A Senate joint committee investigating the pension fraud involving hundreds of billions of naira has said it is confronting a cabal more powerful than the notorious fuel subsidy clique, and backed by very top government officials.
The Joint Senate Committee on Establishment, Pubic Service and Local Governments said it found out senior government officials were backing the Chairman of Pension Task force, Abdulrasheed Maina, who is at the centre of the scandal.
Mr. Maina has had a running confrontation with the senate panel for months after the committee named him as the main character in the disappearance of hundreds of billions of naira of pension savings.
He was appointed by the federal government to help sanitize a terribly fraudulent pension scheme that had drained the government of hundreds of billions over years.
But the committee said it found out more monies were stolen under Mr. Maina, and accused him of marshalling multiple fraudulent schemes to siphon money.
The discoveries ranked alongside the notorious fuel subsidy scam as the foremost scandals in 2012, and amongst some of the nation’s most complex schemes in history.
Mr. Maina has denied the charges, in turn accusing the lawmakers of accepting bribe and teaming up with the beneficiaries of past schemes who were uncomfortable with his reforms.
A preliminary report of the investigation that started since April was recently turned down by the senate assembly after Mr. Maina claimed he was denied fair hearing.
What has surprised the lawmakers more is Mr. Maina’s defiance despite the allegations, by repeatedly flouting the committee’s summons and directives.
At a scheduled meeting last week, to reconsider the report as directed by the senate, senators walked out of the venue of the meeting as Mr. Maina, who defiantly arrived late, was just walking in.
Another meeting is set for Wednesday.
The Chairman of the Joint Committee, Akpan Etok, said on Tuesday that the committee has found that the pension cabal is worse than its oil equivalent.
“In the performance of pension probe, I realized I have stepped on very powerful toes, I can tell you that pension cabal is worse than oil cabal,” Mr. Etok said. “In pension there are so many people involved and it has taken such a long time in operations.
“We asked Mr. Maina, you said you reduce the number of pensioners and you added your own without going through any budget verification.
“I suspect that Mr. Maina has godfathers that are backing him because no ordinary Nigeria will be so arrogant and exhibit such level of exuberance without some backers not minding the law of the land or Civil Service rules, without having godfathers or believing that something is giving false hope.”
Mr. Etok denied the committee ever took bribes, a disclaimer the committee has made in the past.
“No one in the committee has ever collected bribe on our behalf, and if there is any evidence, Mr. Maina should come out prove it to Nigerians,” he said. “No security agency has ever investigated me on bribery allegation.
The allegation is just a mere attempt to distract the committee. Why don’t they talk about the issue of the bribe since?”