Following the uncovering of over N157 billion pension fraud, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, on Tuesday drew the battle line.
He said the EFCC will put an end to the rot in the nation’s pension system.
EFCC’s Director of Operations Abdulkarim Chukkol confirmed that the anti-graft agency had investigated alleged pension fraud cases of over N157 billion.
Bawa, who spoke in Abuja at the opening of a two-day sensitisation programme on eradication of pension fraud in Nigeria, said the commission would enforce the laws against fraud.
He said: “Nigeria, for many years, operated the Defined Benefit Scheme until 2004 when the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo came up with the pension industry reforms that heralded the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS).
“At the time, the new scheme was considered the antidote to fix all the problems and imperfection of the old order. But two decades into operating the CPS, it is obvious that while we may have taken some steps forward, we are still very far from our destination.
“We cannot say exactly how much is lost to pension fraud in financial terms, bearing in mind that most cases are unreported or under- reported. But at the EFCC, we have investigated and documented hundreds of billions of naira lost to fraud in the pension industry.
“However, beyond the money, there is also the unquantifiable loss of dignity in the retiree who has to grovel and beg (and even die in some instances) in order to access his contributions. It is the shame of a nation that those who have contributed their most productive years to us in various capacities have to go through hell to live in retirement.
“At the EFCC, we find that a significant chunk of the cases we encounter while investigating public sector corruption is inexorably linked to the desperate efforts of the worker to escape the pitiable conditions he sees of today’s retirees.
“Our mandate, as the coordinating agency for the enforcement of all economic and financial crimes laws in Nigeria, has made the EFCC very conversant with the rot in the pension system.
“Our investigative activities in the sub-sector, especially in respect of the Police Pension Office and the Pension Office of the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, among others, exposed us to a mind-boggling range of fraudulent practices that cut across all players in the industry.”
Bawa assured all that the turnaround of the nation’s pension system was around the corner.
He added: “I am fully persuaded that the turnaround of the Nigeria pension system requires a broad national consensus, which must start with the maximisation of the impact of this summit.
“At the EFCC, whilst we are actuating our preventive mandate by this summit, among other programmes soon to be rolled out, we will continue to vigorously enforce all the laws against fraud in Nigeria.
“I assure you that we are both willing and able to do all that is necessary today to ensure that tomorrow, when we all cross to the other side of the road in retirement, we will truly live the life of the models in the PFA adverts and commercials!
“Indeed, I am extremely optimistic that the reforms in pension administration and fraud prevention that will be the natural outcomes of this summit will be urgently implemented by all stakeholders for the instant and sustained benefit of everyone.”
The EFCC chairman said as far as President Muhammadu Buhari was concerned, there is no deficit of political will to tackle corruption in the country.
He said: “…I can tell you that one thing that is incontestable as far as Mr. President is concerned, is that when it comes to the fight against corruption, there is no deficit of political will to take hard and difficult decisions.
“Let me reiterate that the sole objective driving this initiative, our sole dream, is for Nigeria to have a pensions system that is transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of its most important, most venerable and most vulnerable stakeholder – the pensioner.
“It is our belief that in pooling our resources and expertise together, we can break the cycle of fraud, inefficiency and mutual distrust in the Nigerian pensions system.”
EFCC Operations Director Chukkol said between 2010 and 2016, there were 21 petitions on alleged pension fraud of about N111 billion.
He said: “There was a case of 554 pensioners whose entitlements were going into one person’s account.
“EFCC has investigated alleged pension cases of over N157 billion. Including a special case of N19.5 billion and a case of N5 billion traced to a director.
“From our investigations, 70 per cent of the money meant to pay pensioners went to private pocket. We have tried our best and we have been able to recover so much and secured 11 convictions.
“We discovered that a lot of pension offices don’t have the database and where they have, they don’t update it. There is always room for diversion of pension funds.
“Most people working in pension office are very, very rich. We are going to work to see that the whole system is changed. We have Pension Investigation Units in 14 zones. Investigators are in all the zones.”
SOURCE: THE NATION