The lid has been blown off a plan by very senior officials of the federal government to loot about N15 billion meant for the payment pension of retirees in paramilitary agencies in 2012.
Fingered in the secret plan are a minister, permanent secretary and director in a ministry which our highly placed presidency source refused to name.
A presidency source told the icirnigeria.org yesterday that the plan was exposed by the managing director of a second generation bank in which part of the funds are domiciled.
The N15 billion is the unspent fund from the 2012 budget of the Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pension Office, CIPPO, which by government regulation should have been returned to the treasury by December last year.
The funds are in eight banks – Unity Bank (N2.8 b); Fidelity Bank (N3.8 b); Sky Bank (N3.1b); Eco Bank (N2.6b); Access Bank N300m); Diamond Bank N260m); Fin Bank (N90m) and Zenith Bank (N2.4 b)
In 2008, the Umaru Yar A’dua administration introduced a policy which ordered government ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, to return to the national treasury funds from their budgets which were not spent during the year.
That policy has been maintained by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
However, the N15 billion unspent funds at CIPPO was not returned to government coffers because the director of the pension office, Abdulrasheed Maina, sought and got approval to defer the refund for a while.
In the letter to the President, Maina explained that the office was still saddled with sorting out the payment of the severance packages of personnel of paramilitary agencies disengaged from service during the Obasanjo regime.
The pension office boss explained further that many of those retired were shortchanged and CIPPO wanted to finish paying the balance due to them by the end of 2012.
In view of this, he requested and got the President’s approval to defer the return of the unspent funds till the new year when the planned payment exercise was expected to end.
But by January when the exercise ended and the unspent funds were to be returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria, Maina had run into trouble with the Senate which ordered the inspector general of police, Mohammed Abubakar, to arrest him for failing to appear it.
The Senate accused Maina of failing to appear before its committee probing pension administration in Nigeria to answer questions over an alleged N195 billion fraud.
While he was facing his problem with the Senate, however, Maina wrote another letter to the President early March in which he informed him that the payment of shortchanged retirees had been completed and requested that the N15 billion be mopped up by the Ministry of Finance.
“We are in a new budget year and there is enough in the budget to pay for the remaining arrears,” wrote Maina in his memo to the President.
As if to forestall any attempt to access the unspent funds from 2012, Maina said that “the remaining liabilities will be settled and all requests for more funds may be forwarded if need be to the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy for consideration.
Presidency sources told the icirnigeria.org that one of the two ministers supervising the paramilitary agencies under CIPPO, along with the permanent secretary and a director in the ministry, had laid out plans to withdraw some of the funds.
Sources said that the bank manager who blew the whistle on the planned withdrawal said he did not want to be involved, having been made to “go through hell during the investigation of previous pension scams”.
It was gathered that the manager’s bank was fingered as one of the collaborators in the multi –billion naira pension scandal at the Police Pension Office and he was arrested and detained for a while by officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Having been once bitten, this time, when he was approached, he sang to officials of the presidency, seeking to expose the plan.
According to our sources, the bank manager said the minister and his team employed the same tactic used by those who plundered funds of pension offices in the past by first engaging in exploratory talks about how to withdraw money from the pension accounts, how much and the manner of withdrawal.
The plan put forward by the rogue team was to compile a new list of persons they would claim had either been shortchanged or not paid pension at all. Based on this fictitious list, mandates would be sent to the banks to release billions from the pension funds.
Still smarting from his previous experience, the manager was so scared that he did not even wait for a formal letter granting approval before exposing the plot.
Although no action has been taken so far on the disclosure, our sources said that the President is likely to order an investigation into the matter.
The agencies under CIPPO, the customs, prisons and immigration services, are supervised by two different ministers. While customs is under the finance minister, prisons and immigration are supervised by the minister of interior.
In the past, several billions have been stolen from pension funds by public officers using ghost and fake pensioners’ names.
Even now several former officials of the pension offices of the office of the head of service of the federation and Police Pension Office are being tried in the courts for looting amounts totaling more than N60 billion.
At the pension office of the head of service, Sani Teidi Shuaibu, former director; Phina Ukamaka Chidi, his former deputy, and 30 others are battling charges of conspiracy, fraud and corruption before Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
They are accused of stealing more than N30 billion from the pension funds meant for the payment of retired civil servants.
In the same vein, Abubakar Kigo, former director, police pension office, and former permanent secretary, ministry of Niger Delta; Esias Dangabar a retired director, PPO; Ahmed Wada, former deputy director, PPO, and others are also being tried by an Abuja court for stealing over N40 billion pension funds.