Written by Demola Abimboye Friday, 25 May 2012
Abdurasheed Maina, head, Pension Reform Task Team, directors and other officers saddled with the responsibilities of managing pension funds in Nigeria are a personification of a nation that has lost its conscience going by the various revelations of how they mindlessly looted the funds in their charge
This week, Nigerians will be treated to another round of report of humongous fraud in the administration of pension schemes in this country as the Senate Joint Committee on Establishment and Public Service and States and Local Government Affairs turns in its findings before the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
In the past couple of months, revelations of embezzlement of billions of naira had come to the limelight at the public hearings of the committee. And the major character – Abdurasheed Maina, boss of the Customs, Immigration and Prison Pension Office, CIPPO, in Gwagwalada, Abuja, who was picked to head the Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, in June 2011 - had remained like the proverbial hypocrite who the Bible admonished in Luke 6 verse 39-42 to remove the log in his eyes before he can see the straw in other people’s eyes.
Newswatch‘s investigation showed that by last week Wednesday, May 16, Maina was yet to submit CIPPO for probe by the lawmakers. To thousands of retirees of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, who have thronged CIPPO since 2007 when they were retired, Maina may not be the messiah the system needs after all.
For almost five years now, the retirees have been battling CIPPO for the correct severance packages due to them. And although Maina was at the helm of affairs before he became PRTT boss, at least 73 of the retirees have died while waiting for their dues. Most of them gave up the ghost as a result of depression occasioned by shame – they could not feed their dependants, pay children’s school fees or pay rents when due.
Exasperated, three of the men and women – Ayorinde Rotimi, Alawode Gbade Adekola and Kadiri Adekunle Abasi – acting under the aegis of Association of Downsized Customs Officers on September 16, 2010, got Rotimi Akeredolu, a senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to file a case at the Federal High Court, Ibadan, against the NCS, the National Income, Wages and Salaries Commission, NIWSC, CIPPO and the attorney- general of the federation and minister of justice.
In the originating summons in the suit marked FHC/IB/CS/94/2010, Akeredolu prayed the court to determine whether the severance packages, pension and other benefits accruable to the retirees as a result of their abrupt retirement from service on May 21, 2007 are not supposed to be calculated based on the Consolidated Paramilitary Salary Structure, CONPASS, which became effective in January 2007.
If the answer is yes, then the lawyer asked for a declaration that the defendants are in breach of the agreement with the plaintiffs and as such should pay all outstanding balances under the salary structure. He, thereafter, asked for an order for the NCS and NIWSC (first and second defendants) to pay the remaining balance of their entitlements. He backed the summons with a 21-paragraph affidavit deposed to by Adekola, one of the retirees.
The deponent told the court that the second NIWSC (second defendant) issued a circular with reference number SWC/S/04/S.306/1 dated January 18, 2007 and directed all government departments to pay CONPASS, a new salary structure approved by government with effect from January 1, 2007 immediately. This was effected by the defendants. But surprisingly, the defendant failed to pay their terminal benefits and severance packages based on CONPASS.
On September 22, 2008, the NCS had written CIPPO that having paid all the retired officers their CONPASS arrears from January to June 2007, severance packages, pensions and any other benefits accruable to them as a result of their abrupt retirement on May 21, 2007, should be calculated using CONPASS.
“The comptroller-general of Customs is hereby requesting that you use your good office and assist the service by appropriately amending the salary structure previously in the records of the downsized officers to read CONPASS so that the severance package and pensions of the affected officers are neither short calculated nor short paid,” the NCS wrote. R.M Akor, a deputy comptroller general, signed the letter.
On November 10, 2008, CIPPO wrote NSIWC: “It is important to clarify these issues as a matter of urgency by way of circulars, forwarded to CIPPO to serve as our authority to avoid a nationwide protest by our pensioners,” said Hassan Saleh, CIPPO director, at that time. On November 28, 2008, NSIWC replied CIPPO and attached three documents the most important being the CONPASS, which was applicable for the period January to June 2007 when the Customs men were retired. On December 18, 2008, Shamusideen Usman, then finance minister, at a meeting with the officials of the agencies and the retirees, said he could borrow from any bank to settle the matter once and for all.
Newswatch learnt that CIPPO calculated the severance packages based on CONPASS. Total money required to pay the distressed men was N4.5 billion. It promptly forwarded it to the ministry of finance. Many of the ex-officers couldn’t wait to receive their money. Some expected between N2.5 million and N5 million. But surprisingly, the men were short-changed and paid based on an old Harmonised Paramilitary Staff Salary, HAPSS. About N2.5 billion was believed to have been cornered by sharp CIPPO pension officers. Instructively, however, two years after the embattled pensioners instituted their suit at Ibadan, CIPPO has not filed a defence statement. And Maina has not appeared before the senators to allow them examine CIPPO’s books.
