Dr Joe Abah: talks about IPPIS, ghost workers

By Dr Joe Abah

GHOSTWORKERS: HOW DO THEY DO IT? I will just signpost here the different levels of sophistication in the ghost worker scam that has been with our country for years.

First, definitions. The term “Ghost worker” is loosely used to refer to a body of scams. Most people use it to mean people that exist on the payroll, for whom salaries are drawn monthly but who do not exist physically. Usually, if you do a verification, they won’t show up.

This is the very basic (beginners) level. Before computerised payroll systems in the public service from around 2003, people had a field day. Army, Police, universities, hospitals, Civil Servants, etc. It was estimated that each senior officer was “running” 40 ghost workers.


If you multiply 40 ghost workers just by the minimum wage, you can get an idea of what each “runner “was getting. Some very senior officers were having 100s of ghost workers run for them. It was a perk of office; a source of weekend money or paying political thugs or scholarships

Everything was manual. Many of the Ogas(bosses) had ghost workers. Without a computerised payroll system, you couldn’t tell who created the ghost worker in the payroll. All signatures were forged. Nobody checked. Without BVN, you couldn’t tell who was collecting the money every month.

There are other scams that I won’t go into detail about here. Some people collect loans from government and the records simply disappear. They never pay back. Some should be paid on Level 10 but are being paid on Level 14. Some should be on Level 10, Step 1 but are paid on Step 3.

Computerised payroll systems like IPPIS mean that the worker must appear in person, with their credentials and have their biometrics taken. In the first few years of deploying it, it removed 65,000 ghost workers from the payroll and saved more than $1 billion. Dollars o!.

Government didn’t really trust civil servants to do the biometric capture and decided to have private sector providers do it. Workers in the private sector companies are also Nigerians. They started inserting ghost workers into the computerised system for themselves or for a fee.

The Head of Service will start wondering why there is a discrepancy between the nominal roll and the payroll. Because it is computerised, you can at least tell who inserted the name and fire or prosecute them. You could call this the “Professional Level” of ghost worker creation.

When BVN came, it exposed instances where multiple salaries were going to the same back account. One public servant was collecting 20 salaries. Many simply abandoned the bank accounts, rather than present themselves for BVN or allow their BVN to be linked to the ghost workers.

Recently, the Head of Service announced that a number of officers had discrepancies in the employment records. She was able to do that through computerisation of records. I hope you can begin to see why some people will fight systems like IPPIS linked to BVN to the death

Government then moved to ensure that the private sector providers cannot just add a name that doesn’t exist. They drew the link all the way from appointment to deployment to payroll. Each stage had to be signed off by the right person, with a traceable digital key.

This makes it more difficult but not impossible to compromise, especially where there is collusion. In the civil service, if the Civil Service Commission, Head of Service and Accountant General come together, they can compromise the system. Advanced Level: unlikely but possible.

In agencies and parastatals and places like universities where there is no central Human Resources controller like the Head of Service, you can still be practicing Beginner-Level ghost worker runs if you don’t have a computerised payroll system linked to other systems like nominal roll and BVN.

You simply get your monthly release as a block grant from the Government Integrated Financial Information System (GIFMIS) and do what you want.

GIFMIS doesn’t require biometric capture like IPPIS. It can’t capture people collecting multiple salaries or being paid at wrong levels.

Recently, the Head of Service announced that a number of officers had discrepancies in the employment records.

She was able to do that through computerisation of records. I hope you can begin to see why some people will fight systems like IPPIS linked to BVN to the death.

*Joe Abah, a former DG of Joe of Bureau of Public Service Reforms in Nigeria, is the country director of DAI, an international development company.

*This article was formed from a thread of tweets on 16 May on the ghost workers syndrome in the Nigerian bureaucracy.