By Dayo Aiyetan
In a little over a month, the sparks will start to fly in what might turn out the most celebrated trial of this year as the prosecution of the former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye; former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, Abdulrasheed Maina; and others accused of siphoning over N1 billion from pensioners’ funds, commences.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had on July 10 slammed a 24-count charge on Messrs Oronsaye, Maina and Osarenkhole Afe, a consultant who worked with the Task Team, as well as his company, Fredrick Hamilton Global Services Limited, which was used as conduit pipe to siphon funds from the pension unit of the HOSF’s office.
Although Mr. Maina is not listed as one of the respondents in the case, his name features prominently in all the charges and he is being prosecuted along with the others.
EFCC sources indicate that his name is not listed among the respondents because “he is at large and cannot be tried in absentia”.
Messrs Oronsaye, Maina and the others are accused of using bogus or inflated biometrics enrolment contracts, dubious “collective allowances” and other schemes to steal money from the account in which pensioners’ funds were kept.
About N1 billion is believed to have been illegally taken out of the pension funds at the Pension Office of the office of the Head of Service for dubious biometric enrolment contracts while more than N100 million is believed to have been withdrawn in the name of collective allowances to staff of the pension department travelling on official duty.
Even now, investigators are still digging into the pension fund’s accounts, as it is believed that more of the stolen funds would be discovered.
Specifically, the accused persons allegedly awarded contracts for the conduct of biometric enrolment of pensioners in several states to front companies owned by them, their aides, friends and cronies.
The companies include Fredrick Hamilton, Innovation Solutions and Projects Ltd, Xangee Technologies and Fatidek Ventures. Others are Obalando Enterprises, Jolance Integrated Concepts, Vivian Ebony Nig. Ltd, MOF Investments and Fesbee Global Resources.
In some instances, the contracts were just schemes for siphoning money as in reality, no jobs were ever carried out yet monies were paid out to front companies which then paid them back to the accused persons.
Mr. Oronsaye’s sin is that as Head of Service, he approved the payments for the bogus contracts and also allegedly benefitted from the graft as some of the stolen funds were reportedly paid to him.
In fact, the Permanent Secretary, Establishment and Record in the HOSF’s office, Charles Bonat, who supervised the Pension Office, accused Oronsaye of usurping his functions, including the signing of cheques.
Mr. Bonat, who indicted Oronsaye for setting up the Task Team without a formal letter, terms of reference or duration and for approving payments contrary to regulations, said the former Head of Service “took away my duties and responsibilities which he now assigned to the task team”.
The Permanent Secretary, who has since retired, said further that Mr. Oronsaye also took from him the role of being the accounting officer of the pension accounts by making himself and others signatories to the accounts.
Others people implicated Oronsaye in the monumental fraud are Phina Ukamaka Chidi, a former deputy director at the Pension Office of the office of the Head of Service, who has also been standing trial since last year for stealing billions from pensioners’ funds, and Salami Kareem Adesokan, a former stores officer at the Customs Immigrations and Prisons Pension Office, CIPPO.
In 2011, Ms. Chidi told investigators that shortly before Mr. Oronsaye retired as Head of Service, she was asked by her boss, the director in the Pension Office of the office of the Head of Service, Teidi Shaibu, who is also being prosecuted for pension fraud, to source for companies to be used siphoning funds for Mr. Oronsaye using bogus contracts.
The plan, she said, was to award bogus contracts to such companies, which would later return the contract sums to Mr. Oronsaye.
“I was asked by Dr Shaibu to source for company names to execute some contracts the proceeds of which should be given to Mr. Oronsaye as the Head of Service then. The proceeds had been given to Oronsaye,” Chidi claimed in her statement to the EFCC on January 1, 2011.
“When the money came in from the contract from Olanipekun, he used to give to Ikenna in Zenith and Benni in UBA for safe custody before they were given to Dr Shaibu to give the former HOS Mr. Oronsaye,” Ms. Chidi revealed.
She added that such bogus contracts were thus awarded to about 60 companies for sums ranging from N4 million to N15 milion.
In his own statement to investigators, Mr. Adesokan alleged that he was also used to siphon money from pension accounts as he was asked to seek companies to be used to receive monies for contracts that were never awarded or executed.
