The recent probe of the Pension Fund Management by the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration has thrown up mixed issues as well as allegations and counter-allegations against the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), the Pension Commission (PENCOM) and the pension managers.
Of note is the report of the Pension Reform Task Team that it has saved Nigeria N159 billion, out of which N74 billion was ploughed into the 2012 budget; a position that was affirmed by the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the former Head of Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), Mr. Steve Oronsaye. The report reveals that the biometric exercise that weeded out over 71,000 ghost workers and brought on board 44,000 pensioners, some of whom retired from service since 1968, but have never collected their pensions.
The stopping of illegal deduction of N200 (Two Hundred Naira) from every pensioner (on monthly basis), contrary to the provision of Section 173 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that: “Pensions in respect of service in the public service of the Federation shall not be taxes,” and the blocking of N4.25 billion stolen on monthly basis by public officials. This is clear administrative rape of workers gratuity.
Based on the revelations of the probe and the report, we urge the Senate Committee, as a matter of national priority and urgency, ensure that all those indicted in the mismanagement and looting of the pension fund be publicly disclosed and referred to the appropriate agencies for prosecution.
It is most unfortunate that some top government officials are the brain behind this kind of ridiculous act. How could the anti-graft agencies, funded by tax payers to fight corrupt practices, become complicit in colossal fraud involving the retirement benefits of thousands of public-sector employees? The pension scheme is a good idea, if properly and honestly managed, for it will help to put an end to the previous heart-rending complaints by retired civil servants of the trauma they experience in pursuing their pension benefits.
For decades, pension payment in Nigeria has always been shrouded in malpractices, including extortion and the use, by pension administrators, of thousands of ghost pensioners to loot the treasury, while the majority of genuine pensioners gnash their teeth and spend the evening of their lives in misery, deprivation and penury.
The trend must be firmly stamped out before the entire pension reforms are discredited, and the public forced to revolt against a scheme incapable of protecting the trillions of naira being saved and entrusted in the pose in the hand of Nigerian pension scheme by law abiding employees.
We shudder to think of what agonies await police and other public-sector employees, at retirement, if the VIP thieves are allowed to get away with their loot and leave the pension accounts empty. No less reprehensible or less dire in consequence is the alleged diversion of the contributed pension funds into projects other than what is approved by law. Such violation of the law with impunity by top public servants should be visited with the strictest sanctions to deter the illegal practice.