagos. His real name is Eze Ochinawata.
I believe there is a need to take down the entire list and use a comb to sift through very carefully before this thing goes too far. If on a page with about 27 names, a critical mind can find potential problems with 24 of them, then we are on to something here. My sixth sense tells me that in view of the government’s hurry to show results after many months of inactivity and disappointments, it may have been harried along to commit these errors. It may have also played, slam bang, into the hands of the guys who know what to do to profit from a situation like this. I believe that since the government did not do much of scrutiny and merely accepted applications ‘online’ – except if many were concocted – it may not have taken the pains to crosscheck who is what in this instance. There is a likelihood that at least half of the names of these new ‘employees’ are fake and programmed to the benefit of those who have always benefited from the ghost worker syndrome. I think some of the names show a very cynical mindset, hence the ease with which one can detect that they are fake. This is what happens when impunity grows wings. These guys are thumbing their noses at Nigeria. Too bad.
As I rounded up this article, I came across Mr. Ayo Olukotun’s write-up in today’s Punch (November 25, 2016) titled “Ghost Workers and Programmed Dysfunction”, in which he chronicled some of our sensational issues with ghost workers. He mentioned that Kwara State recently discovered 9,000 ghost workers on its payroll. Read more from him:
“…It should be noted that the figure of fictitious names smuggled into the state payroll is almost one-third of the entire workforce and that salaries had not been paid for several months… These awkward facts open up a line of inquiry concerning whether the crunch in Kwara was brought about, in part by such moral howlers as falsifying the wage bill through the addition of names that do not exist…. Three years ago, for example, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Minister of Finance, and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, informed the nation excitedly that as a result of the introduction of the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System, across 215 Ministries, Departments and Agencies, government had fished out close to 47,000 “ghost” workers resulting in the saving of N119bn in the monthly wage bill. However, we now know that what was saved by the right hand was stolen by the left, to the extent that the “ghost” workers appear to have returned to the system with a vengeance.”
I profoundly believe that this otherwise great initiative has been fatally contaminated. It must be stopped for thorough review before it progresses to the state level and we lose track, and audit trail, or before new shenanigans climb on top of old ones in a country where we are profoundly sick at heart and the government disappointingly has revealed no perspective on how we can even begin to broach a reorientation.