UNDERCOVER INVESTIGATION: Sokoto’s ghost teachers, corrupt school principals stealing FG’s N-Power funds
Like other hardworking teachers, they’re on the Sokoto State government’s payroll. Dozens of them are being paid millions of naira for jobs they never do — they’re ‘ghost teachers’ scattered all over the north-western state and operating in cahoots with principals and headmasters of disadvantaged schools. In the same state, pupils show up in schools only to fill their bellies and disappear after guzzling government’s free food, reports IBRAHIM ADEYEMI, who was undercover for two weeks at seven government-owned schools in Sokoto.
Ghost working and payroll corruption are a trend in Nigeria’s public service system and the perpetrators do not think of repentance – unless they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
The early-morning sun rayed on the pupils through the windows and tattered roofs of Gidan Yaro Primary School in Wammako Local Government Area of Sokoto State. The pupils sat in no particular order in their dilapidated classroom where a horde of them were crammed. A few yards away was a girl lying on the bare floor in deep sleep; another was peeking through the windows while others in the classroom ran after one another. It was a regular Monday morning in the school.
A few minutes past 9 am, two elderly women served bean cakes and steamy pap to the pupils, courtesy of the Federal Government’s School Feeding Programme — a social investment programme pioneered by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to tackle poverty and improve health and education of children and other vulnerable groups. Within half an hour after the meal, a large number of the pupils had vanished from school.
From his crummy office, Abubakar Yusuf, the headmaster, ventured out to put the pupils in order. He was disappointed to meet only a handful of them.
“These children have formed the habit of sneaking out of school after eating free food,” said Yusuf, his face wrinkled with displeasure.
Beyond the pupils’ disappearance, the headmaster was apparently unhappy about the poor condition of the school he’s made to head. It’s a decayed primary school populated by pupils averse to learning and ghost teachers – mainly N-Power volunteers – who abscond permanently from their place of primary assignment (PPA) but regularly earn their monthly stipends.
N-Power was conceived by the government as a youth empowerment scheme aimed at fostering productivity through skill development and valuable knowledge sharing and acquisition for economic growth and social development. In 2016, the N-Power was introduced as part of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP).
Although NSIP has five components – N-Power Teach, N-Tax, N-Health, N-Agro and N-Build – the N-Power Teach seems to be most popular because a large number of Nigerian youths have shown interests in it. The scheme was designed to support regular elementary school teachers in educating young minds. Thus, the Federal Government pays the programme’s volunteers a monthly stipend of N30,000 and gives them tablet computers. However, shoddiness, ghost working and other forms of official malfeasance continue to blight the N-Power Teach scheme in schools across the country. Public schools in Sokoto State are no exemption.
A school without teachers
Yusuf, the headmaster at GidanYaro Primary School, would not have divulged information if he had any idea he was speaking with a journalist. The poor condition of the school bothered him a lot and he was not masking his feeling. Although 294 pupils are enrolled in the school, Yusuf was the only active teacher. The only other complementing permanent teacher comes on and off to work.
“And there is nothing I can do about that,” Yusuf said.
The N-Power programme should have done something about it. Under the scheme, 11 teachers were deployed to the school to aid teaching and learning. Records provided by the headmaster of the school show that the 2018 beneficiaries of the N-Power Teach programme who were deployed to the school are Zubairu Arzika, Nalbaniel Osatemen, Kalu Garba, Nana Hauwau Bello, Abddulazeez Garba, Lawal Garba, Mercy George, Gbadamoshi Anthony Gideon, Udoku Roseline Ekene and Mainasara Muh’d Garba.
“We have 11 N-power teachers but only one of them, Zubairu Arzika, comes to work,” the headmaster said. “Still, the 10 others receive salaries but they don’t come to work.”