Mr. Adesokan used three companies, Fatidek Ventures, Obalando Enterprises and Jolance Integrated Concepts, and the three firms received a total N147, 019,800 for non-existent contracts. In his statement, he claimed that he was instructed by Mr. Maina to withdraw the money and give it to His (Mr. Maina’s) secretary, Anne Igwe, who later delivered it to her boss.
However, Mr. Adesokan also claimed that each time he withdrew money and handed over to Igwe for delivery to Mr. Maina, he noticed that the money was usually moved to Mr. Oronsaye’s vehicle at the car park of the office of the Head of Service.
“When the money were collected and handed over to Anne Igwe, Mr. Maina’s secretary, I used to noticed the onward movement of these money again to Oronsaye, the then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, through his then Special Assistant in person of Ayo Otepola and Oronsaye’s driver,” he said.
He added that he was able to notice such movements of cash because “during 6.30 pm to 8 pm because this time I used to be in the mosque by this time and the mosque was such located that you will see anybody entering Block D of the Phase 11 of the federal secretariat.”
“I normally see the handling and movement of bags popularly known as Ghana Must Go,” he further stated.
However, the case against Mr. Oronsaye peters into insignificance compared to the accusations against Mr. Maina, who was appointed by Mr. Oronsaye in 2010 to reform the pension administration at the office of the Head of Service.
As chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Mr. Maina had unearthed the monumental looting of funds from the pension funds and blown the whistle on the likes of Messrs Shaibu and Chidi, which led to their prosecution.
Now, Mr. Maina is accused of doing exactly as the people he exposed by looting close to a billion naira from money meant for the payment of pensioners.
Several of those who were part of the scheme orchestrated to steal the money have already confessed their role and all pointed at Mr. Maina as the architect of the monumental fraud.
The first scheme allegedly employed by Mr. Maina was the biometric enrolment of pensioners across the states, which he demanded in order to sift out fake pensioners. But in most cases, it was alleged, no biometric exercise was conducted, instead contracts were awarded and the monies routed back to Mr. Maina.
The first biometric contract that got Messrs Maina and Oronsaye into trouble was awarded in June 2010 to Innovative Solutions, a company introduced to the office of the Head of Service by Mr. Afe, a respondent in the case. The contract was worth N63, 375,000 (sixty three million, three hundred and seventy five thousand naira).
Although many things were wrong with the process of bidding for this contract, Oronsaye approved it and the contract sum was paid to the contractor. It was later discovered that the said job was carried out at the sum of N35 million by Uptrach Communications Limited and not Innovative Solutions.
The chief executive officer of Innovative Solutions confessed under interrogation that Uptrach Communications did the job for N35 million and that it was Mr. Afe who instructed him to work with the company and Fredrick Hamilton, which he (Afe) owns.
Afe told investigators that the remaining N28 million was split between Maina, Otepola (Oronsaye’s Special Assistant), another director in the office of the Head of Service, Karamot Lawal and himself.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg for what would later become a looting spree. After the initial biometric enrolment exercise, Innovative Solutions requested for an extension of the exercise and therefore demanded the payment of extra N136 million. Mr. Afe later confessed that he was instructed by Mr. Maina to ask the company to seek the extension of the exercise for that amount, bringing the total cost of the biometric enrolment contract to N199 million.
However, investigators discovered that the second contract for N136 was never awarded but was a scheme to siphon money. Moreover, rather than being paid a total of N199, Innovative Solutions ended up being paid N224 million, with an excess of N25 million. In all, the company fraudulently received a total of N161.4 million.
According to Mr. Afe, the scheme to illegally pay N161.4 million to Innovative Solutions was orchestrated by Mr. Maina who also ended up being the sole beneficiary of that monumental fraud.
According to statements made by Mr. Afe, Innovative Solutions paid his own company, Fredrick Hamilton, a total of N155, 147,000 from the N161.4 million it received.
“After the exercise, Innovative Solutions Limited transferred the sum of 155.147 million to my Fredrick Hamilton account. I handed these funds over to Mr Maina.
“I wrote blank cheques to disburse the funds in the presence of my Oceanic Bank account officer (name withheld) on 8 July 2010,” he further stated.
Apart from this, Fredrick Hamilton also got paid another N119 million ostensibly for executing a biometric enrolment contract. Yet, there is no existing documentation regarding this contract for which payment was made.
However, in his statement, Mr. Afe, the owner of the company claimed that N35 million of the amount was payment for his project management consultancy job and that the balance was paid entirely in cash to Mr. Maina.
