In bemoaning the extent to which corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation, former senate president, Mr. Adolphus Wabara, said at the weekend:” Sometimes I watch the television and feel that the other name for Nigeria is corruption. In America and other countries, they have hurricanes and other natural disasters. It, however, appears to me that Nigeria has its own natural disaster, which is corruption.”
Whatever the misgivings anybody may have about that seeming generalisation, we should all have cause to be worried about the rate at which our country is being systematically looted on virtually all fronts. The continuous revelations of monumental fraud being perpetrated at the Police Pensions Office alone lend credence to Wabara's assertion. Perhaps more bizarre in this incredible story of graft is the arrest last week of a serving permanent secretary who was said to have in his possession the sum of N2 billion in cash!
Details of the racket as revealed before the Senate committee showed that officials of the board falsified documents to withdraw N24 billion from the Budget Office for the payment of pensions that required only N3.5 billion. These civil servants also falsified death certificates in order to claim the benefits of supposedly dead pensioners. Incidentally, the fraud took place right inside the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. In a classic, only-in-Nigeria revelation, the syndicate behind the scam made daily withdrawals of up to N300 million from banks through issuance of multiple cheques with fictitious names--all with the knowledge and collaboration of senior government officials.
Obviously piqued by the sordid revelations, Senate President David Mark placed a curse ex cathedra on the perpetrators of the heinous crime: “These people, the administrators stealing pension funds, can never live in peace because the prayers of these old men and women who have diligently served the country will haunt them and their children’s children.”
Whatever the potency of Mark’s curse, it is not enough. Everyone involved in the racket must be made to face the full force of the law. Evidently, there are two principal characters in this sordid drama: Assistant Chief Accountant, Police Pension Office, Mr. Toyin Ishola and the Chairman of the Police Pension Reform Task Force, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina. The two gentlemen have been giving conflicting accounts at the Senate and passing the buck from one to the other. According to the accountant, Maina reportedly made a secret deposit in Fidelity Bank, Central Business District Branch in Abuja that is still yielding a reported N100 million interest monthly without any documentation.
It was also revealed that within the period of the Task Force’s assignment, the chairman allegedly exceeded his brief by spending N240 million to conduct biometric data capture exercise for only 20 retirees in the Diaspora and another N220 million for a similar exercise locally. Worse still, Ishola claimed that Maina distorted the existing police pension account and allegedly transferred a total of N21 billion into three different accounts including Fidelity Bank, N8 billion; UBA, N3 billion; and First Bank, N10 billion - all these without recourse to extant financial rules and approvals from the Accountant General of the Federation and the Minister of Finance. The accusations and counter-accusations go on ad nausea.
Unfortunately, victims of this heinous crime remain the old men and women who have been denied their dues. And many of them have been sent to their untimely death as a result. Yet for these public officials to make multiple withdrawals of such large sums of money on a daily basis in this era of electronic banking, some bankers must have been made willing accomplices to this mindless racket.
The Central Bank of Nigeria and other regulatory agencies must therefore investigate the culpability of all the banks involved in this huge scam and apply appropriate sanctions. We also call on the relevant authorities to ensure a thorough investigation of this organised crime so that it is not only the foot soldiers that are apprehended but also their godfathers.