National Assembly Complex
By Abimbola Akosile
A trio of transparency-focused organisations have called on the Senate to dissolve the current committee of the upper legislative house charged with the task of unravelling the allegations of huge fraud the management of pension schemes in the country.
The organisations, namely the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), and Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC), made the call in a statement issued at the end of a meeting in Abuja.
In the detailed statement, the group called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to ensure diligent prosecution of the cases instituted on account of the work of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), instituted by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, and led by Abdulrasheed Maina.
CISLAC, CDD and ZCC also enjoined the judiciary to expedite action on the cases brought before it on this matter “and ensure that justice is not only done but seen to have been done”.
The statement was jointly signed by the Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani); Executive Director, CDD, Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim; and the National Secretary, Zero Corruption Coalition, Mr. Babatunde Oluajo.
According to the trio, “The Senate should as a matter of national interest, dissolve the committee and replace the members with more honourable and impartial senators. It is high time that a spade is called a spade wherever it is seen.
“With the constitution of the ad hoc committee to investigate the rot in the management of pension scheme in the country, CISLAC, CDD, and ZCC, like other well meaning Nigerians, thought that the good work started by the Maina-led PRTT, instituted by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation would be further complemented.
“We viewed the decision as an attempt by the Senate to help in cleansing the Augean stable occasioned by deep seated corruption in the system.
“We, CISLAC, CDD and ZCC were however shocked that no sooner than the committee started its work, did signs emerge that the high expectations of Nigerians about its potential to contribute to the war against corruption would not materialise. Indeed, the manner in which the Committee went about its task of investigation left much to be desired.
“The tendency toward leaving the issues to pursue trivialities became obvious and elements of bias began to manifest, eroding the neutrality and objectivity required for this crucial assignment and calling the integrity of the legislature to question.
“CISLAC and CDD recall that billions of naira due for pensioners who have diligently served this country, giving the better part of their lives to the service of their fatherland, have been cornered by a few personnel at the various pension offices all over the country.
“It is worth noting that the Pension Reform Task Team through its work has amongst other achievements saved the country a whopping N159 billion. Part of the recovered funds has already being returned to the federation account and appropriated for national development. The committee has equally discovered 71,000 ghost workers through biometric verification it initiated.
“However, to our disappointment, the Senate, as represented by the committee, rather than identifying itself with patriotic Nigerians committed to eliminating corruption from our national life, has proceeded in a manner contrary to popular expectation and in disregard for the age-old principles of honour, ethics and integrity.
“As publicly displayed during the televised hearing, members of the committee seemed to have taken it upon themselves to serve as advocates for the government officials accused of squandering pension funds over the years.
“Therefore, rather than objectively and thoroughly scrutinising every detail presented before them, members of the committee have been antagonising members of the Task Team and providing cover for the people that were obviously found deep in the pension fund scam.
“Again, in sheer disregard for transparency, the committee is currently mooting the idea of a closed door session in its investigations. We see this as an attempt at cover up; to deny Nigerians the right to fully know what is happening as well as an opportunity to muscle the course of the hearing to the interest of the committee.
“Similarly, the Committee has continued to invite some of the accused persons to its hearing for image laundering, contrary to the dictates of the rule of law. We feel that since those persons are already being dragged before a competent court of law, the committee should let them face the charges against them and stop fraternising with them to the detriment of the sanctity of legislative responsibility.
“CISLAC, CDD and ZCC perceive strongly, the unhealthy relationship between members of the senate committee and some of the officials alleged to have fed fat on the pensioners’ entitlements. We strongly suspect as alleged by some media reports that money may have changed hands or else how can the seemingly funny attitude of the committee be explained.
“In view of the foregoing, we strongly call on the Senate President David Mark to swiftly move into action to redeem the integrity of the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly which has been badly battered by the activity of the Pension Reform committee, the statement added.
According to the three organisations, “The Senate should as a matter of national interest, dissolve the committee and replace the members with more honourable and impartial senators. It is high time that a spade is called a spade wherever it is seen.
“The National Assembly should be a tool of smoking out corruption instead of covering it up. CISLAC, CDD and ZCC wish to encourage the House of Representatives to be open and transparent in its planned investigation into this scam that has snowballed into a huge embarrassment for the nation. The House should be thorough and employ its legislative powers in getting to the root of the matter to ensure that culprits are made to face the full wrath of the law.
“This is the least we all can do to demonstrate that the betrayal of pensioners who have suffered or even died because of the atrocities committed by a few, is not the product of a national conspiracy”, the trio stated.