Aloysius Etok, chairman of the Senate Committee, told Newswatch: “When we invited him for CIPPO, he was here and after sometime, he said he had a call that either the wife or the daughter was not feeling well. He left and ever since, we have been inviting him. He will either write one kind of letter that he was with the House of Representatives committee going round or he was abroad going round. If we are doing an investigation, you must schedule your time well. When this other committee needs you, you come, when the other one needs you, you go. But we have discovered that he has blatantly refused to appear. Up till Tuesday, May 15, 2012, we invited him. He has continued to refuse to appear before our committee during the public hearing to defend himself on the numerous petitions and evidence of embezzlement, misappropriation, misapplication and outright stealing of pension funds that are backed up with original documents and exhibits that prove his culpability.”
Worried by Maina’s refusal to appear before the committee and present the state of affairs of CIPPO, the lawmakers on Tuesday, May 15, 2012, decided to invite the leadership of the various services that make up CIPPO. “Since he has not come to brief us, we decided that the men of the services come and tell us what is happening with their various pensions because those collecting the pensions are their men and women,” Etok said.
The NCS retirees’ case symbolised the rot that has characterised pension administration in Nigeria. Last Tuesday, May 15, Etok, ordered Mohammed Abubakar, the inspector-general of police, to issue warrants of arrest on Remi Olowude, managing director of Industrial and General Insurance Company, IGI, and members of the company’s management over alleged pension fraud. Etok said all of them must be brought to the chambers by 3 p.m on Tuesday, May 22, in handcuffs. “They have caused a lot of problems to the people,” he said.
According to the committee chairman, IGI is an underwriter insurance company dealing with many government agencies including the Nigeria Postal Service, NIPOST. Retirees of NIPOST have reportedly not been paid between one and six years of pensions. Adeniyi Adeleke, a representative of the retirees, told the Committee more than 100 retirees had died while waiting for their pensions. He also informed the Committee that although N4.6 billion was earmarked for the payment of pension arrears to NIPOST retirees in the 2009 Appropriation Bill, the office of the accountant-general reportedly did not release the money.
“The pensioners are dying. We are dying! The money is not being released. Any system that does not bring out money appropriated should be discarded,” he said. He demanded to know when the money would be paid. “My life will be in danger because my members will think I have compromised,” he said, adding “payment to underwriters should be stopped.”
On June 9, 2011, Oladapo Afolabi, then head of service of the federation, appointed Maina to oversee the operations of the Police Pension Office, PPO, for a period of three months. He also mandated him to “restructure the entire operations and processes of the Police Pension Office” and handover to the new director of PPO. But as soon as he got the order, the CIPPO boss took over the management of the office by allegedly assuming the role of accounting officer of PPO.
Barely three months in power, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in a letter with reference number HMF/FMF/2011/19 dated September 19, 2011, engaged KPMG, an audit firm, to assist the government with an examination and review of the public service pension scheme, with particular reference to the operations of the current police pension scheme. Its chief assignment was to identify the current constraints in completing the mandate of Maina’s team; advise on a roadmap to ensure adequate completion of the reforms in these sector to ensure adequate accountability by all the active players in the reform process; examine the bank account into which police pension funds were deposited to ensure the strictest accountability and integrity of the accounts and advise the minister of finance on policy reform and the governance structure in the operation of the bank accounts associated with the police pension scheme.
When the audit firm turned in its report, Maina was found to have dipped hands into the police pension funds dishing out largesse to top government functionaries under the guise of travelling abroad for biometric capture of just 20 police pensioners. It noted that Maina mismanaged hundreds of millions and illegally moved billions of naira among banks in Lagos and Abuja.
Documents showed that Maina included Hafiz Ringim, former inspector general of police and John Haruna, the late deputy inspector general of police, in the list of 14 men for biometric exercise in the United Kingdom. He paid them N2,386,000 and N1,475,600 respectively. KPMG said it could not confirm those who made the trip. Many other top government functionaries – Ibrahim Lamorde, boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Farida Waziri, his predecessor, Bright Okogwu, director- general of the Budget Office, Afolabi and Samuel Ukura, auditor general of the federation, also got millions for the foreign trips to Ghana and the United States of America. In all, about N140 million of PPO funds that was not budgeted for foreign trips, was spent by Maina.
Said the report: “There were discrepancies between the schedules of the 70 supposed beneficiaries of the estacode, which were attached to the various memos prepared by Yusuf and approved by Maina, and the schedules of the 70 beneficiaries of the payments that were attached to the various e-payment schedules sent to Unity Bank for the payment of the estacode. We also identified six instances where more than one payment of estacode was made to the same one bank account.
