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Newborn on Nigeria payroll, earning $150 a month

Monday, November 14, 2011 | 7:00 AM    

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LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A newborn baby in Nigeria got added to a government payroll, earning about $150 a month for the last two or three years, a discovery indicative of the widespread corruption starving the oil-rich West African nation of much needed funds, authorities said Friday.

The baby was one of many so-called "ghost workers" found to be getting salaries without performing a job, said Garba Gajam, the attorney general of Zamfara state located in Nigeria's arid and impoverished northwest.

The employee was listed as being one-month-old in government records, but Gajam said the child's father actually started collecting the salary before the baby was born. Records also show that the baby has a diploma.

Zamfara state has asked government workers to present their letters of employment and qualifications in a verification exercise meant to reverse a trend that has government workers giving fictitious jobs to family members to boost their pay checks.

"It's at the local government level that this is most rampant," said Gajam. "Leaving the local government with nothing to execute projects."

The local government is responsible for maintaining roads, disposing of garbage and providing public transportation. But diversions of funds, such as to "ghost workers”, means the majority of Nigerians are left with virtually no services from their government.

Offenders in Zamfara state will have to refund all the money collected over the years and will also most likely be prosecuted, said Gajam.

But analysts say the trend cuts across the country.

"There is no state in Nigeria that doesn't have ghost workers," says Thompson Ayodele, director of Initiative for Public Policy Analysis in Lagos. "In this case, at least the baby is alive, what about the thousands of ghost workers who don't even exist?"

"Ghost workers" collect salaries and eventually qualify for pensions as well. The money is actually paid into the accounts of the people who created the identities.

"(Government workers) even continue collecting the pensions of dead people," says Ayodele who authored a book on the issue.

Eight people are standing trial at the moment for diverting pension funds using "nonexistent" persons, said Femi Babafemi, spokesman for Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

"Meanwhile, the real pensioners who earned these funds were left unattended to," he said.

Nigeria, a top crude oil supplier to the US, has a long history of corruption, with one official once estimating the country has lost more than $380 billion to graft since gaining its independence from Britain in 1960. Corruption trickles down from politicians in the capital city of Abuja to the lowest police officer who shake down bribes at traffic checkpoints.

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