“The difference made here was at the instruction of Mr Maina and the funds were given to him in cash at my bank, Oceanic Bank, NAOWA Complex branch, Abuja,” Afe said.
However, investigators believe Mr. Afe lied about earning N35 million since no such contract was ever awarded, insisting that the entire N119 million was deliberately illegally siphoned.
In all, it was discovered that MR. Afe’s company, Fredrick Hamilton had illegally received payments totalling N280.05 million. In his statement to the EFCC, he claimed that he paid over N250 million to Maina.
The EFCC also alleges that Mr. Maina used other people and companies to siphon funds from the pension accounts of the Pension Office at the Head of Service.
One of the persons Mr. Maina allegedly used was Mr. Adesokan, who worked with him while he was director of CIIPO.
Mr. Adesokan used his company, Fatidek Ventures, to obtain bogus biometric enrolment and file jacket supply contracts totalling more than N30 million from the Head of Service’s Pension Office. But it was a ruse. There was no contract at all.
Mr. Adesokan confessed under interrogation that the N30, 056,000 obtained by Fatidek Ventures for the bogus supply contract was paid to Igwe, Mr. Maina’s secretary.
Mr. Adesokan also confessed using other companies to obtain other bogus contracts from the Pension Office.
According to him, these include, Jolance Integrated Concepts and Obalando, both owned by his friends.
“Jolance was awarded feeding contract to the tune of N20,000,000 but actually the company was not the one that provided feeding during the exercise,” he stated.
He further stated that the N20 million was also handed over to Anne Igwe as verbally directed by Abdulrasheed Maina.
Obalando, the other company used by Adesokan, got three bogus biometric enrolment contracts for N52,600,000, N9,925,400 and N32,240,000, all totalling N96,765,400. The entire sum, Adesokan said he was instructed to withdraw and hand over to Mr. Igwe by Mr. Maina, which he did.
Another civil servant used in siphoning money from pension accounts at the office of the Head of Service was Bonat’s secretary, Kate Chinwe Obiekwe, who was personally paid N56 million in the name of collective allowance and biometric enrolment. She claimed that most of the money was withdrawn by her and paid to the secretary of the Task Team, Ibrahim Abdulkareem, whom she said in turn handed it over to Mr. Igwe, Mr. Maina’s secretary.
Ms. Obiekwe added that Abdulkareem also asked her to provide her company’s account details to receive payments for biometric enrolment contracts. She provided her company, Vivian Ebony’s account details, and the company got N16, 786,000 but Ms. Obiekwe claimed that she also withdrew and handed over the money to Mr.
Abdulkareem. For her services, she claimed to have been paid the sum of N50, 000. Other than payments for biometric enrolment, another avenue that was allegedly used by Mr. Maina to siphon money from the pension funds was what was known as collective allowance.
These are allowances due to civil servants on official assignment outside Abuja with the voucher raised in one person’s name. It is alleged that names of staff of the Pension Office were drawn up as due for collective allowance for which monies running into several millions of naira were illegally paid out. But in truth, no official ever travelled rather it was a scheme designed to siphon money from the pension funds.
The names of several officials of the Task Team headed by Mr. Maina and other civil servants in the office of the Head of Service were used to siphon money this way.
Part of the N50 million paid to Ms. Obiekwe was received as collective allowance. In all, she must have received about N15 million into her personal account. She confessed that the money was not used for paying collective allowance to officials on duty outside Abuja rather was expended on such things as purchasing “office consumables,” “running the office”, helping staff and old pensioners return back home after coming to Abuja to pursue their pension and so on.
Mr. Abdulkareem was also discovered to have received a total of N80 million as collective allowance from the pension funds, while another staff of the Pension Reform Task Team, Mohammed Abdullahi, also allegedly collected more than N20 million for the same purpose.
When EFCC investigators confronted him with the allegations against him, Mr. Oronsaye denied all of them. First, he said that he was not the accounting officer of the pension office, insisting that Mr. Bonat held that responsibility.
Mr. Oronsaye also denied knowledge of about N500 million and another $2 million being held in trust for him as alleged by Ms. Chidi.
“I am told that $2 million and about N500 million are being held in trust for me by Mrs Chidi to be delivered to me at a later date. This is news to me. I could never be part of this,” Oronsaye stated, adding that he had never collected any money from her.
Regarding the illegal payment of N224 million to Innovative Solutions for a N63 million contract, the former Head of Service said he was advised on the importance of the biometric exercise by Afe, adding that the contract went through the tenders board, although he could not recollect if it was advertised as required by procurement laws.
