Two top government officials in the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan have been fingered in a desperate attempt to corner N15 billion unspent pension fund lodged in several commercial banks.
The amount, it was gathered, represented the excess sum left behind in pension accounts belonging to some paramilitary agencies and lodged in nine commercial banks by a Federal Government pension handling agency.
The deposed chairman of the Pension Reformed Task Team, Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina, was to mop up the money and return it to the nation’s treasury just before his face-off with the National Assembly.
The altercation with the lawmakers forced Maina to go underground and the subsequent dissolution of the PRTT by the government last month.
The practice of mopping and returning unspent funds at the end of every financial year became a tradition in the public service during the Yar’ Ádua years and had led to the saving of huge sums of money that had, hitherto, been converted to private pockets by smart public officers.
Before his ordeal, Maina was said to have obtained permission from President Goodluck Jonathan to delay the mopping up of the N15 billion from the affected banks by one month following the discovery that many paramilitary officers who were disengaged by the Obasanjo’s administration, were short changed by those who calculated and paid their severance benefits.
The delay, according to Presidential sources, was to enable the Maina team to work out the outstanding benefits of the disengaged officers and return the balance to the Central Bank of Nigeria at the end of January this year.
Vanguard learnt from Presidential sources that while he was still being hounded by the National Assembly, Maina wrote to the President reminding him of the need to mop up the excess N15 billion from the banks and copied the finance minister, director of budget and the anti-graft agencies in the country.
However, it was learnt that the minister working in concert with his permanent secretary and another director recently deployed in a pension administering agency, have secretly approached the affected banks to draw the outstanding sum, claiming that the money was urgently needed to offset the pension of many officers.
An impeccable source said the ministry officials had drawn up a list that contains fake pension claimants to convince the banks to release the huge sum.
However, one of the bank managers was reported to have alerted some officials in the Presidency and asked to confirm if the money should be freed following what he described as ‘undue pressure’ being mounted on him by the minister and his permanent secretary.
The manager is said to have reported the matter to the Presidency officials so as not to be seen as an accomplice in the event of an enquiry into how the money was released and spent.
One source familiar with the case, said, “the bank managers are worried because the recent expose in pension administration had gotten many of them into trouble and they would rather not be part of this new scheme”.
The Presidency is said to have alerted some security agents to monitor the accounts in the nine banks holding the N15 billion.