LAGOS, — Nigerian Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun says the salaries bill of 165 billion Naira (about 830 million US dollars) a month for employees of the federal government is bloated and can no longer be sustained.

Addressing a meeting with the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) hosted by her Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed here Thursday, she said the amount represented 40 per cent of the total government expenditure.

Describing the figure as too high, she said the government was pursuing aggressive measures to detect and prosecute “ghost workers” and other saboteurs in the system.

“We spend 165 billion every month on salaries and when I came in (as Finance Minister) there was no checking. Now, we have created a unit with the sole responsibility of checking the salaries and catching those behind the over-bloated salaries,” she said.

Adeosun said that the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) introduced by the previous administration was faulty and had been sabotaged by the elements benefiting from the salary fraud.

She said many Federal Government establishments, including the Police, were yet to be captured in the system.

According to her, it was shocking that the Nigerian Railway Corporation, which was not fully functioning, still had 10,000 workers on its payroll serviced by the government.

She assured that the government would correct the anomalies in the payroll system and weed out all non-existent staff, the so-called “ghost workers”, listed in the payroll.

Adeosun said the fiscal focus of the administration was to ensure economic growth which would be measured on job creation and productive sectors.

“The economy is not measured by how many private jets we have but how many jobs we create. People must be productive for the economy to grow. We have been a consumer economy, but we want to be productive and stop buying everything from abroad.” she said.

“We have been borrowing to pay salaries for years and that has to stop because it is not sustainable. Last year, we spent 64 billion Naira on travelling and only 90 billion on roads. Travelling does not grow the economy and this must also stop.”

The minister said that the compounded Gross Domestic Product of the country had been growing negatively in the last 10 years and the administration was working to correct the trend.

Also speaking at the meeting, Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh said government would re-position the agricultural sector to become the mainstay of the economy.

“The ministry will give policy direction and co-ordination to make farming attractive and for people to practise it as business. Government will put policies in place to recover the 22 billion dollars which is flowing out of the country’s resources to sustain farms in other countries back to our villages,” he added.

Environment Minister Amina Mohammed said the government would complete the clean-up of the Ogoni land in the next one year and ensure the degraded land was revived for productive purposes.

She said the Great Green Wall project of planting trees to control desertification would also be given priority by the administration.