Friday, June 29, 2012

Nigerian Senate and the Pension Fund Scam

“This is not only a monumental fraud, but a national embarrassment. This is one report that the government should not ignore, it should be implemented.” – Senate President, David Mark on Thursday, June 21, 2012
I couldn’t agree more with the above statement credited to Nigeria’s Senate President, David Mark while adopting the recommendations of the Senate probe into the pension scam. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria has totally been engulfed and enveloped by corruption. Hardly will a week pass without one story or the other about high level corruption. I doubt if the Transparency International will not place us once again at the lower rung of the ladder of countries with high proclivity for corrupt practices. Six months into year 2012, there have been several corruption related scandals involving both private and public sectors. There have been the over one trillion Naira fuel subsidy scam, the $620,000 bribery allegation involving the chairman and the secretary of the committee that conducted the fuel subsidy probe, the N44 million demanded by the dissolved Committee on Capital Market from the Security and Exchange Commission popularly referred to as Oteh versus Hembe scandal, the Malabu oil deal  and now the multi-billion Naira Pension fraud perpetrated by some undesirable elements in the civil service as well as the members of the Task Force inaugurated to right the wrongs in the pension fund administration. Are we cursed or are we the cause? Is this all about resource curse? Is there a future for a corruption ridden Nigeria? Are we really on track in our fight against corruption?
It is important to recap some of the findings of the Senator Aloysious Etok-led Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and States and Local Government Administration. The probe panel observed what it described as ‘syndicated and institutionalised corruption, fraud and embezzlement in the management of pension funds in the country’. The Senator Etok Committee uncovered N273.9 billion pension fraud from 2005 to 2011 and made a total of 104 recommendations which were adopted after a thorough debate of the committee’s report. According to the Senate President the looted funds were enough to pay all pensioners in the country for 15 years!
According to a comprehensive report of the committee published in Daily Trust of Thursday, June 21, 2012, out of the total sum of N1.025tn received as pension funds by the various pension offices and boards within the period, only N751.4 bn was expended, with N273.9bn looted. The report further stated that, out of the N213.3bn pension funds received by the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, only N154.6bn was disbursed; while the Military Pension Board disbursed only N294bn out of the N317.6bn it received. The report also reveals that the Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pension Office paid only N57.4bn out of the N85.2bn released to it; the Department of State Service Pension Office, N9.4bn out of N34.7bn; and the Police Pension Office, N88.2bn out of N131.4bn. Details further shows that within the period under review, out of the N176.4bn received by other parastatals as pension funds, only N100.6bn was expended; while only N46.9bn was spent out of the N55.8bn released for the payment of retirees of universities across the nation. This was made possible, according to the committee, because of beneficial collusion and conspiracy by government officials including some unscrupulous bank officials.

The committee recommended, among other things, that the chairman of the Pension Task Team, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina and all members of the team be arrested and prosecuted by the police while also proposing that the team be immediately disbanded as its continued existence and usurpation of statutory functions and violation of extant laws is illegal. The alleged crimes committed by Maina’s team, according to the committee, include: illegal contract splitting and award to the tune of N1.8bn; spending N1.6bn as running cost of the police pension instead of N80 million appropriated; spending N830.8 million purportedly for the payment of June 2010 pension using cheques instead of e-payment system; dubious enrolment of 49,395 pensioners into the payroll; spending N234 million on the already 90 percent completed biometric capturing with no files, data and documents from the pension department and spending N17 million on the biometric verification of less than 30 pensioners in Diaspora without recourse to the Nigerian Embassy/High Commission responsible for such. It also came to fore during investigation that members of the Presidential Task Team on Pension Reform used bank accounts of employees of the Police Pensions Office to siphon about N5.9bn of the funds belonging to the office.
Is it not worrisome that PRTT who had earlier in the year received wide acclamation for detecting  71, 133 fake pensioners after a nationwide biometric verification of pensioners and  discovering N151bn fraud has now found itself in the above chronicled mess? If those entrusted with correcting the ills of the society will themselves become part of the problem rather than the solution, who then are we to trust?  It would be recalled that a former Director of Pension in the Office of Head of Service of the Federation from Kogi State, currently standing trial for pension fraud, had admitted paying someone N60 million bribe meant to pave way for clinching the ticket of his political party ahead of the December 3, 2011 election in the confluence state. Just imagine if he had succeeded in his political ambition, Kogi State will have been done for.
According to the Human Rights Watch Report on Nigeria released on January 22, 2012: “Nigeria made only limited progress with its anti-corruption campaign in 2011. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at this writing had arraigned 35 nationally prominent political figures on corruption charges since 2003, including in 2011 a former federal minister, four former state governors, and a former speaker and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. But executive interference with the EFCC, a weak and overburdened judiciary, and the agency’s own failings have undermined the effectiveness of its work. At this writing the commission had only secured four convictions of senior political figures, and they faced relatively little or no prison time. The EFCC has failed to prosecute other senior politicians widely implicated in corruption, and the political elite continues to squander and siphon off the country’s tremendous oil wealth, leaving poverty, malnutrition, and mortality rates among the world’s highest.” Need I say more?