PENSION: “FRESH N35BN FRAUD ROCKS HEAD OF SERVICE”

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Former House of Representative member, Hon. Ngozika Ihuoma (pictured above), Executive Secretary, Legislative Watch, an Abuja-based NGO, in this exclusive interview with www.orijoreporter.com revealed so many deep revelations about the growing pension fraud in the nation and developments in the ruling PDP. Enjoy the interview reproduced unedited.

 Can we meet you sir?

I am Hon. Ihuoma Ngozika, the Executive Secretary of the Legislative Watch. Legislative Watch is a non-state actor and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that looks at the laws made for the operation of the legislature from local government, state and national on pension matters and other issues arising thereof.

For quite sometime, we have followed your activities on radio and television where you speak about the issues of pension in the country. What is the current assessment of that sector now? Nigerians are interested?

The issue of pension and its management and mismanagement is one issue that no Nigerian has ever had the courage to challenge until 2010 when Chief Stephen Orosanye, the then Head of Civil Service inaugurated a pension reform task team headed by Abdulrasheed Maina.

Before then, pensioners were seen littering all the streets of the country. The most worrisome is here in the FCT in areas like the military pension board Zone 4, office of the Head of Service itself were taken over by the retired civil servants who are called senior citizens.

They were living like destitute, they were homeless and they were abandoned and it did not attract anybody’s attention. From our own records we found that from 1999 when we came back to this democracy, Appropriations has been made by the National Assembly for payment of pensioners.

These monies have been equally released from the Head of Service and from other pension offices. Now, what Orosanye brought was a revolution because the young Abudulrasheed Maina and his team which were later found consisted of operatives of security agencies and other individual private organisations, consultancy agencies.

These well-meaning Nigerians went to work and they did what some of us have advocated for a very long time which is getting the biometric capture of the people involved in pension receipts, I have some evidence.

The task force met these people one on one, captured their biometric data. I happened to be in Owerri when the team arrived and I monitored what they did in Owerri and it was excellent, the fall out was they were able to reduce the ghost pensioners who have been receiving appropriation and getting payment but getting it to the wrong people.

All of a sudden this task team ran into a stormy water, the stormy water was created by the National Assembly, precisely, the Senate when they created a joint committee on public service, establishment, state and local government to look into the management of pension.

What gave rise to it happens to have been the achievements, the discovery and recoveries, the seizures that were achieved by the task team is what came through the media to the attention of Nigeria and the Senate moved in to ask what actually happened but unfortunately that action has become an albatross, the result today is that the hunters has become the hunted.

Why has Maina not been prosecuted for stealing N195billion according to what the Senate told Nigerians?

The Senate was not properly equipped or the members selected to do the investigation didn’t come to this committee with clean hands, I have always insisted that that committee is tainted because I addressed them twice. I addressed them on the issue of local government pension first in Enugu and then came back to address them the second time in the National Assembly in Abuja.

At the committee, I saw a macabre dance. I saw those who are being persecuted by EFCC and ICPC, though some of them have claimed to have accepted that they looted pension fund were given a five-star performance and protection by the committee.

And those who were responsible for their arrest, who were responsible for the seizures of 222 properties worth about N1.3trillion were now being put on the dock and were now being questioned.

At that point, some of us raised eye brows that the issue at stake has been lost even though there were false accusations of money stolen by Maina. Some of us who believe in the fact didn’t want to be told that lie. The report that eventually came out from the Senate suggested that the task team has taken away over N195 billion became a problem because from the records we are able to see that the task team have no budget of their own, the task team could not approve funds, were not accountable.

Okay, let me put it this way, from the Senate’s claim, the period covering about five years (2004 to 2009) when the N195b was stolen didn’t tally with the assignment of the task force. The task team came in 2010.

Maina and his task team members by the Senate’s allegation have stolen N195billion before they were appointed into office. Now, go back to the agencies the Senate named as where Maina stole the monies, these agencies have no business with the PRTT even now.

