Government wasted billions on fake pension claims for years

Former head of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina.

Federal budgets for pension far exceeded the required figures, and funds were appropriated for at least 117,000 phony retirees for several years with the knowledge of top government officials, according to testimonies at the ongoing Senate pension management hearing.

The revelations made on Wednesday, came a day after former Head of Service of the federation, Steve Oronsaye, portrayed  the entire pension scheme as a huge scam fraught with falsification of names and inflated cost.

Ironically, it was Mr. Oronsaye, who illustrated the rot and how he tackled it, that stood accused of presenting varied figures of retirees before lawmakers for yearly pension budgets, while computing a lesser figure for the true beneficiaries.

The chairman of the senate committee investigating the pension management, Aloysius Etok, asked the former Head of Service if he had not deliberately worked with two figures, one for budgeting purposes, and another for verification.

The former amounted to 258,000, while the later, the supposed real figures of pension beneficiaries, stood at 141,000.

Mr. Oronsaye had explained how corruption in the administration of pensions, and the collusion of government officials particularly in the Federal Pension Office, informed his decision to entrust pension payments to a task team, headed by a deputy director in his office, Maina Abdulrasheed.

The team, set up in June 2010, drew down the number of beneficiaries from 258,000 to 141,000, and reduced total payments from more than N2 billion to N825million monthly.

The effort has helped save up to N74 billion for the government, Mr. Abdulrasheed confirmed to the lawmakers.

Lawmakers pressed that ahead of the team’s formation, which itself they ruled illegal and asked for its disbandment, and even after, Mr. Oronsaye and past Heads of Service had knowingly presented a higher number of pension beneficiaries for budget allocation, and used a lower figure to compute claims.

Mr. Oronsaye admitted he had “always knew” the allocated monies were in excess of what was needed. He however claimed ignorance of whether or not the funds were actually disbursed monthly from the federation account.

“I do know that it was monthly allocation, but I cannot confirm whether it was full,” he said when asked whether entire appropriated figures, which were clearly outsized, were released.

“I cannot recollect. I am sure the account officers can give that information. I was the Head of Service,” he told the lawmakers.

Details of how the scheme has been administered for years have featured revelations of horrific abuses that have shocked even the lawmakers.

On Wednesday, a senator from Osun state, Mudashiru Hussain, frustrated with the allegations and counter allegations, bizarrely threatened to leave Nigeria declaring that he was “fed up” with the alarming degree of corruption.

In one case cited by the Task team head, Mr. Abdulrasheed, a large number of claimants who had arrived in 18 buses for their pay, were downsized to only 18 persons after verification. In another, 25-year-olds were claiming to have been born in 1920s, and laying claims to pensions in University of Jos.

Nearly all of the abuses were carried out with the support of officials of the pension office, Mr. Oronsaye said. Even some members of the task team aided the rot, necessitating the inclusion of officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) and the Independent National Corrupt Practices Commission(ICPC) on the team.



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