‘Lenient judgement on stolen pension funds unacceptable’


In this interview with NIKE POPOOLA, the State Coordinator, Federal Concerned Pensioners, Lagos, Mr. David Adodo, speaks on hardships facing pensioners in the old scheme, and way out

Recently, a director in pension office was given a N750,000 paltry fine option by an Abuja High court after being convicted of stealing N27bn pension money. Considering several pensioners that died without getting their benefits, how did you pensioners receive the news?

The judgement is an embarrassment to all Nigerians. It is an insult to all pensioners and Nigerians and the Federal Government in particular. I think Nigeria has grown past this stage. We have seen a lot in this country and I think this should not be encouraged. It is unfortunate, the judiciary that is supposed to be the hope of the common man is turning out to be something else. It is an embarrassment, it is not acceptable to Nigerians, how can a man steal billions of naira, and be given such fine. I think the judiciary should have a rethink. Pensioners’ money is not something to joke with, it is a curse, anybody that embezzles our money is placed on curse because these is money of first class citizens, don’t tamper with it, it is an embarrassment. The government brings this money, but the money is being bastardised. It is unfortunate, somebody was caught and you embarrassed everybody by that judgement and by the fine, I am worried, it is not a good signal at all for generations to come. By that judgement, you are encouraging people to steal more by that kind of judgement, it is not acceptable, let them have a rethink.

What do you think is the fate of Nigerian pensioners?

That is why people like us will not keep quite. We hold Nigerian Union of Pensioners at the national level responsible. They are just keeping quiet, enjoying our money; they are supposed to champion our cause. That is why we concerned pensioners decided to take our destiny into our hands. Nigerians will ask them questions because they have been there for more than 10 years and pensioners are dying everyday, they are not doing anything and you still deduct their money. Posterity will never forgive them. NUP has a case to answer because they are supposed to be the custodians of the pensioners’ funds, so they should tell us what they have been doing.

Different groups have openly condemned the lenient judgement given to the pension thief. How do pensioners expect government to respond to their plight?

We pray and hope that with this outcry, the Federal Government will have a rethink and get us either a pension board or they should establish ministry of pension affairs if they really meant well for us, if they really don’t want all the money they have been spending to go down the drain, they should act fast. They have two options, it is either they fund the taskforce team because nobody has been paying us any arrears. The head of service has been unable to pay November and December pensions. Since November last year, half of pensioners were paid, half were not paid. That pension was hijacked from the taskforce team. We want the Federal Government to intervene, let them pay outstanding arrears, the 53.4 per cent, the harmonisation arrears, the minimum pay, it is our entitlement, it is our right, we will fight it to the end of our lives. We have nothing and we are not afraid to lose nothing. If we don’t get it, new generations will continue with the fight.

Despite the fact that there is NUP at national level to protect the interest of pensioners, why have pensioners conditions continued to deteriorate?

Nothing is happening there than for them to wait for cheques. They are not talking, all the arrears are lying down there nobody is talking. They are not making any moves, we are the ones helping ourselves, they want to isolate us, how can you be collecting such amount of money without helping the people. They locked up all the complaints in their office. We took our own to pension office and they are answering us. The government meant well to set up the task force team, if things had been going on well, there would have been no need to set up the task force team. I will continue to say it that the head of service lack internal control mechanism process, which gives room for laxity, encourages corruption and embezzlement. Let me tell you, the task force has internal control mechanism system. There was a fraud within the taskforce and it was detected, as I talk to you now, the person is in jail. How many leaders are courageous enough to jail anybody? Our money is there kept in the bank and people are just enjoying the interest. Up till now our money is being seized, the head of service only paid half of the pensioners, November and December salary is being seized. 70 per cent of federal pensioners are in Lagos .

Before you were chosen as coordinator by federal concerned pensioners in Lagos , how were the pensioners organising themselves to solve their pension problems?

Before, the  association was dead, nobody told us anything, nobody briefed us, there was no information,, nothing happened until I took over in February last year, then, things started happening. After the last biometrics, in 2010 the association came together, I took over in 2012, I gathered my people, the concerned pensioners, and took their complaint forms to the chairman of Pension Reform Task force, and he has been responding, based on the funds available to him, he promised to pay more if given the chance.

What were some problems you met on ground when you came?

I met all the backlog of unpaid arrears, they were all locked up in the room, there was no pressure from anybody to ensure that they were paid until I came. I was able to manover myself to the task force team and presented my case properly on behalf of federal pensioners in Lagos, they saw reason with me and started paying, it was like nobody was coming forward to present the case. Some pensioners names were even removed from the payroll, they were reinstated and they collected their arrears. There are some outstanding ones; some are having problems with documentation which is being rectified. That is why we are saying the task force should not be hurried out of office because there are still arrears  to be cleared, let them give them soft landing for them to cleared all the arrears.

How was the last major biometrics conducted for pensioners?

I think the biometric they did was primitive, it was challenging to the physically challenge, a lot of people died, it is not something we pray for to happen again. So I think the PRT chairman thought about it, and introduced the biometric data, which is very reasonable in all local governments. They should allow it to see the light of the day instead of us going through the erroneous task were people will be dying, collapsing,

For now, the administrators of the old pension scheme lack accurate data of pensioners alive in the country, why?

That should be their responsibility. If they don’t have it, they don’t have any business being there. They should give accountability to Nigerians and to those who sent them; the president. That is why I am saying they should be given the soft landing, it is a very long process, things have really gone bad so they should be given some time and not hurry them out of office, because we need to give this data to the country. Many of our money in billions are in the bank and they are enjoying the interest instead of paying us. The pensioners in Nigeria have suffered enough, we are not going to take it anymore. Let government settle this ones and for all. One man cannot be the custodian of the pensioners’ funds and the same time the administrator.

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