The Senate was misled, misinformed and brought to international ridicule by the same people she has trusted with a duty.

So what do you think is the way out of this quagmire by the Senate? Your experience in the House of Representatives should guide a qualitative advise in this instance.

Truth of the matter is that the Senate must be a magnanimous institution which like every human being can make mistakes and have the room to correct same.

There are so many hounourable people in the Assembly. I and some of us who know the truth have told some of our friends therein, let the Senate take another look at the whole development.

The Senate should like a good father invite Abdulrasheed Maina and his team to come and brief the Senate. From there, the whole truth will become clear. After that, Nigerians will expect the Senate to go ahead and empower the task force, mandate them to do other investigations and go into the remaining 40 pension offices in the land including local governments.

I promise you one thing, if only two or three pension offices have shown over N2trillion fraud, imagine what will come out from 40 other pension offices. Imagine what will come out of local government pensions. Saw what happened in the local government pension offices in Oyo state involving almost N2billion?

The new Senate committee on the oversight function on pension should ask, they have appropriated funds for the nation’s pensioners, it is a law, why were the same pensioners not paid, yet the monies were spent. Who got then spent the monies? That is the criminal part of the Appropriation Act. Who got punished? How much was recovered?

The event that played out when the Senate descended on the person of Abdulrasheed Maina shows that something went wrong somewhere. That which went wrong must be addressed.

Maina went to court, as a law maker, what do you think of the judgment in regard to the Rule of Law as that court order has been consistently refused to be carried out by the Executive arm of government? Maina is suffering dismissal which has been declared illegal, null and void.

The judgment which the legal minds call a legal classicus will remain a reference point for decades in legislative operations in the country and even in the issue of human rights.

For the first time since 1999 the operation of the National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly and local government legislature, have not been subjected to any strong legal test, until Maina took the Senate on on this issue.

Of course, the judgment was clear, section 88(1) says if you pass a resolution that resolution must be put in your journal or in the official gazette and the essence of that is that those who are not part of parliament should be put in the know.

You don’t touch the power to arrest people by surprise. What we discovered over time is that the National Assembly, state Houses of Assembly and local government legislature have been taking Nigerians for a ride because they sit in their chambers, pass resolutions and go after the implementation of their resolutions by themselves.

The issue is now clear, when people are aware that they are being investigated, parliamentary resolutions are normally supposed to put in their official journals and gazettes so that everybody who are concerned start getting ready and equip yourself to appear before them, that they didn’t do in the case of Maina and so many others but it happened that Maina has been the only person who took the courage to go to court to challenge that.

Now after the court judgment, Maina ordinarily should have walked back uninhibited the following day to his office. The court order has not been implemented. They have turned the court order to a political issue because the National Assembly went a step further accusing the president of backing Maina and asking him to make a choice.

That Senate resolution has made the Maina case a real political issue, it has left the legal horizon. Today, what we have noticed is that its a political game going on, what is important is that he has won his case, its in his favour. No matter the number of years it will take them to obey that court’s order, what is right must be done because the court has pronounced that if the warrant of arrest issued on him was illegal and of course, the process of that investigation was not commenced properly which means as far as am concerned he still remains the Chairman of PRTT. PRTT is still alive whether they like it or not until they do what the law has asked them to do.

Recently, we have had reports of renewed fraud in the office of the Head of Civil Service, which is running close to about N35billion in the last three months. Six top officials of the committee to replace PRTT are in ICPC net being investigated. The revelations and recoveries are said to be massive. What’s your take on this sir if you are aware of these developments?

I am aware. We have been following the developments. I am a consultant with the PRTT. The members of the anti-graft agencies in the PRTT have continued to work while the PRTT seems to be on suspension. It was in that process that so many arrests have been made. The revelations and recoveries are massive. In a matter of days, if things go on as planned, some people will be taken to court.

It is not a new thing. The current Head of Service, Abba Aji Goni, was on record to be the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Police Affairs when the issue of the N32.8billion for which those earlier arrested by the PRTT are being prosecuted by the EFCC. These include the recent cases of Mrs. Cyril Attang and Abubakar Kigo whose properties were ordered frozen by a court last week.