In respect of the two estacode payments of N2,738,000, each paid into his bank account, Christian Madubuike, a grade level six officer at PPO, stated that the two payments totalling N5,467,000 were collected by him and handed over to Yusuf (assistant director, PPO) at the latter’s instance. Madubuike confirmed that he did not travel to Atlanta for any exercise. The e-payment schedule sent to Unity Bank for the payment of the two estacode was approved by Yusuf himself and Magaji, and endorsed by Maina.”
Madubuike told the auditors that he was not aware of the payments but was “informed about it by his boss, Yusuf, who directed him to withdraw the funds and deliver them to him.” He withdrew the funds on July 20, 2011 and handed them over to Yusuf same day. Yet, Yusuf, approved two estacode payments for himself totalling N4.7 million. He first got N2.1 million for a New York trip and received the second payment of N2.6 million in place of one Mohammed Dauda whose name appeared on the list of travellers’ voucher but was missing on the e-payment schedule.
Abdullahi Umar, deputy director at PPO, got three estacode payments totalling N6.9 million for the same trip. He was paid N2 million as estacode for spending a day in New York. He claimed that he handed over N2.386 million to Maina’s secretary and the third allocation of N2.386 million to one Mrs. Papka as her estacode.
Some people have, however, returned the unsolicited loot. One such person is Polycarp Iber of EFCC. On July 26, 2011, he wrote Maina and asked for the federal government sub-head/account number from which the estacode was paid to him so he could refund N2.68 million estacode and allowances of the trip he did not make. He also stated in the letter that he would return N4.854 million mistakenly paid into his bank account but was meant for another beneficiary.
“In respect of the exercise outside Nigeria, Maina approved at least N140,238,081 to be paid as estacode to 70 persons for the purpose of monitoring the data capturing exercise outside Nigeria. This amount was more than the budgetary/statutory allocation of N80 million to PPO as pension running costs for 2011. Each memo seeking approval of payment of the estacode was prepared by Yusuf and approved by Maina. The estacode was paid out of PPO account with Unity Bank. With the exception of one tranche, all payments were already debited to PPO account with Unity Bank (on 14 or 15 July 2011) prior to the date of the memo (8 August 2011) by Yusuf to Maina seeking approval of the payment,” the report said, adding “Similarly, with the exception of one, each tranche of payment was already debited to PPO account with Unity Bank (on 14 or 15 July 2011) prior to the date of the approval of the payment by Maina (on 9 August 2011).”
The report revealed that the PRTT opened a bank account number 201785907, with the First Bank, Maitama branch in June 2011, without the approval of the accountant general of the federation, AGF. Maina opened bank account numbers 50330024748 and 101556733 with Fidelity Bank and UBA, respectively, prior to obtaining the AGFs approval issued on 9 August 2011. He opened bank account number 201785907, with First Bank, Maitama branch in June 2011. Subsequently, by a letter dated 14 July 2011, with reference number PPO/CWB/VOL1/12 and signed by Maina, Umaru and Yusuf, the manager of First Bank, Ikeja branch, was instructed to close the two PPO accounts maintained by the branch account numbers 1882030003674 and 18820300011264 and the balances therein moved to PPO’s bank account number 606204000231 at First Bank, Maitama, Abuja branch.
But Maina told KPMG’s officials that his team did not need to obtain a separate approval from the AGF to open the First Bank account in Maitama because the approval obtained for the opening of the initial accounts at First Bank, Ikeja, covered all other subsequent accounts opened with First Bank. However, the AGF on 10 October, 2011, stated that he issues approvals for the opening of bank accounts on a case by case basis. “We noted that the account opening process for the Fidelity Bank and UBA accounts in question commenced on 16 June 2011 and 21 June 2011, respectively, but the approval by the AGF to open an account each with Fidelity Bank and UBA was granted on 9 August, 2011. Thus, although request had been made for approval for opening of these accounts, the accounts were opened before the approval was received from the AGF,” the report said.
Maina charged back that a powerful syndicate was fleecing government monthly for the payment of police pensions. He said the PPO was getting about N1.5 billion whereas only about N500 million was required, thus resulting in excess of about N1 billion per month. The excess had accumulated to about N28 billion over time. This accumulated amount was lodged in various bank accounts. He alleged that Afolabi appointed his first cousin as director of PPO in order to assist him in diverting part of this excess fund from the police pension accounts.
He said the head of service had succeeded in fraudulently withdrawing N119,979,952.85 from the account of PPO with First Bank, allegedly to pay police pensions even though he was not a signatory to the account. But the HOSF said the sum was for the payment of gratuity and pension arrears of 665 retired police officers who were already on pension payroll.
