Abdulrasheed Maina, acting director of the Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pension Office and leader, Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, speaks to Anza Phillips, assistant editor, and Haruna Salami, senior staff writer, on the face-off between his team and the Senate Committee on Pension. Excerpts:
Newswatch: The Reform Task Team, PRTT, is on a collision course with the Senate. What is the cause of the face- off?
Maina: It’s not the entire Senate. Members of the House of Representatives have been commending the Task Team. I have the greatest respect for the Senate. The problem is with the Senator Akpan Etok committee. You see, when somebody who has been able to go into three pension offices and save the government N151billion and then you want to go on fact-finding mission on pension or how to manage pension won’t you invite such a committee. Except you are going out for witch-hunting and not fact finding? This PRTT has been able to do a lot. We have been able to go in and capture the biometric data of pensioners; create their files. Hitherto, there were no files; save under the office of the Head of Service. Over N4 billion was hitherto taken away monthly. We have saved N1.150 billion in Police Pension office hitherto being taken every month. We have been able to stop the stealing of N300 million a day in the Police Pension office, which we have documents to show, returned to government N24 billion that was just taken away from government as against the actual N3.4 billion. We are the ones who went out and captured the biometrics of 44, 320 people who have never received pension in their lives and we are now back and you are not asking me questions on this N151 billion, how did you get the money and where did you get the money from? Who took the money? Who has been keeping the money? You are not interested in that? You are not interested in the monthly pension being paid to pensioners? You are only interested in asking me about money paid to civil servants who travelled out for biometric enrolment exercise. Let me say this, the House Committee on Pension, without our knowing, travelled on a fact-finding mission to New York. It was on national television. They met all these pensioners and the pensioners were only praying for the President and saying this is the first time a President that has a listening ear is heading Nigeria. They said they were really very grateful to Mr. President for the job we were doing. Why is the Senate leaving the elephant and pursuing the ant? If I were a company and I bring government N151 billion, they will give me 20 percent, that will be N31 billion. Is it because I’m a civil servant?
Newswatch: You are said to have refused appearing before the Etok committee during it public hearing on the Pension palaver. Why did you refuse to honour their invitation?
Maina: I appeared before the committee from 8 o’clock in the morning to 9 p.m and they did not ask anybody question except me; they were only on me and were wasting Nigeria’s time on N160 million against N151 billion that they should be talking about. When we finished at 9 p.m. I had migraine the next morning and I couldn’t appear the next day. I wrote a letter and they said I refused to come. The House of Representatives Committee on Pension invited me to Sokoto because they had a round table. After they wrote me, three days later, the Senate wrote me again. Definitely, I had to go to House committee. So, I sent them a copy of the House committee letter and informed them that I would not be available after my meeting with them. I went to Sokoto after that. In all these, I want them to show Nigerians; before my meetings with them, have they ever invited me? They went round Nigeria, but never invited the Task Team. So, what are they looking at? If you want to go round the country to talk about pension, you should invite the Task Force Team. We can go with our team – ICT men, anybody who has a problem we sit down and look at it at that point. They never invited us. Why are they persecuting me now? Is it because I refused to allow things to move the way certain people wanted them to move? Is it because now nobody can steal pensioners’ money? Is it because I have blocked people from stealing pensioners’ money?
Newswatch: One of the allegations against you is that you refused to co-operate with the office of Auditor-General of the Federation in trying to audit all that you have been doing. Is that correct?
Maina: The Auditor-General of the Federation sent in auditors who came and spent six months with us and audited this place. There was no problem whatsoever. I saw something on the pages of newspapers that the auditor gave me a query. It’s a lie. I have never received any query from anybody since I started work in my life. I joined service in 1988. I have never been issued a query in my life; none up till now. For somebody to go and write on the pages of newspapers that Maina has been issued a query is a lie. I want that person to produce that query to me. The Task Team has representatives of the auditor-general, accountant-general, attorney- general, EFCC, ICPC, and SSS. So, what are you talking about? The Task Team is not Maina. Why are you personalising it to Maina? Mr. President gave me specific instructions: Task Team, go ensure that the pension system in Nigeria is sanitised. He gave that directive through Mr. Stephen Oronsaye and we set out to fix it. We went back to him to say these are our challenges and he said ‘go and take care of them. Mr. Oronsaye.’ We went in and captured the biometrics of 44,320 that have never been enrolled into pension – those that retired between1968 – 1976. So many of them are still alive; they are old. Out of the 141,000 names given to us, 71,000 were either primary school teachers, farmers, secondary school children, underage, that were hired to be collecting money and taking 10 percent. We removed those people from the payroll and that brought the pension bill from N5 billion to N825 million. You think I will be popular? For me to block over N4 billion from going out; N1.190 billion from being stolen from Police Pension every month; N300 million from being stolen from an account in Police Pension every day; I have the documents.
