• N3.3trn looted since 1976
• 50,000 pensioners not paid in 42 years
From IKENNA EMEWU, Abuja
The lid on a can of worms has been lifted with the damning revelation of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) report on how retired workers fund has been managed over time.
From the revelations, it had been a conduit for a bazaar of looting and fraud masterminded by serving civil servants against their colleagues who had left service.
The 18-page report by the panel headed by Abdulrasheed Maina stank with details of organised crime in government offices.
Since the team completed its work, there seem to have been a grand design to ensure the report that had been ready for some months was not made public.
Armed with a copy of the summary report released two weeks ago, Daily Sun could authoritatively report that the pension problem exposed one of the dirtiest organised fraud rings in the nation via pension fund.
In the last week of October, a member of the team, Ngozika Ihuoma, in a visit to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, had revealed that since 1976, N3.3 trillion had been deducted from the pensions fund nationwide without proper accountability.
Ihuoma also told ICPC that the local government pension fund was another fraud flashpoint that needed closer look.
However, while the team released a summary of its report, which was suppressed from the public, a Senate probe of pension scam between April and July this year, described as the longest and most windy probe by the Senate, indicted the team’s report.
At a point, the Chairman of the Senate Pension Committee, Senator Aloysius Etuk, ordered for the arrest and prosecution of Maina.
But in another twist, the team denied any complicity in its work.
Till date, the result of the probe by the Senate had not been made public apart from the indictment and arrest of certain persons by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), especially a director in the pension board, Dr. Sani Teidi Shuaibu.
During the Senate probe, the drama heightened the day Shuaibu, in defending himself, accused the former head of service (HoS), Mr. Steve Oronsaye, of complicity.
He had alleged that Oronsaye managed most of the pension money and had collapsed over 20 bank accounts into one bank account somewhere in Wuse II, Abuja, which he personally managed.
With an average monthly theft of N5 billion pension funds, especially by the office of the HoS of the Federation and the Police Pension Board, the two offices had in the past 10 years looted N600 billion belonging to retired workers, the report revealed.
Shocking also was the fact that while the serving workers lined their pocket with the loot, an average of 50,000 pensioners had not been paid their pensions since retirement in the past 42 years.
The report said: “Some of them retired over 42 years ago. But so far, the task team has included these pensioners on the payroll and their accrued arrears and gratuities all paid to them. This effort has drastically reduced the volume of complaints and the petitions over the non-payment of pensions.
“In the last two years, we conducted biometrics for 170, 000 pensioners, pioneered the payment of pensioners in the Diaspora, recovered and saved over N221.855 billion from two pension offices. Detected and deleted 73, 000 ghost pensioners from HoS and Police Pension Office (PPO).
“We also discovered about 50, 000 unpaid pensioners and we paid all their entitlements.”
The reform team also boasted that it stopped “the monthly stealing of N4.175 billion from HoS pensions office. We also saved N1 billion monthly releases. While the police pension used to be a monthly bill of N1.59 billon, the team cut it down to N500m.”
In addition, the team detected pension fraud of over N2.7 billion by the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP).
The report said: “While the retired workers were victims of their compatriots still in service, they also victimized themselves through the NUP.
“The PRTT discovered that the bank accounts of the NUP were used as conduit pipe to steal pensioners’ fund from the HoS office. The fund was illegally transferred in the name of check-off dues payment to the union. This led to the arrest of the NUP president by the EFCC.”
On page 10, the report submitted: “As a result of the biometrics verification conducted by the pension task team in a transparent manner, the monthly pension bill of N5 billion was drastically reduced to an average of N825 million. Impliedly, N4.175 billion was corruptly stolen on monthly basis by government officials in the Head of Service Pension Office.”
If the monies sound alarming, you would need to hear the team reveal: “The Police Pension Office requested N24 billion while they needed only N3.4 billion for harmonisation arrears.”
The team lamented in its report that “while pensioners were roaming the streets of Abuja and turning the office of the Head of Service to destitution camp, there were notorious pension cartels and mafia operating in the pension system of the country.
“There has also been brazen and direct stealing of pension funds from the banks through the use of cheques in conspiracy with bank operatives and primary school teachers across the country.”
One of the channels of siphoning the pension fund by the civil servants include the opening of multiple bank accounts through which most monies were lodged and left and sometimes forgotten by the government.
It said: “We noticed the opening of multiple bank accounts by pension offices in contravention of the financial regulations. For instance, the HoS pension office opened 66 bank accounts in Nigeria and an offshore account, the police pension opened nine bank accounts.”
To its amazement, the team found that prior to its work, the nation never had a “reliable pensioners’ data for budgeting and administrative purposes.”
But at the police pension office, the team encountered the worst obstacle in its operation as the workers there, who had been feeding fat on the loot of other workers’ pensions, made sure they never obtained the assistance to enable them do their work.
“Due to sabotage, the Police Pension Office released only about 40 per cent of all pensioners files to the PRTT, while 60 per cent of the pensioners files are still in their custody and could not be treated,” it remarked.
The damning report implies that all Nigerians who served, as HoS, would have so much to explain to Nigeria on why that office, as a culture, became an undertaking agency for the mismanagement of pension fund.