A former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrashid Maina, who was accused of embezzling N195 billion by a Senate special committee, has stated that his trouble began after he refused to give the lawmakers bribe. He did not however provide any evidence to support that claim.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, conducted through e-mails, Mr. Maina said Nigerians never really understood the work done by the task force and strongly denied stealing public funds.
PT: What is the update on the court case regarding your controversial tenure as chairman of the pension reform tax team?
Maina: Nobody instituted any case against the Pension Reform Task Team or me. I was the one, who sued the Senate and its Joint Probe Committee (in a suit no FH/ABJ/CS/ 65 /20B) to court for unfair treatment and injustices meted out to me. Nigerians saw in a live television coverage of the Senate Committee hearing how I was hounded and harassed by the Senate Joint Committee Chairmen for patriotically helping Nigerian pensioners. No culpability was ever established against my person, office or Task Team.
Through a stage-managed melodrama by the Senate Pension Probe Committee Chairman, Aloysius Etok, an Undistinguished Senator of questionable reputation pounced on me because he is a Senator and I was an ordinary “Deputy Director” who courageously blocked their honey well.
I won the case I instituted against the Senate at the Justice Bello Federal High Court Abuja in April 2013 with a ground-breaking judgment, which has now become a major reference point in many high celebrity cases against the Senate. To date, none of those in the suit obeyed the court order, and we say Nigeria is run by rule of law.
Seeing that they refused to obey the Court order and my office remained closed, even though no one, not even the senate appealed the judgment, my lawyers advised me to file yet another suit at the National Industrial Court, this time specifically on my illegal “dismissal” from service, though orchestrated by a former Head of Service whom, we as a Task Team, refused to allow milk the same pensioners money.
My pension team members and I believed in Nigeria and we still do. By the grace of God we shall get rid of these serving and retired armed robbers, who after ascending to the mantle of leadership in Nigeria, use that position to do whatever they want in destroying our Nigeria.
PT: While many Nigerians are of the view that billions of naira went missing under your custody at the task team, you seem to believe that you actually fought corruption in pension fund administration, how so?
Maina: First and foremost, it is important to note that President Goodluck Jonathan approved my appointment as the chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team on the recommendation of the Head of Service through a technical committee who went to all pension offices and understudied their operational systems. I was then the Acting Director of the Customs Immigration and Prisons Pension Office and my office was rated as the best in terms of transparency and accountability. So, it was purely on merit that Steve Oronsaye recommended my appointment to the President.
The view that billions went missing under my custody was a game played by the chairman of the Senate Pension Committee to divert the attention of Nigerians while he went home with the massive bribe he received from the pension thieves.
How could I have stolen monies that never came through my office? And that fact that we as a team never had any account? We are not a statutory body, so we don’t receive appropriations from the National Assembly.
I challenged Nigerians especially the Senate Committee several times on live television to show where my office or I ever came into contact with such monies, but for two years now, no one has taken up that challenge. We worked under the Head of Service of the Federation. We never had spending power, and so we always went to the Head of Service for stationeries and other office equipment and even our normal allowances were being approved by the Head of Service, so, how could I have possibly seen such funds?
Whenever members of our team get intelligence on funds either stolen or hidden, they advise us and we confirm the intelligence, after which we inform the Minister of Finance, who in turn advises the Accountant General of the Federation to contact the banks or financial institutions concerned towards mopping up the funds. You can see that we as a task team never ever had contact with these funds. I don’t know where these accusations are coming from, because the Senate denied accusing me of funds issue at the court.
Those very few Nigerians that still hold the view that billions of naira went missing under my custody as the PRTT Chairman are either the few ignorant ones, or those who know the truth but, due to their kith and kin involvement in the stealing, decide to ride on the false assumptions. The enlightened public and the media all know that it was just a melodrama by some Senators who are used to oversight extortion, bribe-for-big-budget, contracts scavenging, and bogus budget inflation. These are things we stood against.
Let me ask you, is it possible for you to steal what has not been given to you. The National Assembly has not appropriated anything to the Maina Pension Team, then how could it be possible to misappropriate what has not been appropriated. The notion of “Pension Reform Task Team misappropriation of pension funds” is baseless and untrue. These spurious allegations are the product of Etok – Gaya led Senate Pension Probe Committee who bitterly hates the Pension Task Team with a passion. There has never been any established fact to support these spurious allegations.
Thus, the Senate Pension Probe Committee grossly misinformed and misled the entire Senate with a fictitious report muddled up with a multitude of naked untrue and misleading unjustifiable conclusions against the Pension Reform Task Team. It is important for Nigerians to equally know that since the inauguration of the Pension Team in June 2010 to 2012 when it was disbanded, the National Assembly never appropriated even ONE NAIRA for the Pension Reform Task Team.
Kindly refer to the Appropriation Acts of 2011 and 2012 and if you find the name Pension Reform Task Team then I stand corrected. So Where and how the Pension Team could have misappropriated funds when the National Assembly has appropriated nothing to it?