That issue has not been addressed. Who shielded Goni from prosecution? What has happened now in the Head of Civil Service is a continuation of what he used to do when he headed Police Pension office.

In which case, the prosecution being undertaken by the EFCC in the N32.8b Police Pension Office, are you saying the current Head of Civil Service, was Permanent Secretary that presided over that fraud?

Yes, he is. It is on record that most of the approvals of that fraud have his signature. How can he as the accounting officer be shielded and promoted to become Head of Civil Service when those who worked under him, including John Yusuf, are being prosecuted?

How can this volume of crime which bears his signature have taken place without him as accounting officer being prosecuted?

Is it feasible to say that the current Head of Service is behind the resurgence of the criminal past which the PRTT exposed, and or even the refusal to admit Maina and the PRTT back in accordance to the orders of that court?

When you ask about the judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja, you can now see that the man who is supposed to have given effect to the judgment of the court, to bring the PRTT back to continue their work has his own agenda. That agenda is to make sure the PRTT does not come back to work so that the fraud that has bedevilled this pension office would continue. It has been an ongoing event. Its not a surprise. That place has been a cesspool of corruption. Thank God that the ICPC is doing a good job to have caught and will soon expose the latest corruption therein.

Is President Goodluck Jonathan complicit in this matter? If Abba Aji Goni’s record is in the public domain, and the President went on to appoint him as Head of Service, the Senate accused Jonathan of supporting Maina, they said, take Maina or take us, has Maina been sacrificed as a pawn in the face of the new facts you have released?

The President would have sent Goni’s name to the security agencies. The security agencies cleared him for the appointment. With these developments, it is clear that those security agencies did a shoddy job. The President will act on security reports. It’s the security apparatai that did a shoddy job. They should have known that the man headed the Police Affairs when the monumental fraud of N32.8billion Police Pension fraud was perpetrated.

I think and believe that if such a record had been brought to the knowledge of the President he would not have appointed him. On the second part of your question, the pension cabal is now using the resolution of the Senate on Maina as basis to ensure that Maina and the PRTT never returns. Maina will be vindicated because the fraud which the ICPC is now exposing will let the Senate realise that Maina afterall is not the thief.

This development will let Nigerians realise that the Head of Civil Service, Abba Aji Goni, is the man to look at as against Nigerians.

Pensioners have returned to suffering days. Appropriated funds are not getting to their accounts. ICPC has broken a new ice, what needs to be done to ensure pensioners’ pains are eliminated?

First of all, PRTT must be returned immediately. Former Director General of PENCOM, the current Director of Budget, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, Chief Stephen Orosanye amongst many told the Senate Committee how worthy the tasks of the PRTT had been. They gave clear cut evidences of what the PRTT has done.

By the way, whenever you fight corruption, corruption will fight you back. The PRTT biometric data is the only way out to ensure equity and justice.

Nigerians must demand that everybody who participated in the looting of the nation’s pension should be tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. The injustice of using their position to cheat those who truly served this nation deserves to face the ICC. They should end up in prison.

The factionalisation crisis in the ruling PDP, what is your take on this sir?

Politics in Nigeria has not been practised as service to humanity. It has always been personal savings. Savings has always been about investments. Nigerian politicians must imbibe the principles of service and not savings.

Every Nigerian politician, not only in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) alone, it is the same in all the political parties, are in savings and service.

The politicians in the PDP are all businessmen. They have investments all over the places. They won’t want their investments to go down. They will always make up. They will want to share their loots and savings.

In the last 14 years of our democracy, they know how much they have stolen from the nation’s commonwealth. They will want it to continue. So they will want it to continue and therefore, they will make up.

The fight in the PDP is not on principles. It is a survival fight. Nigerians should not lose their sleep over the current crisis in the PDP. They should watch the home video presented by the PDP. It will soon end when money flows. It is the absence of free money that is causing their fight.

 

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