By ZAKA KHALIQ, Lagos and MARK ITSIBOR, Abuja
About N10 billion belonging to deceased pensioners cannot be accessed by prospective beneficiaries, LEADERSHIP findings have revealed
It was gathered that instead of making the said money available for beneficiaries of the pensions, Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) are now trading with the fund.
Investigation by our correspondent showed that virtually all the 21 PFAs across the country are making investment income on a yearly basis from thistrapped fund, running into billions of naira.
It was learnt that in the last 18 months, some beneficiaries had been denied the retirement benefits of deceased persons by their respective PFAs on grounds of failure to produce a will and Letter of Administration.
Moreover, with most Nigerians, especially retirees who are fond of not writing a will stating the beneficiaries of their pension entitlements, most of the beneficiaries are now struggling to access the fund in the Retirement Savings Accounts( RSAs) of the deceased pensioners.
For a deceased who died interstate (without a will), the process of obtaining the letter of administration from the probate registry, it was learnt, is so cumbersome and takes a minimum of six months to get it, while in some instances it takes up to a year.
To this effect, some beneficiaries who believe they do not need the fund abandon the process, even as some next of kins are not aware such provision exists.
Those who are aware don’t know the process to access the pension benefits of their deceased.
To obtain the letter, the next-of-kins are requested to give 10 per cent of what is in the estate (Retirement Savings Account) upfront, a development that most of them are unhappy with.
Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP yesterday, the director, Centre for Pension Right Advocacy, Mr. Takor Ivor, said it was very impossible for Next of Kins to access the RSAs of their deceased who died without a will, unless with a letter of administration from the probate registry.
He said, “They (deceased beneficiaries) cannot get that fund unless they go and do a letter of administration. To get a letter of administration, they have to get a lawyer who will start the process with the high court probate registry. There are two letters of administration and pursuing, they have always been six months”.
He stated that pension funds, by law, are not allowed to stay idle; hence, the PFAs would be investing it until somebody come forward to claim the fund.
Listing those qualified to access the RSA of the deceased, he said “Somebody must come forward to claim the fund. First, are the children of the deceased or the spouse, wife or husband. In the absence of that, the parent of the deceased and then the brothers and sisters of the deceased can go for the letter of administration”.
For beneficiaries who are not aware that such provision exists, he called for more sensitization of the people by pension industry stakeholders.
According to Ivor, they should be enlightened to always come forward to claim the pension of the deceased because some don’t even know such thing exist, and even if they know, they don’t know the processes involved.
He charged Nigerians, especially the retirees to always make it a matter of urgency to write a will, as this will assist the deceased beneficiaries to access the pension entitlements of their dead ones on time.
The director general, Lagos State Pension Commission (LASPEC), Mrs Yetunde Onanuga, had warned RSAs holders, especially those working or had worked in the state civil service to always write a will, saying writing will does not mean the person was ready to die, but just planning for a life after death.
Speaking on this development, managing director/chief executive of Maxifund Investment and Securities Ltd, Mazi Okechukwu Unegbu said, “If a person dies without a will, the next of kin must process the letter of administration and it is not an easy one to crack.
“First of all, you have to face the very lackadaisical attitude of the people working in the probate registry where you have to process the letter of administration”.
All these, he stressed, is very cumbersome and does not come out early. He continued: “You can be there for months because it is as if you have a court case and by the time you are able to access the fund, it has lost value because it has taken a long time and inflation has eroded it.
“There is the need to have a change in the law by the National Assembly so that, instead of insisting on certain prerequisites which are very difficult to provide, they can make it in such a way that once you are the next of kin, you can access the funds subject to some conditions”.
FG Saves N1.5bn On Pension Benefits For Retirees In 5 Months
Meanwhile, efforts by the federal government to get authentic database of pensioners and streamline its payroll are now paying off.
LEADERSHIP findings have revealed that within the last five months alone, the federal government has been able to save at least N300 million monthly by simply blocking some channels that were hitherto used by unscrupulous elements in the old defined benefit scheme.
Executive secretary of Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, told our correspondent in an exclusive interview that the agency now records unspent N300 million monthly, bringing the figure to an estimated N1.5 billion between December 2016 and April 2017.
Ikeazor said the directorate arrived at that figure through the introduction of Bank Verification Numbers (BVNs) into the payment process of pension to pensioners under the old defined benefit scheme (those that retired before 2007 when the new contributory pension scheme was introduced).
The verification exercise, which is in continuation of the civil service verification implementation that commenced in 2015, started on November 28, 2016 and it is being carried out across the country.
According to official statement at the time of granting this interview, the verification exercise was only done in North-East and South-South, and partly Abuja.
Ikeazor had announced in January that over 15,600 people were taken off the payroll for lack of Bank verification Number (BVN).
She told LEADERSHIP that introduction of the BVN has saved government about N300 million a month, adding that “with that BVN, we can now tell who is the genuine account holder.
“I am driving for us to have more robust sensitisation meetings so that the pensioners will know we can do all this for them. We want to sort out their issues”, She added.
She said the agency in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) has apprehended some suspected fraudsters, including some former staff of the agency and their external collaborators who were involved in sharp practices in the pension funds administration, impersonating as true pensioners and diverting funds.
Asked why nobody has been convicted by the authorities since the commencement of the verification exercise, the PTAD Boss blamed the situation on the nation’s judicial system, noting that civil and criminal matters are usually slow in Nigeria.
Ikpeazu said, “My dream is that we get conviction a day for pension fraudsters because that is the worst form of fraud. It is unpardonable as far as I am concerned.
“We are pushing; ICPC is doing extremely well in that regard, and EFCC as well prosecutes in that regard. So, it is just for us to bring their attention to the cases. When our pensioners complain to us, we write formally to them to take up the case. At out unit here, we hope to apprehend a lot more of them”.