Newswatch: Does PRTT have a running budget?
Maina: Nobody has given the Task Team one Naira in this government. If there is anybody that has ever given the Task Team a kobo. I want that person to come out and say it.
Newswatch: It means even the money recovered is not kept by you.
Newswatch: How come they say you embezzled Pension money running into millions?
Maina: (cuts in) I have never even seen the money. They think I have the money under my control. They think I have this money in accounts and I’m controlling it. When they were trying to steal N119 million by the former HOSF, Afolabi, I ran to the Ministry of Finance and immediately blocked the account. There are documents showing where they were trying to steal the money. Look, I have fought a lot of people because people who have served this country diligently should be paid what is due to them.
Newswatch: How is the biometric done and who is doing it?
Maina: The Task Team is an inter-agency team; it is not one office. The chairman of ICPC, EFCC, DG SSS, are all involved. We sat down in-house to develop a solution that can contain every Nigerian in the system. Nobody gave us money in developing this solution. We partnered with some consultants. I built the skeleton of the solution because this is how we want it to be. These consultants who came in are forensic consultants, actaurist, ICT, legal, everything; they are working with us. When we went out to do this biometrics, we sent out EFCC, ICPC, SSS personnel round the states. We trained them on the systems. Our staff were there, but their job was to ensure that only genuine pensioners are captured. That was why out of the 151,790 we were only able to capture 70,657 from that list. That was how we sieved out that 71,000. This biometrics was done a long time ago. Now we are scanning pensioner’s files from back to back (turning them into soft copies). Even if you take the file and burn it, the system is there.
Newswatch: A lot of retirees suffer during these verification exercises. What are you doing to arrest this?
Maina: The President has also expressed concern over that matter and we have given him a proposal to the effect that we are going to develop a smart card, a small card that you go in as a pensioner, once in six months to receive an SMS alert on your phone telling you that you have 14 days to go and tell government that you still exist. All you need to do is go to your Senatorial district; not where you will be in a line for days resulting to so many deaths. With the smart card we have decided to go into the Senatorial district with one office and personnel with a system. At your own leisure you go and to put your smart card, remove it, and it will ask you to put any of your fingers print. Put your smart card in your pocket and go home. That is all. No more suffering for pensioners.
Newswatch: You are quoted as having accused the Senate Committee on Pension of asking for N2 billion bribe from you. Etok, chairman Senate Committee on Pension, mentioned it in his recent press conference.
Maina: I have never said anything like that, never. Let me tell you, there was a time somebody said to me that he saw it in one of the papers that the Senate said I offered bribe. Somebody said so. I don’t know if he was lying or not and I told the person that I don’t think they can open their mouths to say so because they know nothing like that happened; so I don’t think it is coming from them. The guy left. May be it’s those who want to start a controversy. I have never opened my mouth for once to say Senate asked me for bribe.
Newswatch: You are accused of opening an account in the name of your brother in Fidelity Bank where you divert pension funds into.
Maina: That is false. I went to Accountant-General of the Federation when I realised that the directors in police pension and so many Police pension officers were removing on daily basis money from the accounts; every morning they will write up to 30 cheques, go to banks and take up to N300 million. When I found that out, I decided that why should you go and open account in Lagos when your office is in Abuja? Bring your account back to Abuja. So, I went to the Accountant-General and he gave me approval to move these monies back to Abuja. If you go to Fidelity Bank and UBA you will see that the total actual liability is N3.4 billion, but they were receiving N24 billion from government. The Accountant-General then said let us move N3 billion to this account in UBA first, leaving N400 million. They have main account all taking about N28 billion. Then we said lets move all the rest N25 billion to Fidelity and then write one e-payment to government. When some of my ogas saw me trying to do that, immediately they sent me a letter to stop me from the restructuring. I said I had not finished; that I was given three months and it was just one month then. They said stop. Then I wrote Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who again wrote to the banks that she still recognised us as signatories and that nobody should change the signatories. Now, because we have stopped that mess people are not happy and so they brought out those fake stories to malign me.
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