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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?


Man’s business on earth was to look out for himself; that was under the old ethic. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. You take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. In Genesis 4:9, a question was asked; “Am I my brother’s keeper? This question has not been satisfactorily answered in a way that is reflective of the civilized world we claim to live in today. We still live like we are in the old time; the era of barbarism. Our mode of life today is nothing far from a reflection of Charles Darwin’s premise on Survival of the Fittest, which in nature paralleled Karl Marx’s premise on Class Struggle.

The recently exposed Police Pension scam is just one of such ethics of the wild beast, which portray man’s inhumanity to man. Media evidence has tagged the sum of the Police Pension funds scam at N32.8billion (it may be higher). The Nigerian Pension Reform Act, 2004, has inter alia as its main objectives: To ensure that everyone who has worked meritoriously receives retirement benefits as and when due to reduce old age poverty; To assist improvident individuals by ensuring that they save in order to cater for their livelihood during old age. A typical assessment of operations of the Pension Board vis-a-vis these objectives reveals a total flop in efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and whatever mechanism one may employ. The scam is an exposition of bestiality, greed and wickedness. We don’t need any sorcerer to tell us that we are still living in old time. We don’t need to be convinced by anybody that there is a thin line between humans and beasts given our interpersonal relationships to some extent. If you think I have gone to the extreme with those statements, just picture corruption as an act that uplifts a few number of people’s standard of living and debases chunk number of others living standard. If you still think otherwise, please think again!

The first time I read the headline on the Police Pension scam I remembered my friend, whose mother retired in early 2011 from public service. She has two younger sisters. Their father died long ago. I called my friend the other day to enquire about life and things in general. The response I got was a shocker. She has abandoned university for the moment due to her inability to meet up with the academic expenses. Her siblings are equally at the verge of dropping out as her family’s situation has gone bad. Her mother has not been paid a dime since her retirement. Her name has not even been captured in the pension list. Why? The answer is because she has not greased some hands in the pension’s office- she has not been able to pay an amount (as a handout) that was demanded before she would be included. I thought my ears didn’t hear very well that part of hand out and I asked her to repeat again and to be louder; she said her mother needed to pay a substantial sum before her name would be included in the pension list. The punch line is that retirees now give handouts for their names to be captured in the pension list. To make it clearer, people pay handouts to pension officials before they can stand a chance of receiving their retirement benefits. It is hard to believe but there are several stories of this scenario happening today. While retirees are subject to unnecessary hardship in the name of registration and data capturing process, officials are busy looting pension funds for their personal aggrandizement. It is a well known fact that pensioners die wretched while waiting for their benefits.  Cases abound where many pensioners have collapsed (and died) in the process of data capturing and registration. Now tell me what can be more bestial than that? Tell me how to conceive a recovery of N1billion cash from a civil servant? Now explain to me how a serving civil servant can acquire three luxury estates with about 27 blocks of deluxe flats in Abuja? I’m yet to understand how a whopping sum ofN2billion cash was recovered from a house belonging to a civil servant.  You tell me again how a civil servant can acquire hotels and fuel stations while still in government service? Now you see my aggression. Like I stated before, pension scam is just one of those predispositions that depict Survival of the Fittest in this new era of ethic of the jungle; the era of the wild beast, which we have always portrayed (wrongly) as civilized era.

Now that their names have been disclosed, their offices revealed (though not all as I believe there are still unrevealed names), their positions exposed, their faces unveiled, their looted wealth uncovered, the question is what’s holding their conviction? These are top public service officials, including a Permanent Secretary. There are always sacred cows in Nigeria’s corrupt cases. The judiciary will soon terminate the charges on the basis of legal technicalities and judicial jargons rather than looking in-depth from undeniable evidences of recorded assets and wealth accumulated by those criminals. Only the unfortunate ones will serve a few year jail terms. We are all aware of the numerous similar corruption cases that have been discharged on court pronunciation for lack of evidence and merit. Some have even been adjourned sine die. A British court has recently disgraced Nigerian courts (if only they will see it as such) by sentencing a high profiled criminal, whose corruption charges were discharged in Nigeria on the basis of judiciary jargons previously mentioned, to 13 years jail term.

I chose to talk about the pension scam because it is a sad state of affairs. It is sad because it violates the essence of man- basic rights. Though every corrupt practice is condemnable, the systemic looting of hapless pension funds is nothing but an abomination of the highest order. What corruption can be more heinous than that? Now you see why I am different to the system of society, in which we live in today and portray as a civilized society. As a civilized society we are meant to be our brother’s keeper. We are under moral obligation to ourselves, not by any mawkish sentimentality but by the higher duty we owe inter se. It is under this premise that the constitution of Nigeria is founded. And it is under this spirit that Pension Reform Act, 2004 is founded. Those officials have defeacated on the principles guiding the reform act. They have desecrated the Nigeria constitution, which forms the basis for every reform. When the judiciary fails to convict those officials, it spits on the faces of hapless pensioners. I end in the words of Eugene V. Debs, in his 1908 speech: What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death? The answer is starring you in the face!



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