How we returned £26m from deceased Colonial Pension Fund in UK – PITAD boss, Ejikeme – New Telegraph Newspaper

Executive Secretary, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), Dr. Chioma Ejikeme, in this interview organised by the Presidential Communication Team, explained the workings of the technology deployed for effective pensions administration and declared that it was not hitch-free. She added that 303 policemen who served in the Biafra during the Civil War have been inducted into the nation’s regular pension scheme. LAWRENCE OLAOYE reports
You’ve been paying NITEL/MTEL retirees but what’s the fate of others who have not been verified by PTAD and what are the challenges with these verifications?
The welfare of our pensioners is paramount to us and what we know is that the alert is harmony to their ears. On the eligible NITEL/MTEL pensioners, who have not been verified, with regards to the funds and privatized agencies, we get the list of eligible pensioners from the Bureau of Public Enterprises.
So, if you are not on the list sent to us by the BPE, we can’t verify you because they are the clearing house that took care of the verification and they know what the arrangements were and what the agreements were. We don’t onboard pensioners on our own. If not, everyone in Nigeria will actually become a PTAD pensioner. So, there are actually rules and regulations that guide the onboarding of pensioners. We’ve heard their cries but until the BPE sends us a list of verified pensioners, we can’t do anything about it. There are so many indices for accepting pensioners for verification.
There were reports earlier this year that the government would be taking loans from the pension fund. If it has started, how is this affecting payments to pensioners in the MDAs?
That is a PENCOM situation. We are 100 per cent treasury funded. I keep saying the contributory scheme is the only sustainable way of pension in Nigeria because you find that in the course of your work, you’re contributing towards your pension before you retire. But for the defined benefit reform scheme, it is a 100 per cent treasury funded from the consolidated revenue funds and budgetary provisions.
So, the issue of loans from pension funds does not apply to the transitional arrangement directorate.
Within the period under review, how many ghost pensioners have been removed from the scheme and what does it translate to  in monetary terms?
I must say that some of the removals from the pension roll from 2015 to 2020 were as a result of the pensioners either didn’t show up for verification or they showed up for verification and they are not qualified. They are removed or they didn’t have complete documentation. Over time, the dynamics of what you have seen here could have changed because like in 2020, post privatization pension verification, we removed 21,000 pensioners from the pay roll and as a result, recently we have about 5,000 of them that have come back and they are eligible pensioners. Some of them are Diaspora pensioners-those who were not around to come for verification. Numbers are always dynamic. They are not static and I can’t give an actual amount that you’re looking for now but it’s something we can put together and give later.
How many of the policemen that fought on the side of Biafra during the civil war have been enrolled into the pension scheme and what happened to the soldiers who fought for Biafra?
We call them war affected because they are policemen who served on the Biafran side during the civil war. Currently, we have 303 on our payroll. The soldiers belong to the military pension. If there is any such arrangement, it will be handled by the Military Pension Board not by the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate. We don’t take care of soldiers; we only take care of the paramilitary and police; that is the Customs, Immigration and Correctional Services. There is a Military Pension Board that takes care of the soldiers.
Someone presently not in Nigeria said her pension was stopped in October 2020. How is she going to be returned to the payroll?
She’s a Diaspora pensioner and part of what we call October 2020 dropped. Post verification, we dropped all those pensioners who didn’t show up for verification. You didn’t show up, we assume that you’re not our pensioner. But we found out that there are a lot of Diaspora pensioners, a lot of these senior citizens whose children have been taken out of the country, and that’s where they reside.
We have not been able to do this Diaspora verification but there is something we are working on. Suffice it to say that if we have not verified you, it’s a problem. But if she is a bona fide pensioner and her career documents are complete, we normally demand for an Aliveness Certificate from the Nigerian Embassy of whichever country she resides. She will go there; they will take a photograph of her, give her what we call an Aliveness Certificate but we need also the BVN Certificate; we need to know that she has a personal account with a commercial bank. There are so many things involved but I will advise that she gets in touch with us and we will look into her situation and know how we can help. But the best thing is whenever she comes into Nigeria, she should just get into our office and get verified.
Can you shed more light on the recovery of N17.85 billion and repatriation of £26.5 million legacy funds you spoke about earlier in your presentation?
The N17.85 billion, I explained that prior to the establishment of PTAD and the Pension Reforms, these treasury funded parastatals, their pensions were managed by the Board of Trustees and their funds were kept with insurance underwriters.
So, the Pension Reform Act requested that all those funds should be transferred to PTAD for the settlement of the liabilities of pensions.
That’s where the N17.85 billion is coming from. It’s pension funds that have been previously been invested by government and this was 100 per cent treasury funded and government was making payment to the underwriters and government Board of Trustees for payment of pensions to these pensioners and in those days, you heard that when it is time to pay pensioners, the BOT will not pay and just keep the money in the banks and all that.
The one from the UK, I wouldn’t want to call it recovered as if they kept it and didn’t want to bring it back. It was repatriated funds. Government had also invested this fund in the Crown Agents Investments management companies in the United Kingdom and they consisted of funds that were used to pay the colonial pensioners, who had gone back to the UK. I had mentioned that these were the first group of pensioners that we started paying pensions to. It turned out that all those colonial pensioners are now deceased. So, the funds that were left and other investments by the pension fund of the Cocoa Research Institute, we asked them to repatriate the funds to us because we need the money to pay pensioners here and it was repatriated. The investments, interest with everything brought back to Nigeria.
Has there been any interface between PTAD and the Military Pension Board and have they started replicating the success in PTAD there?
We are just like brother and sister; we do the same thing. Theirs for the military, us for civilians and public servants, who retired under the defined benefit scheme.
The only interface we have with them, if any, is the fact that one, we take care of the people who retire from the NDA (Nigerian Defence Academy); we take care of their civilian staff and we also have some people who had gone through the military, gone to the police and so sometimes, when we need clarifications as to their service history, we relate to them. Aside from these, there is no other kind of interface with them.
What are the foreseeable challenges of the verification tools and how do you intend to approach them; and how do you intend to address the GIFMIS that caused delay in pension payment recently?
Certainly, it’s a new technology and we don’t want to tell you that it will be completely hitch-free and that’s why we have embarked on the pilot scheme to test the technology first before we decide to roll it out to all the pensioners and that’s also why we have taken time to invite pension union executives and pension desk officers of the offices that managed these pensions in the past to train them on how to use this solution and we have made them focal persons and what they are supposed to do is to hand hold our pensioners in the event that they cannot do these things themselves, they will be able to help them do it and in the event of any hitches, as focal persons, they have direct access to us. We are very conscious of the fact that we have a lot of our pensioners in the villages where there’s no access to the internet.
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