A report of the Pension Reform Task Team obtained by Street Journal sheds more light on the many atrocities perpetrated right from the Pension Unit within the office of Nigeria’s number one civil servant, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. Street Journal found out that a cartel within the office of the Head of Service specializes in grand looting of funds meant for pensioners. Countless cases of “ghost pensioners” have also been traced to the cartel. Only members of the cartel seem to[understand how and why the Government paid more than 70,000 non existent pensioners on a monthly basis.
A number of challenges necessitated the changing of the old pension scheme. For instance, most times, those who should manage the funds ended up embezzling them and most, if not all of them, got away with the atrocities perpetrated. Non availability of proper records also often caused delay in payments. Such delays ran into months and years at times. It was not an uncommon sight to see old pensioners collapsing while waiting to collect their pensions, some died in the process.
Street Journal has also found out that despite all the measures put in place by the government to ameliorate the sufferings of pensioners, there has been little or no improvement over the years. Not even the establishment of a Pension Commission changed the old order as most of those saddled with the duties of ensuring that retirees get their dues enrich themselves at the expense of the retired folks.
It will be recalled that the Pension Reform Task Team was inaugurated in order to find a solution to the sufferings of pensioners who retired after the stipulated 35 years allowed in the civil service, and also to help boost the efficiency of the various pension offices. The Task Team which was set up in June 2010 had Abdulrahman Maina as its Chairman. It is believed that Maina was appointed sequel to the exemplary job he did as the head of the Customs Immigration Prisons Pension Office (CIPPO). Based on the mandate it was given to work without interference, the Task Team swung into action with the aim of reforming, restructuring and eventually integrating all pension offices on a single platform. One of the first steps taken was to embark on a nationwide Biometric Enrolment exercise across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The report indicated that as of July 19, 2010 when the verification exercise for pensioners ended, a total of 114, 977 (one hundred and fourteen thousand, nine hundred and seventy seven) pensioners were captured.
Street Journal also found out that only Seventy thousand, Six hundred and fifty-Seven (70,657) names emerged as genuine pensioners from the payroll of 141,790 that was previously on the pension payroll, while forty-four thousand, three hundred & twenty (44,320) pensioners were captured for the very first time since their retirement, some of whom retired since 1975. The PRTT thereafter postulated the remaining 71,133 (seventy one thousand, one hundred and thirty three) names on the payroll for May 2010 belonged to either fake or deceased pensioners as no one afterwards came forward to lay claim to the names.
The office of the Head of Service of the Federation was indicted in the report as it was stated that a further revalidation of the other records received from the pension Department of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation revealed a lot of anomalies. The PRTT disclosed that the data has since been sent for further analysis.
Indications emerged that some members of staff of the Pension Unit in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation were apprehensive about the Team’s findings while the analysis was still in progress. Despite several warnings that the Analysis Centre domiciled in the Federal Secretariat, Phase IV, was out of bounds to non-accredited persons, there were reported cases of attempts by staff of the Pension office in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to ascertain what was being done there, perhaps with a view to legitimizing the names of the fake pensioners.
24-hour security was provided for the PRTT members working at the Phase IV of the Federal Secretariat by 42 policemen, including 22 mobile policemen and two mobile unit commanders, deployed on the orders of the then Inspector General of Police. The heavy security presence notwithstanding, attempts were made to breach security by persons claiming to be staff of the Pension Office, Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. The Chairman of the Task Team also received a number of threats before the end of the assignment.
It was discovered that falsified documentation was the order of the day as many names and account numbers were previously duplicated. The PRTT was however able to weed a lot of ghost pensioners thereby helping the Federal Government to make an annual saving of about N 21.6 billion (twenty one billion six hundred million) being cumulative of the reduction of N1.8b monthly wage bill.
Another resultant effect of the verification exercise was the stoppage of the fraudulent payment of arrears which was hitherto a permanent illegal monthly deal. The blockage of the fraudulent payment also helped the government to save another N 20.4 billion (twenty billion, four hundred million Naira).
Working in conjunction with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Department of State Security (DSS), the Pension Reform Task Team was able to recover more than N 24 billion as well as landed property from old staff of the office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. The items recovered are currently with the EFCC.
The existence of a fraud-perpetrating syndicate allegedly run by staff of the pension office in the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation’s office was also discovered in Rivers, Osun, Kebbi, Lagos and Oyo States. Members of the syndicate specialize in inserting fake names on the payroll and paying pension to under aged people. Street Journal gathered that to facilitate this, they offer bribes to field coordinators and sometimes threaten their lives.
It was also found out from the report obtained by Street Journal that before the biometric registration of pensioners in the country, the Pension Office under the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation had misled the Federal Government in terms of the amount being paid as pension. Before the exercise, the office received the sum of N 5 billion every month as monthly releases for the payment of monthly pension and gratuity in respect of 141, 792 pensioners.
The biometric verification has however forced a sharp drop in the amount payable as it reduced by about N 3.4 billion. N 1.6 billion is now released monthly as pension.
To check the perpetration of fraud in the system, the PRTT recommended a clean sweep of all staff of the Pension Office, Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, who have been there for upward of six months; and an investigation of all observed fake and forged documents.