THE PENSION FUND SCAM
The Chairman of the Presidential Task Team on Pension Reform, Mr. Abdulrashed Maina's recent revelation that a pension racket syndicate had been defrauding the Federal Government of about N3.3 billion monthly is mind-boggling. Also stunning is the discovery of how a few privileged corrupt civil servants in the Pension Office of the Head of Service fleeced the nation of a whopping sum of N151 billion within the period under review.
It is disturbing that an unnamed top civil servant was caught with N2 billion stashed in his house, while another was found with piles of US dollars in his bedroom.
Maina, who made the startling disclosure at a meeting with the Acting Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Ekpo Nta, said that after the verification exercise by his team, the pension rates being paid by the government dropped from N5 billion to N1.7 billion.
Also unearthed was the N28 billion police pension fund found in an unnamed account and another N15 billion used to purchase choice property by corrupt government officials in the Office of the Head of Service, Pension Department. One of the civil servants involved in the racket was alleged to have 555 accounts in a particular commercial bank.
During their operations, the cartel gave government a figure of 258,000 pensioners for which N5 billion was usually released monthly out of which it used N1.7 billion to pay the 70,000 genuine pensioners and swindled the balance.
The criminal syndicate had been collecting, over the years, the pensions of about 71,133 ghost pensioners. Another sordid revelation was that about 44,320 pensioners who retired from service from 1968-1975 were never paid their pensions. Luckily for them, their pensions were normalized after the verification carried out by the task team.
We commend the task team for a job well done and decry the monumental fraud that has characterized the nation's Pension Office. We applaud the team's doggedness, patriotism and resourcefulness in unearthing the unconscionable sleaze in the nation's pension system and work towards apprehending the culprits.
Let the anti-graft agencies swing into action and bring to book all those found to have a hand in the despicable affair. All those found culpable and their partners in crime should be dealt with in accordance with the laws of the land. All the looted funds must be returned to the federal government coffers as well as the proceeds from the sale of all illegally acquired property emanating from the racket. If those involved are adequately sanctioned, it will deter others that may contemplate doing so in future.
It is disheartening that while government owes pensioners huge sums of money in pension arrears, a few shameless and unscrupulous Nigerians are busy defrauding the government by dipping their dirty hands into available pension funds.
We also call on the task team to beam its searchlight on other pension units in all the federal ministries and parastatals. The action should also be extended to the pension units of all our security agencies and para-military outfits as well.
There is no doubt that more corrupt practices will be discovered if the pension offices of ministries, agencies, parastatals and outfits are thoroughly examined.
Let all the nation's pensions systems be thoroughly overhauled.
This can be done through computerization of their operations. There is the need to ensure that the biometric data of every pensioner is captured in their data bank to avoid the systemic corruption in the pension system occasioned by ghost pensioners.
Let the state and local governments throughout the federation borrow a leaf from the task team's verification exercise and audit and sanitize their own pensions systems as well.