Ms. Oronsaye denied knowledge of the N136 million contract for the extension of the biometric exercise and the other contract for the sum of N119 paid to Fredrick Hamilton, Afe’s company.
In Mr. Maina’s case, our reporter was able to reach him through his cell phone at his base in Dubai, where he has lived for about two years now. He denied any wrong doing while in office as chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, insisting that there was an agenda to tarnish his record as the man who saved more than N282 billion that would have been stolen.
He denied collecting monies from Mr. Afe, who alleged that he gave him more than N250 million.
“You say somebody said he gave 15 blank cheques to me. So, how did I cash them? Can’t they go to the bank and find out? Come on,” he said. When told that one of the contractors alleged that he issued him blank cheques to collect N119 million.
Mr. Maina insisted that it was because the EFCC had found no evidence against him that they failed to list him as one of the respondents in the case.
He also pointed out that the EFCC had not been fair to him as the Commission never invited him concerning any of the allegations levelled against him. When he was told that the anti-graft agency had informed our reporter that it had invited him through Ms. Igwe, his secretary, he said that only showed the agency was up to some tricks.
“How can they invite me through Anne. Don’t they know my house? Is Anne my mother? Am I in the civil service? Is Anne still my secretary?” he queried.
“How can they say I absconded? Did they invite me? They never invited me.”
Mr. Maina insisted that anytime money was collected for biometrics, it was judiciously used, noting that even officials of the EFCC travelled for the exercise and received payments due to them.
He also wondered how the EFCC would turn round and charge him of stealing from the pension funds when he blew the whistle on all those that are now being tried, observing that his team and the EFCC worked together in unravelling the rot in the pension administration at the office of the Head of Service and the Police Pension Office. The former Task Team chairman said that he had nothing to fear and that he was returning to Nigeria soon and would therefore be waiting for the investigators.
For many Nigerians who have followed the unearthing of the corruption that characterised pension funds administration in the country, the allegations must come as a rude shock. And the irony of the situation would also not be lost on them.
It was, indeed, Mr. Oronsaye who in 2010 set up the Pension Reform Task Team and invited Maina, then head of CIIPO, to cleanse the Pension Office in the office of the HOSC.
In his statement to the EFCC, Mr. Oronsaye said he set up the task team to reform the pension system “as a result of the many pensioners who clustered around the office of Head of Service saying they had not received their entitlements.
Mr. Maina rose to prominence as an anti-corruption czar when he uncovered the massive looting of pensioners’ funds first in the HOSF’s office and later at the Police Pension Office, PPO.
The disclosure by the Maina – led Task Team uncovered the looting of some N40 billion at the HOSF’s office and led to the prosecution of Messrs Shaibu, Chidi and 30 other persons slammed with a 134-count charge of conspiracy, fraud and corruption.
Also, at the Police Pension Office, the task team discovered another N20 billion fraud perpetrated by top civil servants and their aides.
In that case, investigations showed that between 2008 and June 2011, the civil servants, in the name of the director of the Police Pension Office, illegally withdrew a total of N18.1 billion from Police pension funds using some 13,874 check leaflets.
They did not even bother to disguise their criminal activities by awarding contracts or making payments to ghost pensioners as others did instead just wrote cheques payable to the director in the pension office.
Those who were arrested and are being prosecuted include Abubakar Kigo, former director, PPO, who retired as a permanent secretary in the ministry of Niger Delta; Esias Dangabar a retired director, PPO; Ahmed Wada, former deputy director, PPO, and Abdullahi Umar, deputy director, Ministry of Works. Others are John Yusuf, an accountant and a lady named Vicky, a cashier, both of whom worked in the PPO.
(Read details of our report published on February 27, 2012 here)
In all, the Task Team is also said to have saved the nation about N282 billion which would have been stolen by the pension thieves.
Mr. Maina is now being accused of borrowing the looting template employed by the pension looters, through bogus or inflated contracts, brazen issuance of cheques to persons for jobs not done and in the name of collective allowances.
These were the same methods unearthed by Maina as having been used by Shaibu and others to loot pension funds.
When the former Task Team chairman spoke to our reporter on the phone on August 2, he said that he was ready to defend himself and indicated that he would be returning to Nigeria the following week. But three weeks later, at the time of filing this report, he still had not returned home.