Akintunde Oyebode: The labour of our heroes past (Y! FrontPage)

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This is how our heroes are rewarded, shot like wild animals and left to die painfully; the much luckier ones die slowly, and watch helplessly as their pension and gratuity are looted by government officials.

We were preparing for our Senior Secondary Certificate Examination when the news filtered that our classmate lost his dad, an Admiral who served Nigeria for three decades. He was shot as he returned home from work, and died after several hospitals refused to treat him without a police report. Almost two decades later, a General sat outside his house when gunmen opened fire and killed him without reason. This is how our heroes are rewarded, shot like wild animals and left to die painfully; the much luckier ones die slowly, and watch helplessly as their pension and gratuity are looted by government officials.

For many years, we have been regaled with tales of pension fraud, and the episodes now look like a domestic version of The Never Ending Story. In March 2012, six people were arranged for stealing N32.8 billion of police pensions. Five of them pleaded not guilty, but the sixth person, John Yusufu knew the law better than most of us, and quickly admitted his guilt. Here’s where the story gets interesting; for such a quick admission of guilt, and his desire to save the state a lot of money to prosecute him, ‘Justice’ Abubakar Talba decided Mr. Yesufu should be punished with a fine of N250,000 for each of the three counts. For those of you worry how Mr. Yesufu will pay such a hefty fine, that’s the interest paid on N32.8 billion in one day.

Now let’s move to the more interesting story of the Pension Task Force Team (PTFT) and its controversial chairman, Abdulrasheed Maina. In 2010, the Head of Service, Mr. Steve Oronsaye set up a task force to investigate complaints from pensioners and reform the public pension system. After a biometric examination of pensioners, the PTFT verified 72,000 ‘genuine’ pensioners compared with the over 141,000 names on the payroll. As part of the exercise, the team also discovered 46,000 pensioners that were never paid their pensions, and included them in the database. For those wondering how much money we are talking about here, it is alleged that over N60 billion was stolen by 32 people from this simple scam. This is what happens when N5 billion is disbursed per month for an exercise that actually costs less than N1 billion; it doesn’t take a PhD in Nuclear Physics to work it out. If the EFCC is to be believed, over half of this blood money has been traced to accounts linked to some of the accused persons, and we now understand how those N200 million houses advertised in real estate magazines are easily sold.

Today, Maina and his team are on the hot seat; accused of yielding to temptation after seeing how easily public funds can be stolen. According to a Senate Committee led by Senator Aloysius Etok, Maina and his team spent N240 million instead of the N80 million set aside for the biometric verification of pensioners, operated illegal accounts and used the old trick, contract splitting. Today, the hunter is being hunted; and the key actor, Abdulrasheed Maina has disappeared into thin air. To confirm we are watching a special episode of Super Story, the Senate committee that indicted Maina et al has also been accused of receiving bribes from the suspects indicted by the PTFT. Various reports suggest Sani Shuaibu Teidi, one of the 32 suspects being prosecuted, paid a bribe of N3 billion to the Senate committee investigating this fraud.

It all feels like a sick game of musical chairs, helped by the way successive governments continue to treat pension fund theft with levity. While allegations fly around Abuja, those who served Nigeria in their most productive years continue to languish in poverty. I wonder what we can do differently, and how we can force our government to clean its Augean stable. As I type this article, Dante’s words continue to ring in my head. “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintained their neutrality.”

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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