By Sunny Awhefeada
It is very likely that the Nigeria we live in is a ghost nation. I have a feeling that there is another Nigeria that is well governed with leaders and the led that are not only patriotic, but rational. I think there is another Nigeria where everything is good and things are run the way they should. A Nigeria where there is order with sanity on all fours. I am beginning to incline towards believing that the Nigeria in which we live is a ghost country which we fabricated in our wild imagination and we are living through the topsy-turvy destiny that we crafted for her. The recent news item announcing that Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State has discovered six hundred and fifty (650) ghost Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) families in Borno State depicts how lowly we have sunk in humane and moral terms. The import of this sad discovery is that there is nothing, no matter how grave, that Nigerians will not make money out of. The human tragedy in the North-East has become boom for some scavengers. Ghost IDP! This one tragically reflects how morally atrophied many Nigerians have become.
The fact that people die in the North-East everyday did not give the scavengers any sense of qualms. All that mattered to them was to exploit an already bad situation for their own selfish intention. How can somebody who knows the toll the tragedy has taken on humanity think of profiting by it? These are unfeeling merchants of death who would want the insurgency to go on unchecked so that they can remain and flourish in the business of blood money. A crisis such as the one in the North-East often throws up profiteers who despite the bad situation, behave like vultures who will savour entrails and rotten flesh. It happened during the Nigerian Civil War.
Soldiers and their civilian collaborators aka contractors fleeced the nation as the hurly-burly of war raged and over a million Nigerians kissed the earth in death. The ongoing insurgency has bred its own share of soldiers of fortune and evil contractors who are merchants of conflicts. These monsters in uniform and in suits as in agbada and babaringa have built a carrier around crisis mongering. One of them paid himself 200 million naira to cut grass at an IDP camp! It would have really taken less than 50, 000 naira to cut the grass! Ask people of my generation who did labour in primary and secondary schools. Some 50 boys would have cut that grass more conscientiously than the fellow who collected the 200 million naira.
A school of thought believes that the ongoing crisis is a reflection of the deep seated tendency for the citizens to see the state as cornucopia and any engagement with it is an avenue for self enrichment. Patriotic considerations manifesting in altruistic service has taken flight in the consciousness of Nigeria’s public servants. The state has become a dead whale from which you mercilessly yank off as much flesh as you can while it lasted. This is why Nigeria remains perennially underdeveloped.
A nation nobody loves, Nigeria remains a midget overtaken and derided by the rest of the world. This is despite the individual achievements of her citizens who rub shoulders with the best around the world. For instance while Aliko Dangote ranks among the 13 richest people in the world, Nigeria has hung on her neck a burdensome medal as the poverty capital of the world. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has resumed as the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but could Nigeria as a nation have aspired or sustained a bid to occupy such an exalted seat? How and with what credentials or antecedents? Akinwumi Adesina has also by dint of diligence and personal integrity made it to the Olympian height where he has perched. There is a legion of Nigerians out there all over the world riding the waves of greatness.
The ghost nation syndrome has been with us for a long time, but as usual we have failed to exorcise it. Do we need pastors and imams to fast and pray, bind and cast away the ghost syndrome from Nigeria? Certainly not! The ghost syndrome continues to afflict us because those who rule us have refused to genuinely confront it because they also profit from it. The last twenty years have seen phenomenal improvement in the deployment of biometrics to ascertain the number of workers in different establishments. But the ghost worker syndrome remains a part of our national culture. Every sector of our public life is being tormented by ghosts created by us.
Some years ago, the Federal Government announced the discovery of over 50, 000 ghost workers on its payroll.
Pretentious permanent secretaries and directors of Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) who created the ghost workers in the first place made so much noise about the discovery in anticipation of applause. But Nigerians know them and their game. A year or two down the line another set of ghost workers were discovered in the same MDAs.
Then biometric capturing was introduced to check the menace and the attendant loss of revenue. Years after that, the ghosts refused to go. There are still thousands of ghosts in the MDAs collecting salaries and allowances every month with such monies sliding into the pockets of permanent secretaries and directors.
The case is worse in the states. There have been occasional hooplas by governors and other senior public officials about the discovery of ghost workers in the states. Such discoveries usually proclaim the existence of thousands of ghost workers drawing salaries and allowances. But no governor or any public official has asked or investigated how the ghost workers came into being. No permanent secretary, no director and, no cashier has been sanctioned for allowing ghost workers to stray into his payroll. So after every ritual of screening workers to eliminate the presence of ghost workers another set is introduced and the cycle continues. It is the same thing with pension office where the list is peopled with ghost pensioners.
There is hardly any sector in Nigeria that is not afflicted by the ghost worker syndrome. Even the universities that should be the bastion of transparency and accountability have among them Vice Chancellors who have in their well laundered suits and crispy agbada and babanriga lists and lists of ghost lecturers, ghosts technicians, ghost librarians and more whose emoluments they pay into their deep pockets. The story has been told of a Vice Chancellor who had over 400 ghost workers on his payroll. As the reality of Integrated Personnel Payment System (IPPS) dawned on him he went to town hawking backdated letters of appointment to whoever was available so he could cover his tracks strewn with salaries of ghost workers.
Governor Zulum has demonstrated an uncommon capacity, zeal and commitment to good governance. However, those around him do not seem to share in his optimism and commitment to the good of Borno. These are the fellows who created the 650 ghost IDP families. Governor Zulum should not let the matter go without wielding the big stick against all those involved. It is an act of sabotage and the fellows should be treated as saboteurs.