The Pension Task Team is not a statutory body. Thus, the Head of Service has the exclusive rights for expenditure control of his office. All financial or material engagements of the Task Team are subject of approvals from the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. There is no period when the Chairman of the Pension Task Team who is an ordinary “Deputy Director” became the Head of Civil Service of the Federation? The Head of Service never handed his office to me, so we had no power of approval of ONE NAIRA and no operational budget neither and no bank account to date.
The Task Team only dealt with paper work to compute pensioners’ entitlements, after which it would then send to Head of Service for approval. Nigerians should note that the Team is not in custody of recovered funds; the recoveries are executed by Anti-graft agencies where applicable.
The functions of the Pension Team whose membership were drawn from, EFCC, ICPC, OFFICE OF ACCOUNTANT GENERAL, DSS, OFFICE OF AUDITOR GENERAL, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, IMMIGRATION, CUSTOMS, PRISONS, HEAD OF SERVICE OFFICE, PUBLIC VOMPLAINTS COMMISSION, NATIONAL AASOCIATION OF NIGERIAN PENSIONERS, ASSOCIATION OF FEDERAL RETIREES ETC, are mainly to restructure and cleanse the system through biometrics capturing, processing of payments of genuine pensioners and blocking loopholes that are prone to corrupt practices. The Team has delivered these responsibilities to the best interest of this Country.
PT: Are you still in public service? Where?
Maina: Like I mentioned earlier, the offices concerned have refused to abide by the Federal High Court decision of April 2013 as referenced above, so I still await when Nigeria will work through the rule of Law for me to have my office back as a civil servant.
You should also note that the illegal “dismissal” process followed was faulted by the judgment of a High Court. The case was in court and all parties were asked to stay action, but the then Head of Service, Sali (for his personal interest) decided to ignore the fact that the case was in court and went ahead to create a kangaroo process that lasted only one day to Dismiss a Directorate level Staff. Not even a cleaner could be dismissed in one month.
In their defence at the Court, the Senate claimed that there was no investigation or report emanating from the Senate indicting me or the Pension Task Team. You can find this in the Court process.
Such persecution as with the former Head of Service (Sali) was also evident when Senator Aloysius Etok was clearly not happy with the patriotic work the Task Team was doing. Senator Etok even asked me for N2billion, thinking I had the recovered monies under the Teams custody, but I told him I did not do anything to be afraid of. I then enlightened him on our processes, but he seemed adamant, so I said go ahead and do whatever you intended to do.
He and his cohorts then resorted to persecuting me and later our Good God, in his infinite mercies vindicated us by exposing Etok; who allegedly collected massive bribery from the Pension thieves standing trial. An aide and a lawyer to one of the alleged pension thieves indicated how they gave Senator Etok the bribe.
Nigerians saw the petition sent to both EFCC and ICPC, which were published in the national dailies. I have a copy of the signed petition for your media Company, here. This Senator seems to be above the law of the Country. He has never even been invited for questioning by the anti-graft agencies up till this moment.
PT: What do you make of President Jonathan’s fight against corruption?
Maina: Let me tell you that during my stewardship as the Chairman Pension Task Force, we caused the arrest of top civil servants – permanent secretaries, directors, company chief executives, bank personnel etc, but the president never interfered. He has never demanded the release of anybody.
In fact, he encouraged us on the issue of blocking leakages and loopholes susceptible to corrupt practices in the pension system. He actually directed that we instil fiscal discipline and prudence in the pension sector.
Arising from that, we initiated the electronic pension management system and blocked stealing- the first of its kind in the history of governance in Nigeria. I want to specifically tell you that the President has tried and fought corruption in the pension system, but some powerful advisers and personalities, then, made sure we were stopped.
Assuming we were able to go round the other 98 such pension offices as we did these two, where we restructured and recovered N1.6 trillion in cash and assets, How much would we have recovered? I will say trillions, which could have been channelled to take care of developmental projects. We have the Technical know how on finding where “engineered” (stolen) Funds are hidden and how the cartel operates. We studied these things when we came across over 77 accounts unknown to Government in 2011.
PT: Do you think pensioners are better off without you now – I mean, in administration of the disbursement of their benefits?
Maina: Pensioners were severely oppressed through brazen stealing of trillions of Naira perpetrated in a shroud of secrecy for over 44 years before we were brought by President Jonathan to restructure the system. You see, the pensioners have severally requested our coming back to continue with their payment. Since we left office, the pensioners were not yet paid arrears. They complained that pension looting is boldly coming back that I should come back and help them.
I make bold to ask; was the Senator (Etok) not alive when pensioners were denied their legitimate entitlements, and consequently roamed the street of our cities as beggars; and turned the all Pension Offices to Destitution Camps before the Pension Task Team started payment in January 2011?