Ghost-working in the country’s civil service is no strange phenomenon. In July, the Nigerian government sacked 2,525 beneficiaries of its N-Power programme for absconding from their places of primary assignment across the country. Back in 2017, the Federal Government said it cumulatively saved N120 billion from checking imaginary workers through the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). In 2018, the government said it removed over 50,000 ghost workers from its payroll through the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA). And earlier this year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said its intervention had assisted in saving N4.5 billion monthly lost to ‘ghost workers’ on FG’s payroll. Ghost working and payroll corruption are a trend in Nigeria’s public service system and the perpetrators do not think of repentance – unless they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
19 ‘ghosts’, five teachers, 1,030 pupils
Decorum was totally lost in one of the classrooms of Dundaye Primary School in Wammako Local Government Area of Sokoto State. A pupil had just bitten another and the victim of the painful bite was embittered, yelling and snivelling heavily; the crowded classroom became disarrayed with most of the kids crying, one beating another and some others mocking their wailing classmates. The headmaster’s office was about two yards away but the noise from the class got him out of his office. Mallam Lawali, short and dark, rushed out to restore calm to the class.
“You see, we don’t have enough teachers in this school and that is why there was no teacher with those children,” he told this reporter.
Active at work, very fluent in communication and painstaking while giving details, Lawali moaned about the poor teaching conditions of the school. Another understaffed school dominated by N-Power ghost teachers.
“We don’t have enough teachers because I think we are only eight in number – three females, five males. But we have 686 boys and 344 girls, making 1030 pupils,” Lawali said.
A shortage of teachers is exactly why the school cannot pass qualitative education on to the pupils, according to the headmaster. But this academic challenge would have been surmounted if the N-Power teachers had been faithful.
“Yes, we have N-Power teachers. We have, I think, 24 N-Power teachers. Of course, some of them are coming; if they come today, they won’t until another two or three days,” he said.
Tukur Mansur, Rebbeca Anthony Brown, Bridget Osiagberi, Abdulqadir Ibrahim, Martins Edoamaokwo, Hannah Ojone Benjamin, Bugi Sunday, Buah Denis, Essier Charles, Ogunshina Cecilia, Isude Favour, Yunus Aminat, Rahinat Ogundipe, Benjamin Godwin, Ugwu Ruth, Lukman Buhari, Cecilia Ugwuene, Ebun Aliyu, Joshua Tarfa, Salisu Yakasa, Yahaya Muhammad, Abdulaziz Ja’far and Obodo Ifeoma are the 24 N-Power teachers deployed to the school, according to records provided by the headmaster.
“I think only five out of 24 are regular,” the headmaster said. The 19 others were ‘ghosts’, earning salaries for job not done.
From the N-Power attendance book, BusinessDay established that Lukman Buhari, Yunus Aminat, Bugi Sunday, Hannah Ojone Benjamin and Isude Favour were the responsible five.
“It’s bad. It’s really not good!” said Yunus Aminat, one of the regular N-Power teachers while commenting on the shadiness shrouding the N-Power Teach scheme in the state.
A headmaster covers up ghost teachers
Nothing seemed interesting about Gidan Hamidu Primary School, also in Wammako Local Government Area of the state. When this reporter arrived at the school premises at exactly 9:45 am one Tuesday in November, no significant teaching or learning was ongoing. Kashamu Dibo, the headmaster, and Ibrahim Muhammad, his right-hand man, were seen exchanging banters while the pupils were busy playing around at a time they ought to be in class.
One shocking observation: the headmaster was so incoherent that he could not remember the exact number of permanent teachers in the school, let alone the N-Power teachers.
“Five or six,” he said of the permanent teachers.
When the reporter requested the list of the N-Power teachers in the school, the headmaster feigned ignorance of the whereabouts of the list. However, Muhammad insisted on fetching it, believing that the journalist was a student researcher.
“Wait a bit! I’m confused! I can’t find the list of the N-Power teachers,” the headmaster yelled.
“Is Aisha Yakubu not one of the N-Power teachers?” Muhammad retorted.
“Yes, Aisha. Abubakar Muhammad comes as well; that’s two.”
Further investigations by BusinessDay revealed that there are six permanent teachers, 291 pupils and 15 N-Power teachers in the school, out of which only two – Aisha Yakubu and Abubakar Muhammad – show up at their duty posts; the other 13 teachers are mainly ghosting but they are on the government’s payroll.
