The National Pension Commission (PenCom) has been in the news over the probe instituted by the House of Representatives into the alleged illegalities and financial improprieties perpetrated by the agency, since Mrs Aisha Dahiru-Umar took over as the Acting Director-General (DG) in April 2017.
Among others, the House is investigating the agency over alleged financial malfeasance, missing N33 billion pension funds, and whooping 300 percent increase in exit/retirement benefits for herself and some senior staff without Board approval. Section 25 (2) (b) of PRA 2014 provides that PenCom Board shall also have power to “fix the remuneration, allowances and benefits of the employees of the Commission”. Instructively, PenCom has no Board since 2015 and Exco since April 2017, leaving the House to wonder, who approved the hike.
The House is further irked by the suspension, since May 2017, of the assumption of duty by 43 staff duly recruited by the last PenCom Exco, leading to the death in 2018 of one Mustapha Ajiya, who resigned his previous appointment preparatory to resuming at PenCom in May 2017 after receiving his appointment letter. Interestingly too, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), which is overseeing the agency in the absence of a Board and EXCO has also washed its hand off the recruitment brouhaha. First, Mrs. Aisha Dahir-Umar claimed it was about office accommodation for the recruits. But investigations reveal that previous PenCom Exco made adequate arrangements for the recruits. Next, she claimed the previous management did not get the final approval from the Federal Character Commission (FCC) before issuance of appointment letters, a claim the spokesperson of FCC, Mr. Abdullahi Idris, was quick to refute. He told a national daily (Daily Trust, 5th September 2018) that “The FCC had no reason to order the cancellation of a legitimate recruitment process; FCC frowns at organisations, who after being duly issued with Certificate of Compliance will turn around to cancel same without genuine reason”.
Then at the ongoing hearing, she claimed she halted the resumption of the recruits on the strength of a letter by the Chairman of the House Committee on Federal Character, Hon. Idris Ahmed. Members of the panel have wondered how that could be since no lawmaker had such powers. Unfortunately, the House probe has not moved smoothly because the probe panel headed by Hon. Johnson Agbonayinma (APC, Edo), has been having running battle with PenCom and its Acting DG, Mrs. Umar-Dahiru, over lack of cooperation, conflicting information, and refusal to submit critical documents to the panel.
Curiously, after months of playing hide and seek, in what many see as buying time and probably awaiting the expiration of the 8th National Assembly, the agency sacked the daughter of the probe panel chairman, Hon. Agbonayinma in February 2019, for allegedly working at PenCom with forged certificate. I have no problem with that if she truly possessed a forged certificate. They should, in fact, fish out others like her and invoke the full weight of the law on them, unlike Kemi Adeosun, who got a red carpet passage to London.
However, I have problems with her letter to the Speaker claiming that PenCom had lost confidence in Agbonayinma’s capacity to be fair to them, having sacked his daughter in the course of the probe. But contrary to what PenCom wants us to believe, one can rightly argue that Agbonayinma’s daughter was sacked because of PenCom probe, not the other way round since the probe predates the sack. In fact, it is mischief to sack the lawmaker’s daughter in the middle of a probe he was heading and use same to raise fears of bias. The Acting DG has been heading PenCom for two full years and her action is an obvious case of the witch crying at night and the baby dying in the morning. Indeed, Agbonayinma’s insistence that the daughter should face the law if found wanting rather than allow the allegations against the agency to go without investigation, adds to his integrity. An average Nigerian politician wouldn’t do that.
The lawmaker clearly stated during an interview and while tendering his resignation at the last hearing that efforts were made, including a motion at the floor of the House to truncate the probe, but the Speaker rebuffed them. He also alleged that a fellow lawmaker brought the Acting DG to his office to influence him to discontinue the probe. So, logically speaking, Agbonayinma sin is his refusal to be bought. What is personal about the panel’s request for Board approval of the 300 percent increase of the Acting DG’s exit benefits? What is personal in the panel’s demand for the financial details of PenCom, evidences of purportedly executed contracts, and evidences of actual embankment on local and foreign trips by the Acting DG for which millions of naira were paid in tickets, allowances, and Estacodes?
Above all, what is personal in asking for evidences of whereabouts of over N33 billion pension funds, sweat of Nigerian workers? The Acting DG testified under oath that PenCom had only one account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), while her representative at the last hearing (Lana Loyinmi, Head of Contributions and Remittance) said it was three. Pressed further, he said it was two until Hon. Wale Oke, came to PenCom’s rescue and got Oloyemi to claim he didn’t know. We all saw the show of shame on the TV channels. But CBN’s submission clearly showed that PenCom has eight accounts with it. What do we call that – incompetence, mischief, lying on oath or all of the above?
Furthermore, the agency claimed at the hearing that she had Board approval for the outrageous 300 percent hike in her exit allowance, but ended up submitting mere minutes of her meeting with PenCom General Managers (GMs). How does that suffice for Board approval? Are GMs now the PenCom Board? Therefore, while Agbonayinma deserves commendation for honourably resigning his chairmanship of the panel to maintain its neutrality, it is actually the Acting DG that should have stepped aside in a working society to avoid her undue interference with the probe.
However, now that Agbonayinma has resigned, can Mrs. Aisha Dahir-Umar and PenCom eschew time buying and cheap blackmail to supply the requested documents in national interest, particularly N33 billion of the Nigerian workers whose life savings and sweat are at stake here? The Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara should be aware that Agbonayinma’s resignation has brought a moral burden on them and PenCom as only an unbiased, diligent, and credible conclusion and adoption of the probe panel’s report before the expiration of the 8th National Assembly can retain the confidence of Nigerians in them.
Suleiman Magaji writes from Mararaba, Nassarawa State