Recent allegations of corrupt dealings by two key umpires saddled with the task of recovering stolen public funds signal dangerous era for the war on graft. CHUKA ODITTAH, in this analysis examines the boomerang effect of corruption and whether Hon. Lawan Farouk and Mohammed Mainaare victims or villains - against the background of allegations against them
A twist of fate involving two anti-corruption gate-keepers is currently raising dust in many quarters. AlhajiAbdulrasheedMaina and his lawmaker counterpart, Lawan Farouk, are currently sailing in murky waters due to allegations of graft hanging on their necks.
Maina, was the Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT); an assembly of crack security and paramilitary personnel strategically assembled for maximum results.
Lawan, on the other hand was until his recent removal, the highly cerebral chairman of House of Reps Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy probe. The ironic mention of these individuals in corruption charges relieves the old fable of ‘a hunter becoming the hunted’.
The Maina-led team, constituted by President Goodluck Jonathan about 22 months ago was saddled with the responsibility of curbing non-payment of pension to beneficiaries as at when due.
Of late, the PRTT has been enmeshed in controversy and bad press in the face of accusations by the Nigerian Senate that the task team misappropriated pension funds while in the line of duty. A recent report by the Senate Joint Committee on Pension alleged that the AbdulrasheedMaina-led Pension Reform Task Team was guilty of embezzlement and misappropriation of funds.
The PRTT team which until recently was inundated with commendations from pensioners for unearthing long entrenched pension fraud in the pension division of the Head of service of the Federation, was accused by the senate of contract splitting, illegal virement and outright ‘stealing of public funds’.
Specifically, the report of the Senate Joint committee on Pension Administration alleged that Maina unilaterally withdrew about N24bn from funds released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for allegedly greasing the palms of some top government functionaries. The report similarly held him liable for the alleged disappearance of another N8bn pension fund from a Fidelity Bank account.
The Senate further in its official report said that its findings revealed that the Maina-led committee withdrew a total of N140m to foot overseas travel costs, estacodes of certain listed government officials and the biometric data system.
As its baseline recommendation, the Senate said the task team should be made to refund N15.38bn, being differentials between claims of payment so far made to beneficiaries and the expected outstandings.
At the end of the day, the Senate President, David Mark, made a public pronouncement to the effect that AbdulrasheedMaina, John Yusuf and Mr B. Kaigama, both members of the team, should be arrested by the police and charged to court for alleged embezzlement of pension funds.
Although the implications of the Senate’s findings and pronouncements are weighty and give room for concern, feedbacks from the Maina camp tend to suggest that there’s probably more to the story than meets the eye.
Earlier in a media forum, the PRTT boss expressed concerns that rather than being commended for cleaning up the pension Augean Stable, the story was altogether being turned against him and his team. In his account, Maina recalled how he defied series of threats to his life and those of his children to undertake the pension reform.
He reportedly made reference to a situation where he received photos of his children while playing at school sent to him by unidentified persons. He recalled in addition that other evidences of his children’s’ school run pattern in Abuja and elsewhere were mailed to him to prove that he was being watched.
According to PRTT boss, those photos and anonymous calls to his telephone lines were used by the apparently well-heeled but faceless individuals to register their displeasure of his pension reforms. Maina recalled that he was earlier warned by the stalkers to steer clear of the pension reform project or face the music.
What may be deduced from his account is that he incurred the wrath of a few powerful clique when he decided to block loopholes for pension theft.
No doubt, the senate is comprised of people with diverse professional background and impeccable character, but it remains unclear if allegations of funds mismanagement by the team were trumped up or not.
According to details released to the media by the PRTT, the team’s diligent study of the pension sector was what resulted in the recovery of over N160bn otherwise programmed to be shelled out from government coffers in error.
Maina had reportedly stated that after the introduction of the biometric data capturing system, it was discovered that only N1.6bn was required to clear all Federal Government pension cost at the time. In the end, more than N64.5bn was reportedly prevented from being cornered by syndicates.
It would appear that trouble started when the pension reform team wrote to the budget office asking them to desist from sending money in excess N1.6bn for the payment of pension fund. At that point, pressure reportedly mounted against the team which nonetheless was able to identify a total of 71,133 fake pensioners on the Federal Government’s pay list.
In the midst of this rat race as it were, political observers have grown worried over the polarization of opinion among federal lawmakers on the pension reform team.
While some argue that not all senators in the red chambers subscribed to the arguments advanced by that arm of the legislature on the recovered pension funds, pundits are however worried that the House of Reps holds completely opposing views.
Recently, the House of Reps, through its committee on Pension Matters, specifically called on President Goodluck Jonathan to expand the scope of operation of the Maina-led team to include all Ministries, Departments and Agencies across the country.
The subtle vote of confidence passed on the pension reform team, clearly conflicts with the position of the senate which wants the team prosecuted.
In Lawan Farouk’s case, his implication in a bribery mess appeared to have been carefully staged managed by those not willing to bite the dust alone.
Although giving or receiving bribe for whatever reason is viewed as a crime, some pundits argue nevertheless that the real essence of implicating Farouk in the $620,000 scam was to divert public attention from the prosecution of the `subsidy thieves`.
Whatever be the case, it is obvious that corruption is a serious menace that needs to be tackled with double ingenuity and commitment to unearth its perpetrators.