‘N5,000 bribe to secure headmaster’s cooperation’
“When the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper, one will feel reluctant to do good.” This is the aphorism that suits the proverbial Hausa statement of an N-Power official very familiar with the situation at Gidan Hamidu Primary School. “Indan mai kyautatama Jama’ abayasamun alheri da yaka mace kyautatawansa, zaifara ganin cewarashin kyautatawaya fi kyautatawariba,” the official said in the local Hausa language, offering thoughts on the tepid attitudes of many N-Power teachers, whom she branded “irresponsible and unresponsive”.
“The thing is that we don’t have teachers. Like me now, a volunteer N-Power teacher, right? They said we are 15, but for months, I’ve been the only one coming here – and one guy as well; he is schooling but he is trying as well,” the official said.
“Imagine, we are 15 and just two are coming. What are they (the pupils) going to learn? Nothing! And, to be frank with you, these children, they really want to learn. They really want to learn seriously, but there are no teachers, no facilities.”
The official said it was annoying and unfair that her colleagues were just sitting at home and waiting for N30,000 credit alert every month.
“It is unfair. They shouldn’t think because the government is not seeing them, God is seeing them. To be frank, they are going to account for this N30,000. You think you will just sit down and eat N30,000? Yet, they are saying, ‘What is N30,000?’ Okay, why did you accept the job if N30,000 is nothing?” she asked.
“I have so many friends in this N-Power. As a matter of fact, one of my friends is here in Sokoto but her N-Power base is Gusau. This woman I’m telling you about, she is a very rich woman. The annoying part is that she doesn’t even go to teach. If she has been teaching, no problem, she can collect her N30,000. Sometimes, she would even call me to ask about the alert; someone who doesn’t go to school. They don’t teach and they don’t care about these children.”
The official continued:
“All they know is, ‘Let me give our headmaster N5,000 and I will relax at home’. As a result, these pupils are suffering academically. They really want to learn, but there are no teachers – no encouragement, nothing. The students who were in Class 6 but are now in JSS1, they always tell me they are tired, that they don’t understand anything. It is the consequence of that poor background. Those who are in Class 1 haven’t even learnt ‘A for Apple’. Nothing like that.”
Three N-Power teachers but all are ghosts
When, at Government Day Secondary School, Ummarumma, the vice principal admin, Malami Garba, said no N-Power teachers were posted to the school, the BusinessDay reporter was surprised. N-Power teachers are expected to be deployed to all public schools in the state. But really, the vice principal’s claims might be right; it was as good as there was no N-Power teacher because none of the teachers deployed to the school, according to records, had ever shown up at their duty posts. This reporter later learnt that at least three N-Power teachers were deployed to the school.
Upon arrival at 11 am or thereabouts, the reporter was welcomed by the principal, Dahiru Husseini, who later referred the journalist to the vice principal admin.
“We don’t have N-Power in this school. We used to have but not anymore,” he said.
When probed further, the old man got angry.
“I said I don’t have any idea; for us over here, we don’t have any N-Power teacher!” he yelled.
Displeased with the manner with which his deputy spoke to the reporter, who had presented himself as a final year student undertaking a research about the N-Power ghost teachers’ syndrome, the principal said, “Let’s help him; you know he’s a student.”
In a matter of minutes, he fished out letters of posting from three N-Power volunteer teachers whom he said he had not set his eyes on ever since they submitted their letters. From the letters, it was clear that Aisha Musa, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulmalik Latifat were the teachers deployed to the school, but none had ever shown up despite receiving salaries.
10 N-Power teachers, all ghosts
At Ummarumma Primary School, the ghost working propensity is even worse. Saidu Aliyu, the headmaster, was at first not particular about the whereabouts of the N-Power teachers posted to the school.
“There are 10 N-Power volunteer teachers posted to this primary school,” Aliyu said, noting that five are absentees while the other five are irregular in class.
When asked about the names of the N-Power volunteer teachers whom he claimed show up at their duty posts, he said: “Bilyaminu Shuhaibu, Amina Ambuson, Luther Alaka, Kaffa Margaret and Umar Abdullahi.”
However, none of the aforementioned teachers was present in the school on the day – and the headmaster declined to comment on their whereabouts.
