It is a moment of grief and sadness for the families of public officers caught and arraigned for stealing pensioners’ funds. The media have published their photographs and stories as the major culprits in Nigeria’s largest pension scam. So far their names have been disclosed, their offices mentioned, their positions revealed, their faces unveiled, their looted wealth uncovered, their image tainted and reputation shattered.
What a disastrous way to end one’s career in the public service.
While they stole the funds, their victims, old pensioners live in abject poverty. In fact it is public knowledge that some pensioners die wretched while on queues to collect their meager retirement benefits.
Although every corruption is condemnable, but the systemic looting of poor pensioners’ funds is abomination of the last order which Senate President David Mark describes as accumulating “blood money.”
Rather than approved their application for bail, the Abuja High Court remanded all the accused persons in prison custody for their alleged complicity in the illegal diversion of N32.8billion from the Nigeria Police Pension funds. The accused include a Permanent Secretary and some directors in the federal civil service.
The mindboggling scandals were first revealed at a public hearing conducted by the Senate Joint Committee of Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration probing alleged corruption in the management of pension funds. Some of the disclosures are just unconceivable of how persons in the civil service could amass so much wealth as if they would live forever.
At the beginning of the public hearing, it was first revealed that six civil servants had stolen N24 billion of police pension fund. The officials were alleged to have withdrawn the amount from the Budget Office of the Federation for a pension payment that required just N3.5 billion.
Afterwards, the public were informed on how officials of government falsified documents to siphon pensioners’ money. Examples were given of how a whopping N151bn and £6m were recovered after the conduct of biometric data capture exercise on pensioners since 2010. It was also revealed that whereas N5bn was paid to the Office of the Head of Service monthly for the payment of pensions, only N1.9bn was actually required. While 141, 790 pensioners were registered and listed on the government’s payroll, only 70,657 were genuine pensioners.
The Police Pensions Office also collected a monthly N5bn as claims for its pensioners, while it actually needed N500m. Illegal withdrawals were made by staff of the Police Pension Office using multiple cheques in fictitious names in excess of 30 cheques per day to withdraw cash from their bankers amounting to over N14bn.
So far in the recovery of the looted funds, a staff of the Police Pension Office turned in N1bn cash while another surrendered three luxury estates with about 27 blocks of deluxe flats he built in Abuja. A whopping sum of N2 billion cash was recovered from a house of a suspect, while hotels and fuel stations belonging to other suspects have been confiscated by law enforcement agencies.
There was also a twist of event as fresh allegation was made against the leader of the taskforce that investigated the scam who was accused of spending N240 million on a biometric exercise for less than 20 retirees in the Diaspora and another N220 million on the local bio data. The investigator was also alleged to have unilaterally opened three accounts in different banks without recourse to extant financial rules and approval from relevant authorities. One of the accounts was domiciled in the account of his younger brother with a huge monthly interest of over N100 million.
In his defence, the leader of the taskforce claimed that the money was spent on foreign trip allowances of 85 officials engaged for the exercise, including top civil servants, top police boss and top officers of EFCC.
The pension scandal seems not to be over yet as other sectors of the pension, including the military and other civil servants will soon have limelight beamed on them.
Deep inside me I feel sorry for the families of the accused: their spouses, children and siblings who may continue to live with this stigma of corruption by their bread winners. While no single top civil servant in Nigeria may publicly declare that he/she is corruption free, we should be wary of evil of bigger corruption.
Yushau A. Shuaib