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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Pension Scam: Separating The Wheat From The Chaff – By Olusegun Ashafa



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For three years, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) led by the ousted Ibrahim Lamorde and the Senate committee led by senator Aloysius Etuk  tried endlessly to prove that Adbulrasheed Maina, chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) stole 2 billion when he headed the pension reform task force . But what they will not tell you is that there are highly powerful individuals who will love to see Maina become the fall guy for a crime he is innocent of.

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Unknown to many Nigerians, behind the scenes of the Maina trial, there has been a lot of distortion of facts, and sometimes outright blackmail, all in an attempt to discredit the PRTT boss.

Nigerians will not forget that Sani Shuaibu Tiedi, former director of pension in the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation, who is or was being prosecuted along with 31 others, alleged that Sen. Etuk as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other members of the Senate committee allegedly collected a bribe of N3billion from him.

In statements he made to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Tiedi had said he paid the money to Mr. Etuk in foreign currency and that the bribe was meant to prevent their prosecution. He told investigators that he equally bribed Farida Waziri, Former Chairman of the EFCC.
But there has been a lot of deliberate cover in a well written script to give Maina a bad name.

The reasons are simple. Maina’s PRTT was a clog in the wheel of so many who were looting the pensioner’s fund. Maina’s PRTT was brought in to sanitise a very corrupt pension system. Many Nigerians will not forget that for years, aged pensioners suffered and even died roaming the streets of Abuja while waiting for their pensions. Emerging evidence has shown that Maina is just a victim of the popular saying, that when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back.
But in a hurry to crucify Maina, the Senate committee did what could best be described as a hatchet job.

For those who understand the structure of the task force, they will let you know that Maina never had access to the pension fund and could never have taken over N2 billion. Former finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during a senate meeting said that Maina had no contact with funds and revealed how she froze the account  where the monies recovered by Maina’s committee was kept and how she transferred the funds to the CBN.

But the question is why will the EFCC continue to hound a man for an offence which they know he is innocent of? Besides, Maina was only the head of the team which comprised of EFCC, ICPC, DSS, NIA, office of Accountant General, Auditor General Public Complaints Commission etc.

Perhaps, Maina was just a victim of high power play of some powerful individuals in high places, who at some point got irritated for his refusal to ‘share the money’. So, for three years, Maina suffered what has become known in Nigeria’s anti-corruption war as ‘media trial’ – where a man is found guilty several times on the pages of newspaper.
Despite the several facts presented before the senate committee during the hearing, the committee chose to ignore the facts.

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Recall for instance that as far back as February 2013, Maina accused the then Head of Service of the the federation, Isa Sali of seizing on his troubles to pursue even broader scale of pension looting.
Mr. Maina said he had “verifiable” evidence the federal pension scheme was returning to “the looting era” which his team set out to end, with an alleged 98 percent of pensioners denied their benefits since November, 2012.

He said the process of preparing for payments, had been “desperately hijacked” by Mr. Sali, whom he accused of refusing to sign documents completed by his team, the Pension Reform Task Team, since November.

“It is surprising to note that when the Pension Team concluded paper-work preparation for the payment of November, 2012 monthly pension, as usual, the PRTT sent it to the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Alhaji Bello Isa Sali, who usually approves the payment without delay; but could not attend to it, and with no official communication to date,” Mr. Maina said in a statement.

“As soon as the current Senate issues erupted,” he added, “the Pension Team wonders why Alhaji Sali facilitated the hijacking of the payment which would ruin the Federal Government pension transformation agenda.”

The question is why the Senate committee didn’t look into these allegations.

The senate report:

However, the most outrageous claim in the senate report is that the task team’s assertion that it had helped the nation saved any money is false. The report stated that what the team claimed it had saved were unspent funds. But even the Minister of finance has publicly announced that the task team saved the government about N78 billion, funds which were incorporated into year 2013 budget.

The Senate closed its eyes to the over N3.3 billion that was being collected monthly at the head of service for over N71,000 fake pensioners and being stolen by civil servants. The case against Teidi and others arise from this monumental scam. But for the task team exposing them for prosecution, they would have stolen more than N70billion in the last two years.

In the police pension office, the team had also saved the N1billion that was being siphoned monthly in the guise of paying the pension and gratuity of retired police officers.

Also, through the work of the team, over N30billion in cash and assets have so far been seized from pension thieves in the office of the head of service and the police pension office. But due to their prosecution, the seized funds cannot yet be returned into government coffers. Besides this however, the team has also been able to discover the manly illegally opened accounts into which pension funds were deposited before they were stolen.

In the office of the Head of Service, over N35 billion was discovered in some 66 illegal bank accounts. If the accounts had not been discovered, the funds would equally have been looted. There is also a Six million pound account kept in accounts in London known to only a few top civil servants in different offices who were also allegedly drawing the interest on the account.

In all, the task team since June 2010 when it was constituted has saved the country about N170 billion that would have been pilfered. The committee, it appears, for some reason, has castigated the team from doing that.

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The Senate report made other alarming allegations of financial mismanagement against members of the task team without basis. For example, the team is accused of engaging in “numerous contracts splitting in order to beat the approval limit and avoid contract tender process one company was allegedly awarded a contract worth of N145 million split into units and that the funds spent were not appropriated for that purpose.

But the truth is that the team never awarded any contract because it did not have the powers to do so. The question of spending limit therefore does not arise.

However, the report goes on to destroy the work of the task team which came to address and rectify all the anomalies. In the process, the committee made allegations and claims against the team, which documents in the possession of icirnigeria.org contradict.

In spite of its earlier observation that yearly verification exercise were carried out to siphon money, the committee quarreled with the team’s conduct of a biometric capturing exercise which has forever removed the necessity for any further verification.

Through the biometric exercise, the team has come up with smart cards for every pensioner with which they can be verified without going to queue for hours unnecessarily.

The report alleged that the team conducted another biometric exercise in spite of the fact that the pension office had already conducted up to 90 per cent of a similar exercise for the year at the cost of N234 million.

The committee equally falsely alleged that the team embarked on the biometrics without data or files from the pension office, only relying on documents submitted by pensioners. Due to this, the report further alleged that the names of aged pensioners whose documents had been lost or misplaced were removed from the pension payroll.

“The task team therefore declared aged pensioners (some of whom have received their pension for up to 20 years) as ghost pensioners thereby removing 71,133 names of pensioners from the payroll and reducing the list of pensioners from 141,790 to 70,657.’

However, documents which were also made available to the Senate joint Committee, show that this is a deliberate falsification of facts. The over 71,000 names removed from the payroll are the same fake and ghost pensioners that the committee acknowledge exist in its findings.

The task team went to the 36 states of the federation but many of the fake pensioners stayed away because the team went with security officials. A few of the ghost pensioners were actually arrested.

What Next?

It is important that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari reopen investigation into the pension scam. The good thing that has come out of this is that Mr Maina has been able to expose the truth behind the scene. He leveled bribery allegations against some highly placed Nigerians such as the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Ibrahim Lamorde, Senator Aloysius Etuk who should have been exercising Senate oversight on pension amongst others.
It is important that all those who have been mentioned be investigated for the role they all played. Maina deserves a fair hearing; otherwise we may discourage good men from serving their father land.

Olusegun Ashafa is a retired federal civil servant writing from Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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