The Pension Reform Task Force team has reacted to a newspaper that alleged that she looted pension funds using what they called KPMG report whereas, there is a “cabal” within the Police Pension Office that has vowed to frustrate the ongoing reform of the police pension scheme. The cabal has so much funds to throw around to buy people who can help propagate their war.

The task force also alleged in the exclusive interview granted yesterday afternoon in Abuja that some officials of the Police Pension Office offered bribes to members of the team cover up their fraud. When this would not work, they resorted to false publications buying up lead stories.

Spokesman for the reform team, Mr. Hassan Salisu, said in Abuja that the corrupt officials had decided to discredit the task force chairman, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, after he reported cases of graft to anti-corruption agencies.

According to Salisu, the fraud in police pension has been on for about 44 years, with officials and their collaborators amassing stupendous wealth running into three digit billions of Naira while the pensioners all over the country wallow in abject poverty after being denied their entitlements for years. He said the team was able to save N159bn on assumption of duty, N74bn of which has been channelled to the 2012 budget.

Salisu said, “We have tried our best and clinched landmark achievements. But there are media comments and accusations by the Senate Committee on Establishment that the pension task team did more harm than good.”

While accusing the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) of “using their bank accounts as a pipe to steal billions of pension funds”, he noted that his team deleted “about 71, 133 ghost pensioners” from the existing payroll where sometimes as much as 2,000 pensioners will have the same pin number.

Among the reasons given for the attacks against the task force team include arresting, investigation and prosecution of some pension staff who misappropriated over N12bn. The EFCC is currently prosecuting 32 individuals and companies in suit number FHC/ABJ/CR/28/2011.

Others ‘offences’ we have committed include detecting and deleting over 71,133 pensioners; exposing the Nigeria Union of Pensioners who allegedly uses their bank account “as a pipe to steal billions of pensioners’ funds” and cracking down the fraudulent pension cartel cut across the country.

According to him, pension benefits have been made easily accessible, owing to the team’s mandate of blocking all loopholes that made payment of police pension a nightmare. This development, he explained, had exposed members of the team and their family members to threats from those he referred to as “pension cabal”.

The Senate committee on pensions has accused the Pension Reform Task Force of going beyond its brief in investigating the police pension where it reportedly uncovered N18bn fraud. The task force said it had not done any wrong in carrying out the assignment and insisted that it deserved commendation, not condemnation.

The Chairman, Joint Committee on Establishment on Public Service Matters, and Management of Pension Funds, Senator Aloysious Etok, also said it was suspending the activities of the task force, despite the claims by the latter that it had uncovered N159bn fraud in the government pension schemes.

Etok said they suspended the task force’s activities to pave the way for a more effective solution to the lingering pension problems in the old scheme.

He said the Senate took the decision because results coming out of the investigations were not solving the problems of the pensioners.

Etok said, “We decided to suspend their activities in order to give clear ground for us to start a more effective investigation into the whole issue, which will bring a lasting solution to pensioners.”

Etok noted that amidst several allegations against the task force on its integrity, it had only been recovering money but failed to solve the problems of the pensioners.

“Before the advent of the task force team, there was a list that was used to pay the pensioners, which we will still be using to pay them while we address the issue,” he said.

The task force, under the leadership of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina, had claimed to have uncovered over N159bn in property and cash from pension fraudsters.

The team comprises the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, State Security Service, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and the office of the Auditor General of the Federation.

According to the task force, a former director of the Pension Department, Office of the Head of Service was arrested, having found N12bn in his personal account, while N4bn was allegedly found in the personal account of his former deputy director who was also arrested, among other arrests.

However, a spokesperson for the task force, who would not want to be named, has refuted allegations of corruption levelled against its chairman in the latest barrage of reports sponsored in some media organisations.

He said, “We still maintain our integrity that we are not guilty of those allegations; we are urging investigative journalists to go to the banks and get the details; we will address all stakeholders and international organisations to prove to them that we actually uncovered the frauds in the pension scheme but we are not in any way guilty of the billions of Naira, claimed to be found in the personal account of any so-called brother to the chairman of the task force.”