Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Nigeria’s padded census, voters register, payroll and budget

Nigeria is a country of conundrums. Some of my compatriots are very adept at undermining any noble projects and exercises, all in a bid to gain undue advantage or self-enrichment.  The monster called corruption manifests in diverse ways though many people think of it in financial or monetary terms. Quite alright, bribery, kickback and financial inducements all form part of corruption. However, there are many more ways corruption rears its ugly head than in terms of Naira and Kobo.  Padding or bogus additions of figures is one of such corrupt practices rampant in Nigeria.

Nigeria last held its national census in 2006. Before then, there have been countrywide enumeration in 1952/53, 1962/63, 1973 and 1991. All of these have been enmeshed in controversies. This is because national headcount is a political and economic instrument. Political in the sense that it gives voting advantage to a more populous community. It also forms the basis of creation of state and local government council. It is equally one of the yardsticks for delimitation of electoral constituencies particularly State Houses of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives. Economic wise, it is the census figure that is used for national planning and resource allocation. Thus, during enumeration exercise, many political and community leaders work hard to compromise the census officials to allocate higher figure to them than the number of people physically counted.

 Little wonder that people are incentivised by their communities to travel to their place of birth to be counted during census rather than being allowed to be enumerated at their places of residence. The question about whether Northern or Southern Nigeria has more population remained unresolved, all because of allegation that some of the enumerators posted to some parts of the country over count while some others under count . Lagos state was one of the few states who kicked against the 9,113,605 population figure ‘allocated’ to it during the 2006 census.  The national census tribunal sitting in Abuja in June 2013 was to later vindicate the state by nullifying the 2006 census figures in 14 of the 20 local government areas of the state.

National Population Commission has expressed interest to use a biometric based census for the next exercise. It says the headcount would be centralised and synchronised with working technology, where if anybody registered twice, the system would take one. NPC said the biometrics will capture the face, iris, 10-finger digital signature and perhaps the voice of the person being enumerated.

Nigeria had the last national voters’ registration exercise in January 2011. Since then, there had been several continuous voters’ registration exercises’.  The VR was biometric based with the Independent National Electoral Commission using Data Capturing Machines to take and store the photo and fingerprints of the registrants. Even at that, the VR database is still largely bloated. INEC used the Automated Fingerprint Identification System software to weed out multiple registrants and there were millions of them. As at February 2015, the figure stood at 68,833,746. Despite that, INEC was not convinced about the integrity of the database hence the introduction of machine readable, chip-embedded Permanent Voters Card and Smart Card Reader. It would be recalled that INEC insisted since the 2015 General Elections that only those who possess the PVC will be allowed to vote.

To further validate the lack of trust of INEC in its VR Database, the commission since 2011 had introduced a cumbersome voting process called Re-modified Open Secret Voting Systems whereby accreditation of voters will take place between 8am – 12:30pm in 2011 and 1:30pm in 2015 while voting will commence after the end of accreditation. The whole essence of this incongruous novelty is to prevent multiple voting. It is also one of the reasons behind restriction of movements on Election Day. Politicians had compromised some Voter Registration officials to pad the Voters Register with multiple registrants or fictitious names believing that it will be business as usual where they could indulge in multiple voting. Even when PVC was introduced, some of them were stolen in some states while they also purchased some. It is noteworthy that the introduction of PVCs and SCRs has greatly assisted to reduce electoral fraud.

Padded payroll is not new in Nigeria, what is new is the use of technology to expose the fraud which manifests under the phenomenon called ghost workers and pensioners. For several years now, Nigeria public servants have been subjected to untold hardships through the numerous staff audit and identification parades.  The Buhari administration decided to use new technologies called Bank Verification Numbers and Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System to track the actual number of its workforce. Through these measures, the Federal Government in the last few months has been able to eliminate 23,846 non-existing workers from its payroll and saved N2.29bn in its monthly salary bill. FG in a release by the Special Adviser on Media to Minister of Finance, Mr. Festus Akanbi on February 28 said it planned to undertake periodic checks and utilise Computer Assisted Audit Techniques under its new Continuous Audit Programme.

The phenomenon of ghost workers or padded payroll is not limited to the federal government. Many states and local governments are faced with similar challenge. As reported in Sunday PUNCH of February 28, 2016, Benue State Government said it had uncovered 1, 061 ghost workers who were previously on the payroll of public schools in the past administration. This was revealed on Friday, February 26 in Makurdi, the state capital by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Titus Zam, while handing over the responsibility of the payment of staff of public schools to the State Universal Basic Education Board. According to him, the staff audit conducted by the state government ascertained 23,441 genuine staff as against 24,502 the administration met on ground which has saved funds hitherto expended on ghost workers.

Padded procurement estimates and over-invoicing are other ways by which many procurement managers defraud their companies whether private or public. The Bureau of Public Procurement have saved the country trillions of Naira by downwardly reviewing incredible cost estimates submitted to it for certification by government ministries, departments and agencies. The recent controversies over the 2016 Federal Government budget is also a pointer to how Nigerian politicians, aided and abetted by their civil servant accomplice, defraud the country of billions of Naira every year. The budget which was heavily padded had been appropriatiately described as a national embarrassment. 

Again, this is not a practice limited to the federal government but a malpractice which like octopus spreads its tentacles across all tiers and strata of Nigerian society.  My take is that while introduction of technology may be useful to reduce this sharp-practice,  stringent measures such as adequate punishment for the perpetrators and tighter control measures including effective supervision are needful to rid the country of this corrupt practice.

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