by Stanley Azuakola
When Justice Abubakar Talba found John Yakubu Yusuf, one of the men who defrauded pensioners of N23 billion, guilty, but then sentenced him to only two years in jail with the option of a N750,000 fine, there was anger in the land. No one could understand why Yusuf got such a light sentence when even goat-thieves got tougher ones.
Some argued however that Justice Talba did not err in his judgement as the law itself was faulty.
Now, the federal government is making moves to correct that. With over N149 billion reportedly missing from government coffers, the government has forwarded a new law to the National Assembly, seeking a 10-year imprisonment for pension thieves. It would require the repeal of the old Pension Act, and President Goodluck Jonathan has demanded just that, asking that in its place, a Pension Reform Bill, 2013 be enacted.
According to reports:
In an April 4 covering letter to Senate President David Mark, titled: Pension Reform Bill for Consideration and Enactment into Law, the president requested for “formal consideration and enactment into law, the Pension Reform Bill” with the repeal of four existing Pension Acts. They are: The Pension Reform Act of 2004; The Pension Act 1990, the Police and other Agencies Pensions Offices (Establishment, etc.) Act 1993 and the Police Pension Rights of Inspector-General of Police Act 1993. If the new law scales through in the National Assembly, on conviction, pension thieves would not only be imprisoned, they would be compelled to return three times the amount they have stolen. Offenders (are) to be prosecuted in the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Attorney-General of the Federation or such officer in the Federal Ministry of Justice as the Attorney-General of the Federation might authorise.
The Pension Reform Bill, states that: “The Pension Reform Act 2004 as amended is repealed. Pursuant to the provision of subsection (1) of this section, the following enactments shall stand repealed, that is-(a) The Pension Act 1990, the Police and other Agencies Pensions Offices (Establishment, etc.) Act, 1993; and the Police Pension Rights of Inspector-General of Police Act, 1993.” Section 100 (1) stipulates that, “any Pension Fund Administrator or Pension Fund Custodian or person or body who misappropriates or diverts pension funds commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to a fine of an amount equal to three times the amount so misappropriated or diverted or to a term of not less than10 years imprisonment or to both fine and imprisonment.”
Conversely, in Section 101 of the new Pension Reform Bill, “any Pension Fund Custodian who contravenes section 70 of this Act commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not less than N10,000,000 and each of its director orº principal officers shall be liable to a fine of not less than N5,000,000 or to a term of not less than five years imprisonment or to both such fund and imprisonment…” Unlike before, the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation has been vested with direct payments of retirees, as provided for in section 6 of the new Act.
“The Accountant-General of the Federation shall make payments of retirement benefits directly into individual bank accounts of retired persons covered under section 5 of this Act and details of such payments shall be submitted to the National Pension Commission and the Pension Transitional Arrangements Directorate of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory established under sections 42 and 44 of this Act respectively.” Senate President David Mark read the president’s correspondence at Wednesday plenary.