James Emejo in Abuja
The indefinite suspension handed down to erstwhile Executive Secretary, Pension Transitional Arrangement Department (PTAD), Nellie Mayshak, by the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, shocked members of the public following developments in the recent past which had marred the reputation of pension managers in the country.
A statement issued by the Special Adviser on Media to the Minister, Mr. Festus Akanbi, penultimate week had confirmed Mayshak’s suspension by Adeosun while a director from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) was also appointed as acting executive secretary of the directorate.
Apart from Mayshak, three other senior officials in the directorate were also suspended.
The statement added that the suspension was a normal civil service procedure, to pave way for an unimpeded investigation into the activities of the directorate under Mayshak’s watch.
However, apart from the announcement that the PTAD boss had been relieved of her duties, no attempt was made to give the details surrounding the development which had already put most public pensioners on the edge.
It was rumoured that Mayshak’s allegedly pocketed up to N60 million as monthly salary, a claim which her close associates had told THISDAY it was untrue and impossible. It however gathered that she arbitrarily fixed for herself salaries and allowances, far above what she ought to earn in her position, (though not anything close to the N60million being speculated) without recourse to Wages and Salaries Commission that fixes the salaries and allowances of Public Servants in her cadre. THISDAY checks further revealed the underbelly issues which led to her being suspended indefinitely.
Trouble started when Mayshak had during the tenure of the former Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Jonah Otunla, demanded that the sum of N3 billion, which was earmarked for the verification of pensioners nationwide be released to enable her carry out the exercise. Otunla, however, reportedly declined her request and insisted that the verification exercise ought to be carried out by the OAGF and not PTAD.
The suspended PTAD boss further insisted that the money must be released to her, else she would not sign as a party for the withdrawal of the fund.
The disagreement lingered all through Otunla’s tenure, THISDAY further gathered, making it impossible for PTAD to draw the N3 billion during the former AGF’s tenure.
The issue was said to have been reintroduced to the new Accountant General, Mr. Ahmed Idris, who also insisted that the verification be carried out jointly by PTAD and OAGF.
But Mayshak, once again stuck to her guns and rejected the suggestion.
It was learnt that she later met with directors of the OAGF and maintained she wanted to carry out the exercise without any external support, a request which was further turned down.
THISDAY gathered that after much pressure, the AGF later yielded to her demand and released the money to her, even though the directors were unhappy with the release of the funds, prompting series of anonymous petitions accusing her of misappropriation of funds, nepotism, inflating contracts and using companies allegedly linked to her to corner juicy contracts at PTAD.
Adeosun was said to have called Mayshak penultimate Tuesday to prepare her documents in response to the allegations. The minister had confronted Mayshak with the allegations bordering on abuse of office.
Specifically, Mayshak was alleged to have employed her relatives to important positions as secretary, and in the ICT department of the agency. Sources gave their names as Patricia Iyohe, Mrs. Ruth Imonikhe (who is her secretary), and one Yohab. They were also alleged to be influential in PTAD and key players in some of the allegations leveled against the suspended pension boss.
After Adeosun confronted the suspended DG with the accusations and facts that Tuesday, Mayshak was said to have failed to put up a convincing defence and was ordered right before Idris not to return to PTAD as she had been suspended indefinitely.
Three other senior officials in the agency were also suspended in relation to alleged scam and abuse of office following an audit report.
Besides, counted as part of abuse of office and insubordination, inside sources also told THISDAY that Mayshak allegedly arrogated to herself the position of a director general instead of simply an executive secretary in violation of the Act that established the directorate. Section 42 (3) of the Pension Reform Act, 2014 designated her office as Executive Secretary. Her refusal to use that executive secretary designation was seen as a clear breach of the enabling Act. In the industry, only the office of the head of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), the regulatory authority of the pension industry in Nigeria, is designated as Director General.
Although, Mayshak was ordered not to return to her office, sources alleged that she went back to the office on that Tuesday night and may have left with vital information.
Following the incident, THISDAY sighted a detachment of DSS officials positioned at the premises of PTAD in two black pickup vehicles.
The DSS was said to have mounted a round-the-clock vigilance at the premises of the agency, to perhaps monitor nocturnal activities at the agency.
A staff of PTAD told THISDAY that the security operatives had also issued orders to private security operatives in the agency to be vigilant and ensure that nobody moved out of the premises with excess luggage.
“The DSS have ordered that those who come in with one bag shouldn’t leave the office with more than one bag,” the source said.
THISDAY further learnt from company sources that there had been grievances against the former DG which bothered on favoritism and discrimination in job offers in the agency.
PTAD was created in August 2013 under the Pension Reform Act of 2004 to oversee the management of pensions under the defined benefit scheme for pensioners who were not accommodated in the new defined contributory scheme.
Essentially, the implementation of the contributory pension scheme (CPS) was envisaged as solution to the old pension arrangement whereby funds had been misapplied by various government regime, creating huge backlogs of arrears of unpaid pension among other challenges.
The lastest unsavory development came as Nigerians were still trying to cope with the recent pension fraud involving the former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, with over N2 billion he allegedly stole through fraudulent biometric contracts.
However, Nigerians were particularly pleased at the new arrangement in pension management where monies are not concentrated in the hands of a unit, often giving room for abuse.
Under the CPS, pension fund administrators don’t necessarily have access to contributed funds, a situation which reduces the incidence of corruption.
Following past experiences in pension assets mismanagement, however, issues relating to funds management had always been of interest to stakeholders who want to be assured that their money is safe at all times.
Nevertheless, sensing the magnitude of the disaffection which Mayshak’s removal may generate in the public, including the condition of pension assets, the management of the agency had been quick to assure pensioners, particularly those being currently managed by PTAD that the development would not affect pension payments and services.
Experts believe negative incidences of fraud as regarding pension funds management will continue to generate tension particularly among pensioners, some of who depend on it for sustenance.
Although the situation appeared to have been put under some measure of control, the managers of public pension assets would need to be put under spotlight to reduce the incidence or possibility of corruption which is capable of destroying the reputation of the system and eroding stakeholders’ confidence in the administration of their funds.