Other five teachers whose names appear on the N-Power volunteer list but are mainly ghost workers are Safina Ismaila, Jamal Muktar Bashir, Yusuf Muh’d Mujahid, Abdurahman Gazali and Ibrahim Babangida Muh’d.
This public-service shoddiness also reigns at Gidan Rugga Primary School in the Kware area of the state. Hassan Faruk, the headmaster of the school, was quite evasive and timid while speaking to this reporter. He gave little information, with much gesture and stuttered frequently.
“There are seven N-Power teachers in the school,” he said. All but one of them teach regularly, he claimed, but only one of them, Aliyu Abubakar, was present in the school when this reporter visited. Contrarily, a dated attendance book seen by this reporter revealed that Aisha Usman, Ja’far Aminu, Abubakar Muhammad and Aliyu Abubakar were the N-Power teachers who were diligent with their responsibilities. Further investigation revealed that the ghost teachers, whose names only appear on paper in the school but are never seen, are Rahmah Abubakar, Yusuf Yahya and Aliyu Muhammad.
This grand cover-up is not peculiar to Gidan Rugga Primary School. Several sources in Sokoto told BusinessDay that the widespread practice is that many heads of schools connive with ghosting N-Power teachers to cover up for them by writing attendance on their behalf. In fact, in one school, the daily attendance list containing different names of teachers was bizarrely written in one solitary handwriting! The headmaster or principal, as the case may be, often gets kickbacks from the salaries of the ghost teachers in return for covering them up.
‘Are you a student or a spy?’
Tukur Ladan introduced himself to this undercover journalist as the vice principal of Government Day Junior Secondary School, Achida. Ladan was the first person to make comments of appraisal about the N-Power teachers in his school.
“With regard to the N-Power staff that we have here, we have almost nine of them and before they came to the school, we were having a lot of challenges; there was a shortage of permanent teachers who are supposed to cover different areas, but with the coming of the N-Power Teach, we are able to get a lot of helping hands because for those subjects that we didn’t have enough teachers for, we were able to get more for them and the N-Power teachers are trying,” he said.
Good as it may sound to hear, his comments would have changed the narratives about the ghost working propensities in his school, if only they were not false. Ladan’s words were mainly contradictory and his body language portrayed him as someone hiding something.
“Even now if you go round the class, you will see things for yourself. If we should go around the class now, you will find them teaching,” he claimed.
But that was not true. Only one of the nine N-Power teachers – Mahmmud Sanusi – was in class, actually.
Further checks revealed that only three of the nine N-Power teachers deployed in the school are regular, as indicated in the 2019 attendance notebook, which was exclusively obtained by this reporter.
When Ladan was questioned on his claims about the N-Power teachers, he taunted the reporter, saying: “Are you a student or a spy?”
Pupils receiving classes ‘in their stomachs’
Aliyu Mudda started his journey home after feasting on the morning meal served at Gidan Hamidu Primary School. The seven-year-old said he was done for the day but the time was just 10:58 am. Pale and adorning tattered clothes, he saw no reason to wait behind in class after devouring the locally-made cooked rice with other children in the school. Clearly, breakfast was Mudda’s main assignment in school. Of course, he was not alone.
After days of embedding in certain public primary schools in Sokoto, this reporter was able to unravel how school children unfairly exploit the School Feeding Programme.
Some minutes past 10 am on the said day, pupils of Gidan Hamidu Primary School were observed sneaking out of their classrooms one after the other without the notice of their teachers who were in the staff room. Recall that at Gidan Yaro Primary School, Yusuf, the headmaster, affirmed that the children were fond of sneaking out of the school “after eating government’s free food”.
In 2016, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had launched the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme with the aim of providing primary school children with free school meals made from produce from local smallholder farmers. The programme was designed to provide school children free locally-sourced meals every school day and to improve school enrolment and completion opportunities for members of the community.
“The school feeding programme has contributed greatly to the turnout of students,” said Muhammad, one of the teachers at Gidan Hamidu Primary School. “At one point when as a result of shortage the programme stopped for a week, there was a low turnout of students.”
