By Ismail Omipidan
The recent controversial sack of the Director-General of the National Pension Commission, PenCom, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, whose tenure was truncated midway, without recourse to the law establishing the agency did not come to industry watchers as a surprise.
From day one, the Anambra State-born technocrat was a marked person. In spite of the fact that she was part of the brains that set the agency from the scratch, together with the like of Kaduna Stae Governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, about 12 years ago, during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, some hawks within and outside the industry never wanted her to superintend over the agency.
In fact, in of one the encounters about four years ago, while the National Assembly was working on the proposed amendments to the act establishing PenCom, one of the ranking lawmakers from the North, who incidentally is today a Principal Officer, had told the sacked DG, to her face: “Madam, I know you are good, I know you are qualified. But I can’t support you, because you are from the South-East.” The woman simply responded: “Oh, I thought it was about competence.”
But for the courageous stance of the then Senate President, David Mark, Anohu-Amazu, would have been sent packing long before the amendments sailed through.
However, once President Muhammadu Buhari took over, the hawks again, went into work. And by last week, they succeeded in terminating Anohu-Amazu’s tenure, albeit in a controversial circumstance. By the Act establishing the agency, she is entitled to five years tenure of office, subject to renewal for another term in office.
Section 21 of the Pension Reform Act 2014 clearly spelt out the circumstances under which a member of the commission would seize to hold office. It listed such circumstances as resignation, expiration of term, death, bankruptcy, conviction for a crime, becoming an unsound mind, disability and outright removal by the President, who would then write the affected person.
Specifically, Section 21 (j) of the Act says a member of the Pencom board could be removed if “the President is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the commission or public for the person to continue in office and notifies the member in writing to that effect.”
Apart from the fact that the sacked DG and her board members were not notified in writing before their sack was made public, it is yet to be seen how the sacked DG’s continued stay at PenCom was not in the interest of the commission, thus warranting her sack.
Daily Sun also gathered that letters notifying them of their removal from the board only came days after the announcement was made, in complete breach of the provision of the Act.
Also, going by the enabling law, the sacked DG’s replacement is supposed to come from the South-East. Section 21 (2) of the Pension Reform Act, 2014 stated: “In the event of a vacancy (for the chairman, DG or other members of board), the President shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure.”
Again, in complete disregard to the law, one Alhaji Dikko Aliyu Abdulrahman, from the North-West, was announced as new DG, subject to Senate confirmation.
Also, the status of the new DG, who is currently the chairman, Board of Directors of the Premium Pensions Limited, and a shareholder in the Premium Pension Limited, offends section 19 (5) of the Act.
The provision, stated that: “The chairman and members of the board shall not: (a) own controlling shares in any Pension Fund Administrator or Pension Fund Custodian, prior to and during their tenure of office as Chairman or members of the Board; or (b) be directors or shareholders in any Pension Fund Administrator or Pension Fund Custodian before the expiration of three years after ceasing to be a chairman or member of the board.”
The amendments to the Act, the issues
The contributory pension scheme came into being, through the enactment of a Pension Reform Act (2004). Like most laws in Nigeria however, there were a few inconsistencies in the Pension Reform Act.
The need to therefore address some of these inconsistencies, and to strengthen the law, with a view to making it address current realities, made the then President Goodluck Jonathan to propose certain “radical amendments” to the existing law. It therefore submitted the Pension Reform Act (2013), in April 2013, to the National Assembly, for consideration.
Among the amendments sought at the time were: To enhance the powers of the commission in its regulatory and enforcement activities; enhance the protection of pension fund assets; unlock the opportunities for the deployment of pension assets for national development; upward review of Minimum Rate of Pension Contribution; review sanctions regime to reflect current realities; provide for the participation of the Informal sector; provide the framework for the adoption of the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), by States and Local Governments and Years of Qualifying Experience for the DG and Commissioners, among others.
And for the years of qualifying experience, the Presidency sought to reduce it from 20 to 15 years for DG and commissioners.
Ironically, in the existing law then, even though the commissioners could act in the absence of the DG, there was no provision for any years of qualifying experience for commissioners, in the same law.
But of all the amendments proposed, that of the years of qualifying experience for the DG, generated the most controversy, with a section of the country feeling that the whole purpose of the amendment was to pave way for the commission’s acting DG, Anohu-Amazu, to emerge as the substantive DG.
Interestingly, before the former leadership of PenCom was unceremoniously sent packing, it had proposed to the government to allow them serve beyond their two terms of four years, as originally prescribed by the law that brought them on board, in the first instance. Once the attempt failed, the group, it was further learnt, recruited a particular lawmaker from Kano, to help them mobilise against the passage of the new Bill, sent by the Presidency.
