I was surprised to hear Mr Labaran Maku, Minister of Information and acting Minister of Defence, recounting again the exploits of this administration in saving N118.9 billion from ghost workers yesterday. The occasion was at the the monthly World Press Conference held at Abuja on Tuesday October 22, 2013. I thought we should move forward now and allow the Ghosts to rest, more so that they were not properly buried.

The figures involved are not shabby by any standard. N118.9 billion; 46,821 “ghost Workers” and 215 Ministries, Departments and Agencies. That much money in savings is commendable, and should translate to something tangible in our developmental efforts. To reduce the population of our pantheon of National devourers by a whopping 47,000 ought to attract accolades. But, Nigerians are neither smiling nor taking the Government seriously, and the reasons are not far-fetched.

The first problem is that with the numbers given by the Honorable Minister and similar data from the various states of the Federation, it is quite obvious that “Ghost-working” is a national industry. A constituency that large cannot be “invisible” at the same time. And since these “ghosts” have chosen to partake in the affairs of men, by all the spiritual laws known to man, they must have had a large number of human accomplices.

We have not read of any Ministry, Department or Agency complaining that money was vanishing (every month-end) from their various till-boxes at the end of the month. The various government auditors have not raised such exceptions either. Obviously, therefore, these ghosts have not been siphoning money using supernatural means. Somebody raised payroll vouchers with names of staff in the MDA. Another person authorized the vouchers and yet another person carried the schedules of the staff salaries,  ghosts and human alike,  to a terrestrial Nigerian Bank. The salaries were paid into bank accounts of human beings, who must have satisfied the CBN’s KYC requirements. This implies that they have passport photographs, terrestrial addresses, living human referees, verified signatures and genuine id-cards.

Now for Government to gleefully announce that they have discovered 47,000 unseen ghost workers, but not one single, visible flesh-and-blood human collaborator, in the long chain between appropriation to crediting individual ghost’s bank accounts, in an enterprise that could never have succeeded without a close collaboration between men and spirits, is the first reason why nobody will clap for the Minister of Finance on this matter. Let them keep telling us till kingdom come! The only option open to lesser mortals like us, with little familiarity with how spirits conduct interbank transfers, is to believe that “na padi padi business. They sabi the ghosts and the ghosts sabi them”.

It appears that Government is now becoming aware of this contradiction. As reported by Premium Times, Mr Maku was quoted as saying that “the system had to be cleaned up first, while the law would take its course later. First the ghosts are being denied salaries, they used to collect salaries but now we have stopped paying them. With time we will find out how these ghosts got into the system”  I couldn’t help chuckling when I read this. Ghosts by nature are extremely elusive beings. When I was young, there were stories of previously dead human beings (they call them “akudaaya” in Yoruba) materialising and living in new, far away lands. Every such story had a common denominator: If you did not apprehend the Akudaya immediately on discovery by throwing sand at him, he was gone forever, leaving the hapless wife and children in a quandary.

For the Ministry of Finance to discover Ghosts in 2011 and hope to come back to apprehend them in 2014 is like coming for an Akudaaya who is aware that his cover has been blown. On this count also, Nigerians know better, and are smiling knowingly.

Now there is an obscure verse in the Bible recorded by King Solomon the wise one, which talks about this Maku doctrine of snail speed justice. ?It appears to be the guiding principle of law enforcement on “big-man” crimes in Nigeria and the Bible does not have a very high opinion of this doctrine at all! It says, in Ecclesiastes 8:11, that “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil”. Herein lays the secret of the unending impunity in the country.

And since we are talking about exorcising ghost workers, the scriptures have more advice for Labran and fellow ministers. He was also  quoted as saying, on possible prosecution for the ghost workers and their allies that “the system had to be cleaned up first, while the law would take its course later”. Now it befuddles me that you are spending so much cleaning the system, while leaving the agents that fouled it up in the first instance in place. It is either of two things, as the comedian would say: Either they are spending the holiday covering their tracks, or they are understudying the new system for new ways to embed the untidily exorcised “ghosts” in the new system, or in fact doing both alternatives.

And so it will come to pass, when the ghost-busting team comes back later for the law to take its course, that they will no longer see any ghosts, for they would have learned from their mistakes and become more powerful. Then the scriptures will be fulfilled, that: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” Luke 11: 24-26

May God help us!