24 December 2012

Nigeria: Kogi, Where Ghost Schools Speak

Lokoja — The Kogi State education sector, particularly the primary and junior secondary schools under the Universal Basic Education, has suffered setback due to incessant strikes embarked upon by teachers. The issue has been government's failure to pay salaries and allowances. But recent discovery of over 800 ghost schools and over 2,000 ghost workers in the education sector explained the situation.

Various screening committees were set up by past administrations to ascertain the problems bevelling public schools but nothing concrete came out of them. The reports of the committees were neither gazetted nor implemented.

First, the Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in the state carried out a screening; then the ministry of Local government and chieftaincy affairs followed suit before the Head of civil Service embarked on another screening. But all these ended in the dustbin like previous screening exercises in the state.

When Governor Idris Wada came on board, he set up another screening committee headed by the state Accountant General, Paul Audu, to look into the persistent salary problem of teachers.

Interestingly, the committee discovered that ghost schools and workers were largely responsible for the problem of teachers in the state.

Though many people were skeptical about the figures, Daily Trust investigations revealed that there were 884 ghost schools and over 2, 153 ghost workers.

According to the Accountant General's report, education secretaries in the 21 local governments were responsible for ghost workers while the UBE Board was responsible for the ghost schools.

From the report, the total number of staff submitted by SUBEB was 29, 520, but as at August, 2012, the staff figure as per payroll was 26, 619, showing a difference of about 2,153.

A shocking discovery revealed that about 1,922 of the number represent unauthorised employment by Education Secretaries of various local governments while 86 were retirees who were still on government's payroll.

The staff list as provided by headmasters indicates 28, 930 while the staff list payroll as at December 2011 revealed that there are 28,772 showing a difference of 158.

"Out of the 28,930 staff list provided by the headmasters, we could not trace 293 of such names in the payroll of their respective local governments. Information revealed that headmasters colluded with education secretaries to perpetrate fraud on teachers' salaries," the report said.

Besides, further investigation revealed that the total number of primary schools as provided by SUBEB was different from the one provided by the headmasters during the screening.

SUBEB's list contains 3,043 while that of the headmasters put the numbers at 2,156 revealing a variance of 887 and indicating clearly that there were ghost schools in the state.

The differences in the list of SUBEB and headmasters show that in Adavi local government, there are five ghost schools; in Ajaokuta there is one; in Ankpa there 117 and in Basa there are 47. Others are; Dekina 142, Ibaji 102, Idah 35, Igalamela Odolu 6, Ijumu 49, Kabba Bunu 82 and Kogi 11.

Also in Lokoja Local government there are 3 ghost schools; Mopa Moro, 35; Ofu, 44; Ogori/Magogo, 8; Okehi, 23; Okene, 16; Olamaboro, 53; Omala, 53; Yagba East 52 and Yagba West, 55.

A primary school teacher, Suleman Adumo Yakubu, who is the chairman of the Basic Education Staff Association of Nigeria (BESAN) admitted that indeed ghost schools and teachers exist in Kogi State.

He told Daily Trust that it was because they believed that there were ghost schools and workers that the teachers supported government when it called for the screening exercise.

"When we talk of ghost schools and workers, we must hold the education secretaries responsible because they do the employment and the manipulation, and all the rest," he said.

But he said though education secretaries may be the first accused, there others aiding and abetting the fraud. He said if government were alive to its responsibilities, they would not have the privilege to harbour ghost schools and workers.

"What baffled us is that the AG's report indicted education secretaries in the 21 local governments, yet the government is reluctant to punish them. Besides the education secretaries are supposed to have left office seven months ago, but the government is still keeping them. So we believe that government is compounding the problem," the union leader said.

Chairman of the Kogi State Universal Basic Education Board, Alhaji Jibril Usman, agreed with the AG's report that there are ghost schools and workers but disagreed on the figures produced by the report.

The chairman who assumed office barely two months ago said in an interview with journalists that ghost schools and teachers are often generated from the technical department of the board.

Explaining, Alhaji Usman said: "When I first came to SUBEB, I warned planning and statistics department because ghost schools and teachers had been generated from the technical department. It started by giving out contract for fake project. The contractor came with the contract award letter, but there was no site anywhere, then technical person will go and write a report that the contractor had finished the foundation of work which means that he had exhausted the mobilization fees earlier given."

"After that, the technical man will now issue a fake certificate asking the accountant to release money to the contractor. Later, the technical person will also say the contractor had finished the work and he will issue final valuation certificate, asking the accountant to pay the contractor.

"At times, consistency can turn a lie into truth by repeating the same thing all the time. With this, the contractor will have the confidence to come forward to ask for retention after six months. Then the technical person would now write a report to certify a project that does not exist asking the account section to pay."

According to him, the second stage of the fraud was furnishing the ghost school, which include buying of chairs and desks; then employment of both academic and non academic staff to teach in the non existing school.

"But when it is the time for the government to identify the schools, you will not see anything and by then huge sums of money running into several millions had been committed into the non existing project," he said.

Meanwhile the Commissioner for Education, Mrs Grace Elebiyi, recently said the reason primary school teachers were having problem is that education secretaries had inflated the figures of teaching staffs, so much that what is meant for 10 to 20 teachers is being shared among 50 to 100 teachers, including fake ones.

The commissioner declined comment when our reporter sought her views on the issue of ghost schools, saying that she was still studying the report.

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