By Boluwaji Obahopo
KOGI State Governmentpenultimate week, stunned the state when it announced that N4.3 billion pension fund was stolen by the two previous administrations before it.
The previous administrations were run by opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP led by Ibrahim Idris and Idris Wada respectively.
The development has caused uproar in the state with the dust yet to settle.
The state government claimed it uncovered the N4.3bn pension fraud perpetrated between 2010 and 2015, when the PDP was in power.
Kingsley Fanwo, Director- General, Media, to Governor Bello who spoke on the reports, accused the PDP of creating problems that made the current administration unable to pay salaries.
He stated: “The Kogi State Government has uncovered a multi-billion naira pension fraud perpetrated under the administrations of former Governors of the state, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris and Captain Idris Wada.
According to an Audit Report, the fraud stood at over N4.3 billion between 2010 and 2015. The report shows that the syndicate was diverting pension and gratuity funds to private accounts, using names of unintended beneficiaries to the detriment of pensioners in the state.
“On assumption of office, the Executive Governor of the state, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, miffed by the level of unpaid pensions in the state, ordered a comprehensive audit of pension funds in the state. The audit revealed mind-boggling fraud in the pension administration under the two administrations in the state. The Governor has said that those found guilty will be prosecuted.
“Anyone found culpable will be prosecuted to explain their heinous crimes against innocent pensioners in the state. The present administration in the state is fighting corruption. To move forward, we must clean up our corrupt past and redeem whatever we can to instill discipline in the system and confidence in our people’s minds.
We will never condone acts of corruption. We have been repaying bonds that were either stolen or misapplied. We are repaying loans that were taken and stolen outrightly by the previous administrations. These are the things affecting our liquidity as a state.
The publication did not go down well with the former governors and the PDP, with its state Director, Research and Documentation, Dickson Achadu, who spoke on behalf of the party. He said: “The government’s latest antics is contained in a series of media reports credited to Kingsley Fanwo, Director-General Media and Publicity to Governor Bello, in which he claimed the government had uncovered a N4.3bn pension fraud.
In short, Fanwo laboured in vain to shift the blame of non-payment of gratuities and pension allowances of retirees by his boss, to the former governors. Yahaya Bello’s inability or unwillingness to meet his financial obligations to workers, pensioners and contractors is legendary. Each time the government makes an attempt to explain it away; it comes off worse and more laughable.
“The nine years Alhaji Ibrahim Idris governed Kogi, still remain the golden years in the history of the state. Under him, pension funds were judiciously applied and pensioners were paid their monthly allowances as and when due. His administration also introduced pension reforms that ensured retiring staff were immediately placed on pension starting from the month they retired. In addition, he increased pension benefits through the introduction of relativity, which ensured the least paid pensioner earned a living minimum pension up from the paltry allowance they were being paid.
“Due to the high figure of outstanding gratuity benefits which he inherited and paucity of funds, gratuities were scheduled on the basis of first come, first served subject to availability of funds. The administration religiously implemented the gratuity time table fairly without let or hindrance.
Certainly, Ibrahim Idris did not supervise the mismanagement of pension funds or any funds for that matter, as erroneously alleged by Governor Bello’s garrulous spokesperson. We challenge the Bello administration to publish the names of accounts where pension funds were fraudulently paid, dates of transactions and other account details like lodgments, withdrawals and how the former governor was complicit in such scam.”
However, the United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, has called on the state government to take further step from the published pension fund report and prosecute those involved.
Simeon Opaluwa, Kogi State chairman of ULC, lamented that if the information was found to be true, no one should be let off the hook, saying: “We, the state council of United Labour Congress have condemned in strong terms the criminal act of few individuals who have chosen to defraud and deprive the pensioners of their entitlement.
We urge the state government not to stop at publishing the names of such criminal elements so as to shame them, but the most appropriate sanction should be meted out on them. It is equally our appeal to the state government to source for funds to defray the accumulated pension arrears from 2015 to date.”