Right from the first day she stepped into her role as the Acting Director General of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) in April 2017, Mrs Aisha Dahir-Umar must have known she was gliding straight into a firestorm.
Her immediate predecessor, Ms. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, who had presided over the affairs of the agency for five years, was unwilling to quit and had to be forcefully ejected from her office.
The bad press immediately started and PenCom’s media office was kept busy. The erstwhile Head of Communication, PenCom, Emeka Onuora, in the first statement he issued to announce Dahir-Umar’s appointment, had noted that the change at the agency had brought a lot of negative media attention to it.
He however assured that the transition was very successful and further assured the public, especially registered members of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) and retirees that PenCom will safeguard their pension assets and ensure that retirees are paid their benefits as and when due.
However, despite such reassurances, those who believed they owned PenCom would not let go.
Neither the agency nor the Acting Director General has been allowed a respite since then. The forces of the old order have refused to give up and have been unrelenting in their attacks against the agency and the new management.
Faceless stakeholders have been quoted in the media making phantom lamentations about how things had gone wrong since Anohu-Amazu was sacked, and how only a new management could salvage the agency. The minds of these stakeholders are so beclouded to the extent that all the while they had been lamenting on an imagined faultiness in Pencom, members of the public could not agree with them and the facts on ground do support their allegations. These facts have clearly frustrated them into desperation and continuous accusations of imaginary problems in Pencom and the pension industry.
Last Friday, they were at it again. An article published in the Guardian entitled: ‘The Problem with PenCom,’ sought to continue the ‘war’ against Dahir-Umar. Instead of dissecting the alleged problems of the agency, the writer, obviously fronting for the old order, chose to remind his readers about the ‘glorious’ days of the former director general.
The writer went into the history of PenCom and how Anohu-Amazu was at the core of it. How the sacked former director general along with others birthed the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004 which made the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) its flagship and created PenCom as the regulator. He did not forget to emphasise that she possessed a master’s degree in Telecommunications and Information Technology Law from the London School of Economics! He claimed there was a decline at PenCom “since the ill-advised and unlawful truncation of the tenure” of Ms. Anohu-Amazu. The article left no one in doubt as to the intention of the writer when he asserted: “The real problem instead is thrusting on the helms of PENCOM someone bereft of the intellect as well as knowledge of the agency’s core mandates.”
It is obvious someone outside PenCom is suffering from a superiority complex that has undoubtedly become an emotional hallucination. For how can any reasonable and responsible person fail to see the transformation that had taken place at PenCom since Anohu-Amazu left the agency?
Not only has pension assets grown beyond expectation, but retirees now get their benefits as and when due.
Pension assets has risen from N7.52 trillion in December 2017, to N8.14 trillion in May 2018 and N9.03 trillion in March 2019. The rise has been meteoric and historic.
By the time new figures are released, the trajectory of success would be clearer.
This expectedly, has impacted on the economy in a substantial way and made pension for retirees more secured and assured.
In a recent statement, PenCom spokesman, Mr Peter Aghahowa, revealed that N6.51trillion had been invested in the federal government securities by the Pension Fund Administrators, which represents about 70.08 per cent of the N9.03 trillion pension assets.
The inadequacies of the erstwhile pension system brought hardship and frustration to many retirees who left service and couldn’t access their pension for years. Some died in the process. This led to the enactment of the Pension Reform Act 2004 to introduce the CPS and the amendment of the Act in 2014 to correct identified implementation challenges. Under the scheme, a civil servant opens a Retirement Savings Account (RSA) into which his/her pension contributions were paid. The accruals can be regularly tracked through a regular RSA account statement from the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA), thus enabling a contributor plan for life in retirement with some measures of certainty.
Unfortunately, many employers of labour have found ways of circumventing the law and short-changing contributors. Although by the provisions of Section 11 (6) and (7) as well as Section 24(d) of the PRA 2014, it is an offence for an employer not to remit contributions, these provisions have not deterred many employers from holding back pension contributions of their employees. This has caused undue delays to such contributors’ pension payment, thereby defeating the purpose of the CPS.
PenCom has reacted to this threat by forging an inter-agency collaboration with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to crackdown on remitters and violators of these and other provisions of PRA 2014. While the struggle to sanitise the industry started under Anohu-Amazu, it has been intensified under the current acting director general.
It must nevertheless be emphasised that the moderate success recorded under Anohu-Amazu cannot overshadow the known fact of the irregularity of her appointment.
She was not qualified for the position at the time and was appointed only in acting capacity in 2012.
The writer of the article in the Guardian of last Friday also pointed at the House of Representatives probe of PenCom over an alleged missing N33 billion as evidence of the decline under Aisha -Umar.
The fact is that no money is missing, and the Adhoc Committee itself had no option than to concede this in its subsequent hearings. It became clear that the allegation and probe are the handiwork of the same anti-Aisha-Umar forces outside PenCom.
It has, indeed, since become public knowledge that the House probe was driven by a legislator’s vendetta and inducements from outside of PenCom. Aisha -Umar incurred their wrath when she sacked the daughter of the Chairman of the House Committee probing PenCom for possessing fake foreign degrees. The sacked staff was employed into the agency under Anohu-Amazu, but a verification exercise conducted by the agency led to her sack February this year. The unwholesome agenda was clear to the leadership of the House of Representatives which quickly removed the chairman of the Adhoc committee to save the integrity of the House. The probe has since been in the cooler.
It is time for those with unbridled sense of entitlement to let go of Pencom and allow its current management to focus on service to the public. Such people should accept the fact that public position is service to the country. Once you have done your best during your time, stay on the sidelines and make positive interventions when the need arises. No one is entitled to public office and this fixation about reclaiming a lost position has gone too far.
Ating wrote in from Abuja