More than a dozen officials of the Farida Waziri-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) were part of an oversized government team sent abroad last year for a pensioners’ biometric verification that cost the nation N240 million, testimonies at the senate pension probe said.
The 85-member team which visited several countries including the United States, had names drawn from the anti-corruption body, the police, as well as the federal pensions task team, headed by Abdulraheed Maina.
The mission, described by lawmakers as outsized, was approved by Mr. Maina and the immediate past head of the commission, Farida Waziri.
Senior government officials, including the present head of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, and a former Head of Service of the federation, Oladapo Afolabi, were reportedly part of the mission, and all received travel grants.
Mr. Lamorde and Mr. Afolabi, both in attendance at the Senate Establishment and Public Service committee hearing Friday, denied making the trip or receiving the allowances, as claimed in documents provided to the committee by police authorities in support of claims of reckless spending by Mr. Maina.
The EFCC chief, Mr. Lamorde, however confirmed knowledge of the trip, which was undertaken while he served as EFCC’s director of operations, and said he was contacted to be part, but he declined to attend to other functions.
Other EFCC nominees proceeded with the exercise, Mr. Lamorde said, but insisted he was unaware of the number of beneficiaries.
Each of the 85 members on the mission was paid at least a million naira in estacode – a travel allowance; and only a disproportionate 20 retirees were captured during the exercise, the police, the EFCC and the pension team confirmed in separate testimonies.
Mr. Maina himself, got N4.8million for the trip.
The details, provided by the police pension unit, were backed by multiple documents, but lawmakers are yet to establish whether some of the names were fictitious as Mr. Lamorde and Mr. Afolabi suspected, or whether bank details used for the payments, listed against each name, truly matched the names.
But they proved a vital point, which was not rebutted by any party, including Mr. Maina or the EFCC: that N240 million was spent on 85 travelers on a foreign verification trip that produced 20 pensioners.
Lawmakers viewed that as a key evidence underscoring how the Task Team, drafted as a “saviour” for an abused pension scheme, as Aloysius Etok, chairman of the senate committee put it, suddenly became too powerful with an apparently unbridled spending.
In 2011 for instance, the team under Mr. Maina spent N480 million against budgeted N80 million. Despite the high running cost, the team saved as much as N74 billion for the nation, from ghost pensioners that thrived before he came aboard.
The success of the team was confirmed by Finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who attended the hearings today. Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said she was proud of the achievements, that she counted on Mr. Maina’s briefings about fraud in the police pension administration, passing N15billion.
Those irregularities, proven by the audit firm, KPMG, informed her decision to freeze the police pension fund, excluding those meant for monthly pension payments only.
“I noticed there was a struggle between the police pension unit, the task team and the Head of Service office, and it was confusing. So we needed to sort these things out first,” she said.
The police said it wants its pensions operations restored to it, away from the task team which has remained in charge since 2010.
“This honourable committee should help us put an end to this menace and return police pension office to its former glory by removing the task force in police pension office,” Toyin Ishola, the Assistant Chief Accountant, police pensions unit, told the lawmakers.
The police testimonies against Mr. Maina, proved most detailed and acerbic, during a dramatic hearing that has been marked by shocking revelations.
Mr. Maina’s arrest warrant issued by the senate was withdrawn on Friday. His responses at the session, were atimes convoluted, but hardly remorseful even for cases he admitted full knowledge of.
Asked by the chairman of the senate committee, Mr. Etok, whether spending N480 million when his budget was only N80 million for the year, was right, he answered brusquely, “It was right sir, very right.”
He initially admitted making one of the trips to Atlanta, Georgia, US, but later recanted. He said the list used was approved by the former EFCC chairperson, Mrs. Waziri, since some of the commission’s operatives work with the task team.
He refused to give details on the foreign cost, directing all enquiries to an unavailable accountant.
He however confirmed that Mr. Lamorde did not make the trip abroad although others did, and that he returned his allowance even when the available documents stated otherwise.
Later Friday evening, Mr. Maina was escorted by a team of State Security operatives and police to the SSS post in the National Assembly. A source said he was expected to be questioned and released as the office has no holding facility.