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Senate Unearths Staggering Pension Fraud

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ABUJA, March 08, (THEWILL) - Members of the Nigerian Senate were on Wednesday shocked to the marrow at the ongoing public hearing on the management of pension funds when its Joint Committee happened on falsifications of documents in the Police Pension Board, leading to withdrawals of a total N24 billion from the Budget office for the payment of a relatively paltry N3.5 billion pension.

The Senators also discovered an additional N6 billion fraud in the pension scheme, perpetrated by certain staff of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation (HOF).

The alleged culprits are currently facing court charges. The staff, numbering 32, were initially thought to have defrauded the country to the tune of N12 billion, but further investigations revealed the actual figure to be N18 billion, leading to an upward amendment of the court charges.

Chairman of the Pension Review Task Force Team, Maina Abdulrasheed informed the Aloysius Etok-headed Senate Joint Committee on Establishment and Public Service and States and Local Government that the task force had traced N21 billion of the money to a First Bank account. He revealed that the team discovered two major Lagos accounts where the pension fund for the police was lodged — one containing N21 billion, the other N24billion.

Abdulrasheed further disclosed that he applied to the Accountant General of the Federation for transfer of the accounts, when he discovered the daily withdrawals of approximately N200 million to N300 million.

He had suggested the movement of the accounts since the Headquarters of the Police Pension was in Abuja, and he wanted two new accounts opened in Fidelity and UBA Banks but the then Head of Service, Dapo Afolabi told him to hands off the pension fund. After listening to his submissions, the Committee directed Him to tender all relevant documents relating to the transactions.

Abdulrasheed further disclosed that as at December 2011, a total of 49,395 pensioners, including those who retired as far back as 1968 and who had never been enrolled, have now been verified and their biometrics captured, bringing the total number of pensioners on the payroll to 120,733 people.

“Prior to biometric exercise, government had been paying 141,792 pensioners up to the tune of about N3.3 billion as regular monthly pension. After the exercise, it was found that only 70,657 pensioners were qualified and eligible to draw regular monthly pensions out of a total 141,790 hitherto on the payroll.”

Similarly, the PRTT boss told panel that government was paying N800 million and N900 million monthly, on paper, to pensioners as arrears and death benefits respectively but interviews with pensioners and next of kin refuted those supposed payments.

He further revealed that the PRTT had succeeded in reducing the bill of pension wage from N5bn to N1.6 monthly courtesy of N3.4bn savings from June 2010 to December 2011.

“The PRTT discovered and reported to the EFCC, the colossal loss of pension funds by the former management and staff of the OHCSF Pension, where the N24billion and Landed properties carted away were recovered; and the case is currently in the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja,” he said. “Due to diligence of the PRTT, N35billion is sitting in various banks of the OHCSF Pension Office; another N28billion was saved from the restructuring of the Police Pension Office even though the restructuring process was truncated half way. Another £6million sterling is currently with Crown Agents in London; and the total amount, excluding recovered properties, is now N151.6 billion and £6million.

In his defence on the PRTT time limit, former HCSF, Mr. Steve Oronsanye explained that by his training, he could not set time for a task that he could not define, since his tenure was near its end at the time.

“The scope of the PRTT work was to capture, pay on the spot, and harmonise. It was an institutionalised team comprising administrative officers from the service and law enforcement officers because we thought there would be collusion,” he said.