There perhaps, has never been a more depressing time for millions of much exasperated and helpless Nigerians to come to terms with the reality, that their dear nation is, indeed, in a firm grip of all manner of ravenous ‘cabals’.
These unbecoming developments certainly, have combined to pique informed Nigerians to become deeply cynical about both the competence of the Government through its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to run anything efficiently, let alone its staggered effort at fighting corruption in the land.
Some unrepentant looters and economic saboteurs, including the heartless pension funds fraudsters have mindlessly ripped Nigeria, a nation generally adjudged the sixth largest producer of Crude Oil, of its massive wealth meant for the good of millions of the citizenry. And, this time, retired senior citizens deserving their survival money are the worst hit.
The scale of frauds in the Federal pension scheme is just huge, shocking and scandalous, in that disheartening stories involving very senior officials, including a Permanent Secretary and Directors of the Pensions Office who stole billions of Naira have continued to emerge. The revelations followed the continual probe into the activities of the Pensions Office and the Police Pension Funds among others.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the ongoing investigation into the pension fraud allegations, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in conjunction with Pension Verification Committee, purportedly discovered N180million, N500million and $2million in the account of certain a Deputy Director (Finance and Accounts), and N12million in the account of 29-year-old lady, who is also a clerk in the office, among others who equally shared in various sums in the pension booty.
Suddenly, as the Senate Committee on Pension Matters’ probe progressed, members of the Committee started unearthing more startling revelations of pension frauds running into several billions of Naira. According to Senator Aloysius Etok, Chairman, Senate Committee on Pension Matters, the Committee has been making efforts at tracing the bank accounts where the stolen money is.
Thus far, reports have indicated stolen pension funds, ranging from sums of N2billion, N3billion, N4.6billion, N9billion, N25billion, N32.8billion to N152billion have been discovered by the Pension Reform Task Force Team on different occasions in the course of investigation. It is simply paradoxical and appalling in a nation that parades a frustrated army of unemployed but qualified youths, decayed social infrastructure and prostrate small and medium scale enterprise (SME) sector.
Specifically, during the ‘physical’ recovery of the looted funds, a staff of the Police Pension Office reportedly brought out N1billion cash, whereas another surrendered three luxury estates with about 27 blocks of deluxe flats he built in Abuja. Yet, a whopping sum of N2billion 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.
Nevertheless, while many are still trying to imagine keeping even N1million cash in their bedrooms in these uncertain times, the pension funds looters, through some Nigerian commercial banks were able to effect illegal withdrawals, using multiple cheques in fictitious names. Alarmingly, it was revealed that they were able to do that in excess of 30 cheques per day to withdraw cash from their bankers, amounting to over N14billion. Sickening!
While all these frauds, ordinarily, could have been attributed to the utter negligence of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in observing its regulatory responsibilities effectively over time, Mr. Muhammad Ahmad, Director-General, PenCom, however, defended his organisation before the Senate Committee by disclosing that the pension departments have been uncooperative with PenCom in terms of compliance. He had said: “… the Commission is unable to exert supervisory control over the pension offices as they have little regard for the Commission’s supervisory role over them in clear violation of sections 30 to 38 of the PRA (Pension Reform Act) 2004.”
This declaration by Ahmad is an unflattering indictment of the heads of various pension offices. Their laissez-faire attitude to do well what their constitutional responsibilities require of them must have instigated the widespread and mindless looting of retirees’ funds.
The Government, through its pension regulatory authorities in conjunction with anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC) must ensure these barefaced violators of PRA 2004 are made to bear the full wrath of the law. This will serve as a deterrent to potential perpetrators in the future.
In tightening the seemingly loose financial system, the CBN needs to sit up and apply weighty sanctions against any bank account managers or branch managers of commercial banks allegedly involved in those illegal transactions. Ironically, same copies of CBN’s policy on such infractions are usually displayed conspicuously in their banking halls. Still, 30 cheque leaflets by pension thieves were honoured in just a day to make illegal withdrawals without blowing the whistle on them.
The Government definitely has to do more in terms of restoring hope in the citizenry through good governance. Scores of Nigerians are too fearful of what the future has in store for them and their dependents in terms of self-realisation and improved standard of living. Hence, the warped mindset to furiously loot as much as they can at the slightest opportunity many have to access the public and oftentimes, private treasuries.
As part of the major responsibilities of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Nigerians necessarily need to be re-oriented on the importance of industry in creating enduring wealth. Helpless pensioners and their dependents, unduly, must not be made to suffer, having used their active years to render services to their fatherland. To quote the well-timed title of MTN’s Mr. Kola Oyeyemi’s recently launched book, urging Nigerians to uphold integrity in their drive to attain prosperity: you can create “Wealth without Theft”. Can’t you?