The schooling-for-food pattern was also observed at Ummaruma Primary School in Kware area of Sokoto, where this reporter went undercover for two days. After consuming the morning’s free food, most of the children would head straight to their homes. Saidu Aliyu, the headmaster of the school, claimed ignorance of the habits of the pupils and pledged to henceforth punish defaulters.
N-Power official, experts react
When contacted by BusinessDay, Zayanu Dalhatu, the desk officer of N-Power in Sokoto, spoke evasively about the efforts made by the body to monitor the activities of the N-Power teachers in the state.
“We have complained to the national (N-Power) office in Abuja to help us so that we can supervise them by ourselves. You know each local government has what we call monitoring officers; their job is just to monitor teachers around them and check those who are around and those that aren’t,” Dalhatu said.
“And then we are going to write a report on those who are not coming and those who are. Our own job here is to coordinate and when we have complaints, we write their names and send to Abuja. Even now we receive some names of some volunteers who absconded from work from Sokoto South,” he said, noting that even if they (the N-Power officials) would start going around now, they do not have enough resources to do that.
Referring to the N-Power ghost teachers, Shettimmah Akilahyel, the Sokoto State coordinator, Legal Aid Council, said it is fraudulent to enjoy the government’s stipends without doing the work one is being paid for.
“There is Public Service Rule for both federal and state governments that indicates that a government worker must always be at work regularly,” Akilahyel said. “It is an offence; absenteeism is an offence. Another thing is the issue of fraud. It’s fraudulent to put someone on a payroll without working. It’s a very serious fraud.”
Mansur Buhari, a lecturer in Usmanu Dafodiyo University, Sokoto, faulted the N-Power officials for lack of scrutiny and regulation of employed teachers.
“One of the problems with the N-Power is lack of effective supervision,” he said. “There ought to be a check mechanism that will allow them to know who actually goes to work and who doesn’t. There should be a kind of provision where these people are supervised daily – supervision not only whether they come or not but what they teach and how they teach.”
He also argued that there should be some evaluation of the positive impacts of the scheme.
“The government gives them the impression that they are enrolled in this N-Power to get some source of income. The government does not give N-Power teachers the kind of belief that it is service to the country with some stipends. So, when people are employed to teach and they only see that as a meal ticket, of course, they won’t take it seriously,” he said.
“If they are not well checked, the government will continue to waste its money for nothing and in the end, it is going to affect the education system. When people do not go to work to teach these children that are supposed to be taught, of course, some important part of their life is missing because education is life.”
The lecturer argued that N30,000 is enough to employ somebody permanently to teach.
“For the volunteer teachers, the government is telling them that teaching is a temporary job for them. They are on stipends but they feel the government only wants them to make money some way; not that the government is serious with them. So, they would look for other jobs to do,” he said.
He also faulted the government for providing free food for school children without providing adequate facilities that aid in teaching and learning.
“The government thinks that school is all about food. The government is supposed to provide the parents with a good living condition so that they work and provide for their children. Government should take care of schools and make the environment lovable so that students will love to go to school; students should be trained to go to school because they love the environment, not because of food,” he said.
“How can you not equip the school with furniture and instructional materials and you cook food to give to these children? They will only eat and go back home. Now the school has become a place where the student will just go to feed and return home, instead of going to fill their brains with some ideas and returning home.”
Huge revenue drain – N23.4m on 65 ghost teachers
Meanwhile, the government continues to suffer huge revenue losses for this leakage. Thus far, BusinessDay can confirm at least 65 N-Power ghost teachers in seven public schools in just two local government areas of Sokoto State.
At Gidan Yaro Primary School, 10 N-Power ghost teachers were uncovered; there were 19 at Dundaye Primary School, 13 at Gidan Hamidu Primary School, four at Gidan Rugga, 10 at Ummaruma Primary School, three at Government Day Secondary School, Ummaruma, and six at Government Day Secondary School, Achida.
Records show that the aforementioned ghost teachers have been on the Federal Government’s payroll since at least 2018. The calculation, therefore, is that for just those seven schools explored by this reporter, the government has wasted nothing less than N23.4 million on paying 65 nonexistent teachers.