The Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa on Tuesday, called for a concerted action by all stakeholders in ensuring an efficient, effective and fraud-free pension system in Nigeria.
Bawa stated this in his opening address at the commencement of a two-day National Summit tagged, Eradication of Pension Fraud in Nigeria, at the Nigerian Air Force Conference Centre, Kado, Abuja.
He said the EFCC as the coordinating agency for the enforcement of all economic and financial crime laws, it is conversant with the rot in the pension sector.
“We have investigated and documented hundreds of billions of Naira lost to fraud in the pension industry. However, beyond the money, is also the unquantifiable loss of dignity in the retiree who has to grovel and beg (and even die in some instances) in order to access his contributions. It is the shame of a nation that those who have contributed their most productive years to us in various capacities have to go through hell to live in retirement.
“We worry about the quality of regulation, the fidelity of pension managers and the inefficiency in the management of pension assets which have grave consequences for the national economy, not to talk of the perception of Nigeria as a country where anything criminal is possible”, he said.
All of these, he said, provide the impetus for a national conversation and concerted action from everyone involved in pension management and regulation.
According to him, the two day Summit, offers the stakeholders the opportunity “to introspect and take stock of the measures put in place over the years to improve and sanitize pension administration in Nigeria, as well as seek explanations as to why the pension system seems not to be meeting the needs or living up to the yearnings of pensioners despite the best intentions of industry stakeholders….It is our belief that in pooling our resources and expertise together, we can break the cycle of fraud, inefficiency and mutual distrust in the Nigerian pensions system”.
The EFCC boss said the overarching objective of the Summit, is to “to have a pensions system that is transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of its most important, most venerable and most vulnerable stakeholder – the pensioner”.
He therefore charged the participants, “to reach deep into treasure troves of knowledge and come up with pragmatic programmes and policy recommendations that will ultimately engender significant improvement in service delivery and eliminate the gaps currently being exploited by the negative actors in the pension system. We owe that to the hapless pensioner out there, who we may ourselves become tomorrow”.
Bawa assured that the commission, “will continue to vigorously enforce all the laws against fraud in Nigeria. I assure you that we are both willing and able to do all that is necessary today to ensure that tomorrow, when we all cross to the other side of the road in retirement, we will truly live the life of the models in the PFA adverts and commercials!”
The special guest of honour and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha who described pension fraud as heinous, insensitive and condemnable, commended the synergy among the stakeholders which he said will permit analysis of the causes of pension fraud and the measures to check them.
He said the government was conscious of its responsibility in the pension sector and resolve to deal with criminal acts of pension fraud in all ramifications.
He disclosed that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has demonstrated a rare commitment to ameliorating the plight of pensioners through various administrative and policy interventions. He listed some of the initiatives of the administration targeted at making life more meaningful for pensioners to include, the release of N55billion to settle outstanding pension arrears, placement of 3,542 pensioners of the Delta Steel Company on the payroll, placement of over 2000 staff of the defunct Nigerian Telecommunication Limited, NITEL, on the payroll, approval of funds to pay the entitlement of dismissed Biafran Police Officers and the settlement of claims of disengaged staff of defunct Nigeria Airways.
He commended the EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa for the vigour and vibrancy he has brought to the leadership of the agency.
Goodwill messages were presented by prominent stakeholders including, Sulaiman Abbah, chairman, Police Pension; Professor Sadiq Radda, Executive Secretary, PACAC, who stood in for the Chairman, Professor Itse Sagay; Ayuba Wabba, President, Nigeria Labour Congress, and Clement Akintola, Executive Commissioner, Inspectorate, PPENCOM, who stood in for the Director General, National Pension Commission, PENCOM, Aisha Dahir-Umar.
Presenting a paper entitled, “Case Study: Analysis of Fraud in Pension Administration in Nigeria, The EFCC Experience”, Abdulkarim Chukkol, Director of Operations, EFCC, highlighted the gaps in the existing pension arrangements frequently exploited by criminal elements in both the public and private sectors. He noted that the country has lost several billions of naira in the process. He however identified improved staff training, proper internal control, improved reporting system and severe penalty as measures that could help check the incidence of pension fraud.