No fewer than 60,000 ghost workers have been uncovered by the Federal Government since the introduction of the bank verification number (BVN), according to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
Osinbajo was giving an update on government’s war on corruption at the 5th Annual Christopher Kolade Lecture on Business Integrity in Lagos on Thursday night.
This is almost twice the 33,000 figure given by Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun in October last year.
The minister said at the time that the removal of the names of the 33000 ghost workers from payrolls of federal government’s ministries, departments and agencies had helped in reducing the wage bill from N166billion to N142billion.
The acting president did not say on Thursday how much government now saves with the uncovering of the 60000 ghost workers.
But he said the closure of over 20, 000 government bank accounts and the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has brought a great deal of sanity into handling of public funds.
Also yielding positive results, according to him, are ‘’getting all our armed forces personnel on the electronic human resource payroll to prevent scams in the service,’’ and the whistleblower policy.
Osinbajo said the Buhari admnistration would not relent in the anti-corruption war, although he stressed that the war was better fought by preventing it than trying to recover stolen funds.
He cited the $15billion arms funds allegedly stolen during the Jonathan presidency and the frustrations government currently faces in recovering stolen funds stashed abroad.
His words: “In our investigations into defence spending, we discovered 15 billion dollars unaccounted for, with no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover it.
“You can imagine the damage done by that corrupt act.
“You need to engage forensic consultants and hire other experts; even then, you will only have some hope of recovering some of what has been lost.”
On repatriating stolen money from abroad, he said: “Many countries are reluctant to return proceeds of corruption by introducing legal obstacles of different kinds to ensure that we do not get back the money.
“There is a long list of ‘what if’ – what if we were able to do something or invest even half of that money in economic or infrastructure projects before it disappeared?
“If some of that money went into boosting our reserves, our exchange rate will not be where it is today; so there lies evidence that corruption is cheaper to prevent than to cure”.
The acting president said that the negative impact of corruption on human lives and development could never be fully reversible.
Osinbajo urged Nigerians neither to condone corruption nor celebrate those indulging in it.
“Corruption is the robbery of the wealth of the nation, and thieves exist in every tribe or religion,’’ he said.
Osinbajo said that the Federal Government would continually seek ways to make it harder for government funds to be stolen or diverted.
“The solution really is to ensure stiffer control to prevent fraud and corruption,” he said.
Osinbajo said that the presidency would ensure close working relationship with the judiciary and ensure that the judiciary itself “is free of corruption to successfully prevent corruption”.
“We will not succeed in preventing corruption to a significant extent unless the acts of corruption are met with appropriate levels of sanctions and deterrence,” he said.
The acting president described Kolade as an outstanding man of integrity in both the public and private sectors.
Dr Christopher Kolade is a former Director General of the old Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC),ex-Managing Director of Cadbury Nigeria PLC and former Nigerian High Commissioner to London.
The lecture was entitled: “Prevention is Better than Cure Even on the Issue of Corruption’’.
It was organised by the Integrity Organisation Ltd., an anti-corruption, research and advocacy organisation.
Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State said that corruption had collapsed businesses and societies.
Ambode, represented by his deputy, Dr Idiat Adebule, said that more measures should be put in place to prevent corruption.
The governor described Kolade as a man who had not compromised standards, saying that the lecture in his honour would contribute to value reorientation for sustainable prosperity.
In his remarks, Kolade said: “It is sad that we have made integrity our enemy which is why this administration is trying to fight corruption, but preventing it is better than curing it.
“My prayer for this country is that we will actually get to a point where we intensify our energies to apply prevention rather than looking for a cure that we ourselves dilute by our own behaviour.
“We all need to continue to build the good name of this country by securing a firm place for integrity as our way of life and norm in our communities.’’
In his keynote address, Mr Nick Leeson, an international speaker, said that integrity and good name would attract investors, development and growth to any business.
“It is very easy to get another job, but not easy to get another reputation.
“We, therefore, need to be careful and prevent anything that can soil good name or integrity,” Leeson said.
Dr Kehinde Bolaji, Team Leader, United Nations Development Programme, also said that preventing corruption was easier than addressing its consequences.
“Corruption steals resources, hinders development and threatens democracy and the rule of law.
“In Nigeria, the level of corruption calls for concern which is why our organisation is working closely with the government in its anti-corruption crusade to promote transparency, integrity and good governance,” Bolaji said.