Pension Scam: Senate Committee & Pensions Task Force on War Path
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Nigerians had thought that the Senate Committee on Establishments will complement efforts by the Pensions Reform Task Force probing the rot in the system, to sanitize the pension's administration. They were dead wrong as the executive panel and the senate
committee are on a war path.
Reason: the national assembly committees on pensions as well as staffers at the Auditor-General and Accountant General's offices have been mentioned as beneficiaries who shared part of N32.8bn pension fund loot, according to the statements written by some of the arrested suspects before investigators of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Pensions Reform Task Team, which alleged efforts by the Senate Committee on Establishments of heightened moves to frustrate its work, took its ordeal to the court of public opinion. According to the panel, the Senate Committee on Establishment, headed by Senator Aloysius Etuk, had said since the task-force started work had resorted to fierce attacks and sentimental harassments of its members.
In his statement to the EFCC, dated February 14, 2012, the former Director of Police Pension Fund, Chief Esai Dangabar, who is standing trial along with five others for complicity in the N32.8bn scam, said part of N8.9 billion withdrawn between January 5, 2009 and December 23, 2009 was used to settle members of the Police Pension committees of the National Assembly to get the police pension fund's budget passed by the lawmakers. Dangabar and another suspect in the scam, John Yusuf Yakubu, who was the pension fund's accountant, also listed as beneficiaries of the fraud certain people in the Auditor-General's office, the Accountant-General's office and the National Assembly.
Dangabar's statement reads in part: "I was shown summary of checks withdrawal, dated between 5th January 2009 and 23rd December 2009 totaling N8, 920,371,822.24.'The said sums of money mentioned above were used for the payment of police retirees. "However, some amounts were also used for public relations to members of the Police Pension Committee of the National Assembly. 'The public relations monies were made as condition precedent before the budgets of the office were passed."
Others standing trial with Dangabar were the immediate past permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Niger Delta, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar Kigo; Alhaji Ahmed Inuwa Wada; John Yakuku Yusufu; Mrs. Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula and Alhaji Habila Zira.
However, Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, on Wednesday, said the National Assembly would not accept any attempt to blackmail in by any of the suspects in the ongoing Pension fund scam and it objected to those undergoing trial attempting to drag the name of the Senate into mud.
Although the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), headed by Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina refuted growing speculations that the committee demanded a bribe of N16 million for each of its members, the PRTT however accused the Senate Joint Committee probing the N2 trillion pension funds of bias. The task team, in a statement on Wednesday, said that the Senate committee was out to paint its work in bad light before Nigerians, saying the Senate committee treated it "cruelly" and "unfairly" during the public hearing.
According to the task team, the Senate committee was quick to move for the dissolution of the team, even before hearing from its members. "At the first day of the public hearing which commenced on Tuesday, March 6, in Abuja, the Senate committee announced the suspension of the Pension Reform Task Team, even before it was heard," the task team said.
A statement endorsed by Hassan Salihu, Information and Media Relations Officer of the task team, said because the task-force had suffered 'fierce attack and sentimental harassment' by the Senate committee, it strongly feels that the Upper House panel would not be fair to it in the ongoing probe.
But the chairman of the Senate committee, Senator Aloysius Etuk, said the allegations were meant to distract the committee from its onerous task at hand. "This is a strategy to distract us from doing our assignment and if there is a way they feel we have shown bias, let them raise it.
In a related development, a coalition of civil society organizations led by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Centre for Democracy and Development, (CDD), and Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC), called on the Senate to disband its ad-hoc panel, alleging that the body had shown serious disregard for ethics, bias and lack of integrity. It was a thumbs-down for the Senate panel from a coalition of civil society organizations, which opposed the committee's bid to hold closed-door sessions on the probe of the pensions scheme.
In a joint statement the three groups issued yesterday and signed by the Executive Director of CISLAC, Malam Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani and CDD's Dr. Jubrin Ibrahim, they urged the Senate President to take immediate steps to redeem the integrity of the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly 'which has been badly battered by the activity of the Pensions Reform Committee.'
Nevertheless, the Senate on Thursday asked a former Director of Police Pension Fund, Chief Esai Dangabar, to name National Assembly members he allegedly bribed with N8 billion pension funds. â€¨ The Senate said Dangabar, who is standing trial in an alleged N32.8 billion pension scam should be bold to mention the names of parliamentarians he 'settled' with N8 billion to the public as doing so would help to bring probity in the country's public lives.