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Nigeria crackdown on ghost workers receiving salaries while residing abroad

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When leaving a job, one would expect their salary to cease, but for several ex-Nigerian civil servants, this isn’t the case.

Despite securing employment elsewhere, sometimes even abroad, these individuals continue to draw salaries from their previous government positions.

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This issue has caught the attention of President Bola Tinubu, who recently ordered a crackdown on such practices.

“The culprits must be made to refund the money they have fraudulently collected,” he said.

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Sabitu Adams, a pseudonym used to safeguard his identity, remains employed as a junior official at a government agency without formally resigning, continuing to receive monthly pay despite leaving Nigeria two years ago.

Now working as a taxi driver in the UK, Adams expressed to the BBC his lack of concern about losing his salary, viewing President Tinubu’s remarks as hollow threats.

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He further mentioned that losing his Nigerian salary of 150,000 naira ($100; £80) per month would not pose significant hardship, given his higher earnings from taxi driving.

“When I heard about the president’s directive, I smiled because I know I am doing better here – and not worried,” the 36-year-old said.

But why not make it clear to the civil service that he had left?

“To be honest I didn’t resign because I wanted to leave that door open in case I choose to go back to my job after a few years.”

Like Mr Adams, more than 3.6 million Nigerians have relocated to other countries over the last two years, according to official statistics.

Many young Nigerians see little prospect of earning a good living in the country – a feeling exacerbated by the collapse in the value of the naira over the past year following the reforms introduced by Mr Tinubu since he became president.

It has become so common for young people to seek their fortunes outside the country, the term “japa” has been coined to describe the phenomenon.

It is a word from the Yoruba language meaning to escape or flee.

Mr Tinubu said he was “struck by the revelations the head of the civil service shared regarding employees who had relocated abroad while drawing salaries without formally resigning”.

The president said that not only should the money be repaid but those who were complicit in allowing it to happened should be investigated too.

“Their supervisors and department heads must also be punished for aiding and abetting the fraud under their watch,” he said.

And this may have been the case for Mr Adams.

The UK-based taxi driver admitted that he continued to be paid thanks to those in his department: “I had a good understanding with my boss and he just let me leave.”

Often in such cases the salary is divided between the supervisor who keeps quiet and the person being paid, maybe along with an HR representative.

But for Mr Adams it was even easier. “In my case it wasn’t like that as my boss was a relative.”

So-called “ghost-working” is a major problem in Nigeria. Despite several crackdowns it is believed that thousands of non-existent workers are still being paid. There appear to be very few checks and balances in place.

However, this marks the first instance where it has been suggested that individuals who have relocated abroad are still receiving their salaries on a significant scale.

Auwal Yakasai, who retired as a director in charge of finance at Kano state’s information ministry in 2021, said he had heard of such cases.

”To be honest I have never caught anyone red-handed,” Mr Yakasai, who worked for the government for 32 years, told the BBC.

“But I have heard numerous stories of such arrangements, where someone would still be receiving [a] salary after relocating or changing their place of work.”

Since assuming office in May last year, Mr. Tinubu has vowed to trim governance expenses and curb wastage.

In January, he mandated a 60% reduction in official entourages to state and international events for himself and other government officials.

However, critics point out that Mr. Tinubu’s administration has been more about rhetoric than action.

They highlight plans to purchase new planes worth millions of dollars for Mr. Tinubu and his deputy, Kashim Shettima, as indicative of this trend.

Another instance was the recent unveiling of a new official residence for Vice-President Shettima in Abuja, costing $13.6m (£11m).

Despite the president’s remarks regarding foreign ghost-workers, he has not specified concrete steps to crack down on them and hold accountable those involved.

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