At one of the committee’s sittings, Madueke, a grade level six officer, revealed how his account was used to siphon over N30 billion between the year 2007 and 2011.
He said that 10 persons in the pension office who operated an account with a local branch of First Bank Nigeria PLC were used for that purpose. All their accounts were domiciled with John Yusuf who oversaw the entire operation. As soon as monies were sent to the accounts, it would be withdrawn and handed over to accountant.
In his submission, however, Toyin Ishola, an assistant chief accountant in the PPO, said Maina never recovered the billions of naira he boasts of. He said the monies had been deposited in accounts which were ordered frozen by the minister of finance following fraud allegations in the PPO. “First Bank, Maitama has N10 billion, Fidelity Bank N8 billion, UBA N3 billion, Ecobank N3 billion and GTB, N3 billion. This money forms part of the N31 billion that the chairman of the task team said he recovered, but they have been there in frozen accounts,” he said.
But Maina insisted last week that he had recovered over N159 billion in property and cash from pension fraudsters. According to him, Top of Form
N33 billion was discovered by his team and was promptly reported to the EFCC. “This colossal loot which is made up of cash and landed properties was recovered from “fleece master” of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation Pension Office before the PRTT was set up. The persons involved have admitted their wrong doing.
“In the same vein, £6million laundered by former administration of Pension Office was recovered and is presently invested with Crown Agents, London. Another N28 billion was saved from the restructuring of the Police Pension Office, yet the team was directed to stop the restructuring halfway. These funds are currently lodged in some banks. PRTT equally discovered ingenious but illegal withdrawals 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. Such illegal withdrawals amounted to N14 billion. The PRTT assisted by the law enforcement agencies have made substantial recovery of the said stolen monies. A certain staff of the Police Pension Office turned in N1 billion cash. Another three surrendered 3 luxury estates with about 27 blocks of deluxe flats they built in Abuja”, he said.
He also told Newswatch that his team has verified genuine pensioners. While the old data claimed there were 141,000 on pay roll, his men confirmed only 71,000.
As proof of Maina’s efforts, the EFCC, has seized many properties belonging to Sani Teidi Shuaibu, a former director, Pension Administration in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. Currently he is standing trial over a N4.56 billion Pension scam. The interim forfeiture is sequel to an order of Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in the case number FHC/ABJ/ CR28/2011. A list of the schedules of properties/assets of Teidi, which the court ordered, taken over by the EFCC are number 24, Ahmadu Musa Crescent, Jabi, Abuja; Brefina Hotel on Plot 1106, beside MTN warehouse, adjacent to Vines Hotel, Durumi, Abuja; house number 1, Shuaibu Close, opposite Governor’s House, Idah Riba-Ile Petroleum Ltd; MRS Ajaka (registered as Riba-Ile Oil Ltd and MRS Idah station, Idah, registered with Hammo Oil, Nigeria. Others are the NNPC Mega station, Idah junction, Ayingba, registered with Hammo Oil Nig. Ltd; MRS Filling Station at Ganaja, Lokoja, registered with A.Y Ted Oil Ltd; a mansion opposite Federal Polytechnic, Idah; SunTrust Properties Company Ltd, Plot B59, Dawaki Extension, Bwari Area Council, Abuja and an estate of about 10 bungalows at Dantata Street, Nyanyan, FCT, Abuja.
The properties taken over by the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the EFCC included two choice buildings in Idah. One is located at 1, Shuaibu Close, G.R.A. The sprawling compound has an architectural master piece of eight bedroom twin duplexes, five units of 2 bedroom apartments, two-room security house and a mosque. The second directly opposite Federal Polytechnic, Okenya, Idah, is an unpainted one story duplex with multiple sitting rooms and apartments built within.
Shuaibu is facing trial alongside Aliyu Bello, his personal assistant and Phina Ukamaka Chidi, a former deputy director, finance and accounts in the pension office, office of the head of service. They are charged alongside 30 companies with diversion of pension funds, abuse of office, using ghost pensioners to pay N2million and N3million into their accounts monthly and diversion of the same amount through award of fictitious contracts to companies which they manage.
Similarly, an Abuja High Court at Gudu, is trying Atiku Abubakar Kigo, permanent secretary in the office of the head of the civil service of the federation, and five others for alleged complicity in the illegal diversion of N32.8billion from the PPO between January 2009 and June 2011. Others being tried with Kigo in the 16-count charge are Esai Dangabar, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, John Yakubu Yusufu, Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula and Sani Habila Zira.
As the Senate Joint Committee probing the N2 trillion pension fraud rounds up its work this week, Nigerians await with bated breath whether the findings will be treated with levity by government like previous ones.
Reported by Anza Phillips and Haruna Salami.
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