And in giving himself away, the lawmaker, and another of his colleagues from Yobe State, was consistent in speaking against just one clause, of all the other clauses proposed for amendment.
In spite of their stance against the proposed amendment however, the committee went ahead to hold a public hearing on the general amendments proposed to the 2004 Act.
The public hearing
Interestingly too, the National Assembly Joint Committees, that worked on the proposed amendments were chaired by Senator Aloysius Etok, South-South and Hon Ibrahim Bawa Kamba, North-West.
As it turned out, majority of the stakeholders who featured at the public hearing threw their weight behind most of the amendments proposed, including that of reducing the qualifying years of experience, from the initial 20 to 15, insisting that PenCom, as body, was even less than 10 years.For instance, the then National President of Federal Universities Pensioners Association (FUPA), Dr. Ayuba Kura and the representative of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Kabiru Matazu, in their separate submissions to the committee told the lawmakers to disregard the proposed 20 years of experience by some persons, allegedly seeking for change of guard in the agency. “The issue of experience in Nigeria is sometimes a very, very dangerous issue. It is not how long you have stayed in the office that makes you an experienced one but what have you contributed, what have you done that will make you to occupy a position. Pick people who are growing. They have the exuberance, the feeling and they will do better,” Kura had told the committee.
NANS, on its part had said: “We, the Nigerian students and vibrant youths of this nation, believe that age and experience though important do not translate to competence. We the Nigerian students and youth represent about 60perecent of Nigeria’s population. We believe that the future belongs to us.
“We consider this campaign against competence-based leadership as not only mischievous and devilish, but runs contrary to the beliefs and ideals of this great administration and the efforts to move it forward. We refer to them as enemies of the pension reform who prefer the return to status quo ante rather than embrace change and move on. Recycling of old leaders is not in tandem with recent development strides achieved by the youths all over the world.
“Moreover, if our constitution sets the age qualification to be President at 40 years, what stops a Director General at 40 years or below from occupying the position if found competent, especially when the DG would be reporting to the President? We find this antithetical to Mr. President’s transformation agenda of enhancing efficiency, resourcefulness and competence of human resource personnel for nation building.
“NANS is interested in this reform because we are the future of this nation, tomorrow’s workforce and future would-be pensioners and retirees. We have a stake here and will fight for and secure our future now. For us, our future starts today.”
Also, making its official position known during the public hearing, Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pension Office (CIPPRO), submitted: “On the issue of appointment of PENCOM DG, 15 years is enough for anybody to be so appointed more especially, if the person had worked within the system. In addition to cognate experience, there is something that you cannot take away from a person who has worked within a system and knows the nitty-gritty of it.”
When the committee turned in its report, the lawmakers laid to rest the controversy surrounding what should be the appropriate years of experience, one must possess, before being appointed the Director-General of the National Pension Commission, PenCom.
The National Assembly Joint Committees on Pension and Establishment Matters, made up of members, from both the lower and upper chambers, it was gathered, reasoned that headship of other Federal government agencies and parastatals, like Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which also deal with large sums of money, does not require any such long years of experience.
In the committees’ wisdom, it recommended among other things that only a “fit and proper person, with adequate cognate experience in pension matters” should be appointed as DG, board chairman and as a commissioner, to serve in PenCom, insisting that the guiding principle relating to nomination to serve in PenCom, would be cognate experience, on pension matters.
In the report, the lawmakers held that “the executive recommendation of 20 and 15 years for chairman, the Director-General and commissioners of the Board of PenCom respectively, is over bloated and unnecessary.
“The Joint Committee hence decided to de-emphasize the issue of years of experience for PenCom Board membership and to recommend that persons to be appointed to the office of the Chairman of the Board of PenCom, the DG and Commissioners shall be fit and proper persons with adequate cognate experience in pension matters.” In the end, the report was adopted, and the Act was passed and assented to by Jonathan.
It was El-Rufai who said recently that there was always a cabal, in any set up, adding: “Even in your own newspaper houses, there is a cabal. Nobody can run an institution without a coterie of two, three, four trusted people. There is always a cabal; the issue is whether it is a positive or a disruptive cabal.”
Ironically, the cabal in the Presidency, who are being fingered as the brain behind the controversial sack is a set of people doing unthinkable things and get away with them almost always. Although they appear untouchable as they hold the system hostage, with the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, who announced himself as a member of the cabal, it appears the days of the other members of the cabal may be numbered.
As things stand, only the Senate or a competent court can reverse the action of the Presidency, by returning the sacked DG and her board to office. Where that is not possible, only the Senate can insist that the sacked DG must be replaced by a candidate from the South-East, in accordance with the provision of the PenCom Act. But will that ever happen? It seems only time will tell.