Finds 73,014 ghost pensioners
Team to probe 42 pensions offices nationwide
Police Pensions Office seeks N24b for N3.5b arrears
BUT for his insistence on doing the proper thing, Nigerians would have been denied the opportunity to know the scandalous corruption in the country’s pensions administration system.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina, who spoke with The Guardian on the rot in the pensions scheme, said he and his team were offered N1.2 billon bribe to look the other way when they were scrutinising the records at the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF).
In fact, Nigeria will hear more of the sacrilegious acts of pension managers as the task force progresses with its assignment.
The staggering amount was found to have been embezzled in the HoSF and Police Pensions Office of the 42 pensions offices nationwide that the panel is mandated to probe.
He said the graft in the office was so entrenched in the system to the extent that under-aged persons were on the pensions payroll.
Maina, who said his life and that of the committee’s members were constantly being threatened, lamented that even primary and secondary school teachers were found on the payroll.
The task force chief further disclosed to The Guardian that some persons were found to be collecting multiple pensions from the HoSF office as well as from other agencies.
Besides the threat to his life and those of the men working with him, Maina hunted that somebody (who he did not name) tried to bribe the team with N1.2 billion to look the other way.
Maina vowed not to succumb to the death threats, saying as “Nigerian pensioners have been suffering for the past 44 years, the team will dare the consequences by ensuring that they (pensioners) are given their rights and a better life after service.”
As the interview progressed, a visibly disturbed Maina over the scale of corruption in the pensions scheme said “people who have given their youthful lives to the service of the nation deserve to be treated well and this task team would ensure that.”
While describing the quantum of money that some corrupt people receive as pensions monthly, the task team boss said some could be compared with the income of governors.
“People have stolen a lot of money. We don’t want change in this country. Some want to milk this country dry. Mr. President has said that corruption in the pension structure should be eradicated and that’s what we are doing,” he said.
Maina disclosed that over 71,000 ghost pensioners were discovered in the civil service, 2,014 in the Police Pension Office while 133 were duplicated names, who collect multiple pensions monthly in the same police pensions office. The documents and photographs of the ghost pensioners, he said, were available. He said that there are 42 pension offices in Nigeria, all of which fall within the scope of duty of the task team, but explained that only three are under review at the moment: a security agency which he declined to mention, the office of the HoSF) and the Police Pensions Office. As for the latter, he said the former Head of Service, Oladapo Afolabi, stopped its restructuring mid-way.
“We were asked to stop the exercise mid-way into the Police Pension Office,” he said.
On the findings at the Police Pensions Office before Afolabi stopped the team’s activities, Maina said police pensioners were underpaid, some had their names duplicated while others used ghost pensioners to siphon money.
He also revealed that the Police Pensions Office owed N3.5 billion in pension arrears while it demanded N24 billion from the government to pay; thereby revealing a fraud of N20.5 billion.
While at the office of Head of Service, he said the team discovered about 45,000 genuine pensioners who had never been paid pensions since 1968 and 1975. He added that there were others who had also never been paid as police pensioners. They are yet to be on the pension payroll, according to him.
He also revealed that the team uncovered two accounts of the Police Pension Office with N8.9 billion and N10 billion balance lying fallow. At a point when the team resumed duty, it was discovered that money was being withdrawn from them every other day.
On a recent media report that the Minister of Finance had employed an accounting firm, KPMG, to audit the accounts involved in the pension reform, Maina said that his team had not received any communication on it. He added that all the monies recovered from the restructuring of the pension system, including the N151 billion the team has saved the nation, are under the custody of the Minister of Finance who has frozen the funds and no money can be taken out of it without her authority.
The pension reform was kick-started about 19 months ago by President Goodluck Jonathan. It led to the establishment of the Pension Reform Task Team, chaired by Maina, head of the Customs Immigration Pension Office (CIPO), where he had succeeded in scaling down the pension process from 26 steps to five, thereby making the process of obtaining pension easier for the deserving elders who have served the nation with their youthful lives. Harmonising the process also cut down on time wasted from one month to 48 hours.
With the vigour to replicate the same sanity in the Federal Government pension system, Maina came in 19 months ago and has so far mopped up over N151 billion in pension funds from various bank accounts where they had been kept by fraudulent individuals.
Some people alleged that he recklessly spent N140 million in recovering the N151 billion, but Maina dismissed the allegations as mere chasing of shadows by detractors who want him out of the way so that corruption in the pension system can fester.
He explained that the money was spent on 481 people who had to travel within and outside Nigeria to do the pensioners’ verification exercise as well as on other logistics.
According to him, officials who carried out various verification exercises in the past did so with N900 million each time without achieving any result for the country. He then expressed shock at how some persons will make an issue out of an expenditure of N140 million that yielded a result of N151 billion for the country.