Says banks were complicit NUP blames former HoS
James Emejo in Abuja
Former Head of Civil Service of the Federation (HoS), Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, Monday distanced himself from allegations of fraud linked to the activities of the defunct Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms (PTFPR) headed by Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina.
Speaking at the ongoing public hearing by the House of Representatives Adhoc Committee investigating the activities of the presidential task force on pensions reforms from 2010 to the time of its dissolution and any other successor agency, he said during his tenure as HoS, he had set up a committee that carried out a comprehensive verification exercise on the number of federal pensioners, an exercise which uncovered a number of ghost pensioners and slashed the federal government monthly pension liabilities from N1.5 billion to N882 million.
According to him, â€œIn the pension payroll at the time, there was about 106,000 pensioners. After verification, they captured about 70,000 to 71, 000 pensioners. And there was also an additional 50,000 pensioners who had retired many years before, and had not been paid.
â€œIn effect, it meant that we were paying about N1.5 billion when we should have been paying a little over N880 million as regular pension. By the time, the other 50,000 was included, the figure went up just a little over a billion.
â€œThe amount paid was about N882 million, meaning that we had a significant reduction of over N612 million.
â€œI didnâ€™t cover any pension office. I retired in November 2010. It was after I left that the team metamorphosed into a presidential pension task force.â€
Asked what punitive measures he took against the perpetrators of the pension fraud, the former HoS said he only submitted a report to the then National Security Adviser (NSA) and also redeployed the director who was in charge of pensions in his office.
Oronsaye said: â€œI didnâ€™t query him. What I did was to remove him from that office.
â€œFrankly, it was obviously a collusion. If the banks did not collaborate, it wouldnâ€™t have happened. I think it was sufficient to say that since I have found this, it was no longer safe to have you there.â€
But unimpressed by Oronsayeâ€™s claims, the National President, Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Mr. Abel Akin Afolanya, accused him of mulling the idea behind the scam, adding that the PTFPR further shortchanged pensioners.
According to him, â€œThe defunct presidential task force on pension headed by Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina was an idea conceived by former HoSF, Mr. Steve Orosanye, in difference to the yearnings of Nigerian pensioners. He named the Committee upon inauguration â€˜Pension Reform Task Forceâ€™.
â€œWe would like to point out that there was nothing â€˜ab initioâ€™ known as Presidential Task Force on Pension. The appendage â€˜Presidentialâ€™ was cleverly added to the task force name by Maina after the then President Goodluck Jonathan granted audience to the committee sometimes in 2010 and assured them of his full support.
â€œIf anybody is in doubt, let Maina come and show us his letter of appointment by President Jonathan and tell us when and where he was inaugurated by the president, the terms of reference given to him and what was the duration or the life span of the so-called presidential task force. He simply sold a dummy to Nigeria and we all bought it.â€
He said: â€œHaving said that, the committee embarked arrogantly on annexing (because of the powers it arrogated to itself) all pension related agencies to itself, a task he was neither mandated to do nor prepared for because, it did not even have the staff strength to do it.
â€œThe task team was just created to reform the Pension Department of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation as a result of the perceived/alleged rot in the administration of pension at the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
â€œAs a result of this, the committee became power drunk, exercising powers beyond its reach, suddenly declaring virtually all stakeholders in pension matters â€˜thievesâ€™, except the task force thatâ€™s made up of â€˜saintsâ€™.â€
According to the NUP president, â€œThis union suffered a similar fate in an attempt to protest this seeming aberration; it took the intervention of the seventh Senate and President Jonathan for the union to survive under the task force. Union dues were illegally withheld for over a year and its leaders face serious persecution by the task force.â€
The Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Ananyo Nnebe (PDP, Anambra), had last week summoned Maina; former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele; Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, among others to appear before it to say what they know about the alleged scam.
But, only the former HoS had turned up.
Nevertheless, Nnebe urged all invited stakeholders to appear next Wednesday which is the next adjourned date of the probe.
He said: â€œWe are giving them a second chance next Wednesday to be here by 1 p.m. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt.â€