The functions of the pension team are mainly to restructure and cleanse the system through biometric authentication, Smart Cards, processing of payments of genuine pensioners and blocking loopholes that are prone to corrupt practices. The Team has delivered these responsibilities to the best interest of this its ability within the little period of 18 months and achieved the following:
1. Recovered and Saved over N280billion stolen by pension cabal.
2. Conducted Biometrics capturing for over 294,000 pensioners.
3. Detected & Deleted 71, 135 Ghost Pensioners from the Head of Service Pension Office.
4. Established E-Pension Management System (E-Pms) Platform.
5. Pioneered the Payment of Pensioners in the Diaspora.
6. Introduced Smart Cards to Eliminate Physical Verification of Pensioners.
7. Traced and Cracked Down on Pension Cartel / Mafia and Got to the Root of Pension Scam in the Entire Country.
8. Simplified the Processing Period of Getting Pension Entitlements Down to 24 Hours.
9. Discovered a Total of 50,000 Unpaid Pensioners and paid them all their Entitlements.
10. Stopped Monthly Stealing of N4.25 Bn From the HOS Pension Office.
11. Cut-Off N1 billion Police Pension Monthly Releases (From N1.59 billion to N500million and stopped the daily stealing of N300million from the same Police Pension Office.
12. Caused the Arrest and Prosecution of over 43 Pension Suspects.
13. Converted over 128,000 Hard Copies of Pensioners’ Files into Electronic Format.
14. Detected the Fraud of over N2.7 Bn By Nigeria Union Of Pensioners (NUP).
15. Reduced High Cost of Pension Bill in Nigeria’s Budget.
16. Federal Government has factored N74 Billion recovered and Saved by the PRTT into the 2012 Budget.
17. Seized Properties and Cash worth N1.4Trillion
18. Developed Pensioners Data Base for Budgeting & Efficient Pension Administration.
19. Cut-off the Pensioners’ Verification Annual Expenditure of over N4 Bn.
PT: A senate committee accused you of misappropriating N195 billion while in PRTT; What really happened?
Maina: It is not true. It is just a sheer desperation by few Senators of questionable reputation. From Senators whose hands were stained with blood money of fragile pensioners. The Etok/Gaya Senate Probe Committee claimed that I misappropriated all the pension funds in all pension offices in Nigeria from 2005 to 2009.
We assumed office in July 2010 and left in 2012. As I said earlier, the National Assembly has not appropriated ONE NAIRA to my Pension Team from 2010 when we were inaugurated to our disbandment in 2012. I came as Chairman of PRTT in 2010 they said I should be responsible for expenditure of 2005, a time I was not even in Pensions Administration. I never worked in Military pension office, Railway Pension, NNPC Pension, NITEL, or other pension offices and they said I should account for these monies spent in the aforementioned pension offices where I never worked. S you can see that they were only trying to divert the attention of Nigerians from what was actually happening regarding the actual Pension probe which they were supposed to concentrate on rather than fighting an individual (Maina) just because he refused to play ball.
Like I earlier indicated, I didn’t have any right to expenditure approval of one naira in any of the offices mentioned nor did I have approval power for any monies at the head of Service Pension Offices, but they said I stole all the pension funds in all pension offices in Nigeria. I’m really happy that we succeeded in catching the Pension thieves and recovering these funds. I think your question should be; where are all these recovered funds and assets? Who kept the funds, who are the signatories? And where are these funds now?
If it were to be in countries like USA, UK etc citizens would have taken these Senators to court for wasting their resources and for playing with people’s intelligence and lying to the public nakedly. This Country is where integrity never pays. There is no doubt that there are reputable Senators of impeccable integrity and some are my role models, but there are also Senators with questionable integrity which the Chairman of that the Senate Pension Probe Committee, Aloysius Etok and others belong.
Former President Obasanjo, Malam Nasir El-Rufai and Senator Nuhu Aliyu (Niger State) once told Nigerians which was widely reported in so many dailies, that some few Senators are potential criminals- bribe seekers, drug traffickers etc.
Is it so easy to steal N195billion Naira in public service just like that? The answer is a capital NO. Not even the President of a country can steal N195billion just like that, talkless of a mere civil servant. It is just not possible.
I can authoritatively tell you that the main Senate and its distinguished members were totally deceived hence the uproar. You should at least read in between the thin lines, when the distinguished Senators, so many I hold as mentors, sadly, sacrificed an entire session abusing only Maina with trivialities and giving the President a political matching order that says, “Choose between the Senate and little ordinary Deputy Director Maina”. That’s unfortunate. Please, note that I don’t have any personal relationship with the President as widely believed, and I have not seen or spoken to the President since my last official engagement with the Presidency.
To further buttress my point, have the Senators, ever given the President a matching order on the Boko Haram menace? Or lack of power, unemployment, or any developmental issue? I should bravely say that the session was really not necessary and it was not held on mere “ordinary Maina”. It is about something else. It was partly because the hands of some of these Senators in Etok’s Committee are stained and enmeshed in massive looting of pension funds for many years. Yes that is sadly true, which was the reason, the Senate Committee did not give us a fair hearing. We requested for an unbiased committee but the Senate totally denied us.
I have never regretted sacrificing for Nigeria. I’m appealing to all young Nigerians to come together and help develop our dear Country. There is more than Maina in this fight. For generations yet unborn, we need some progress.