PenCom: Presidency and the Rain of Impunity


By Nwobodo Chidiebere

“What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse.” -Isabel Allende, Chilean Writer
One of the greatest temptations cum cravings of the men of power is impunity, which is defined by arrogance of authority, epitomized in the tendency to subvert the laws vis-à-vis constitution of the land. Nothing influences future behavior of power-drunk tyrants as much as past impunity left unchallenged by discerning minds and voices of reason, thereby setting precedent for more violations of the laws via display of crass executive thoughtlessness.
The dangers of this despotic ideology being propagated through abuse of power, is not only that it turns a country into banana republic; where the whims and caprices of the few ruling elite becomes sacrosanct, but waters down the letters and spirit of the constitution in the eyes of the governed.
The recent removal of the Director-General (DG) of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, and the entire management team by the Mohammadu Buhari-led presidency brought to fore the extremism of political power and unrestrained show of it. Some cabals in Aso Rock Villa threw caution to the wind and trampled upon established laws of the country just to get rid of set of individuals they are supposedly uncomfortable with.
For the benefit and enlightenment of the readers, I will highlight some provisions of Pension Reform Act (2014), outlining procedural means of appointing and firing DG and Board of PenCom.
Section 20 (1) of PRA 2014 states that the “Chairman and the Director-General shall hold office for a term of five years in the first instance and may be re-appointed for another term of five years and no more”. Section 20 (2) provides that “A member of the Board other than the Chairman and the Director-General shall hold office for a term of four years in the first instance and may be reappointed for another term of four years and no more; subject to the provisions of section 2(1) (g) of this Act”.
The core essence of this, including the requirement of Senate confirmation of DG and Commissioners, is to give such officers some security of office. Since the occupants of the office cannot be arbitrarily removed, administration of the industry is not left to the vagaries of politics and inconsistencies that come with regime change. In other words, no matter who is the president, the industry should continue to thrive and both foreign and local investors will have nothing to worry about.
Nevertheless, Section 21 (1)(a)-(j) provides the conditions based on which a member of the Board shall cease to hold office. They are resignation, expiration of term of office, death, unsound mind, bankruptcy, and conviction on charges of felony or any offence involving dishonesty or corruption. Other grounds are if the person becomes incapable of carrying out the functions of his office either arising from an infirmity of mind or body, and is found to have contravened the provisions of the section 19(5) or (6) of the Act.
Section 21(1)(J), however, provides that “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”. Sadly, this only window, in which the presidency could have exploited in this circumstance by simply notifying the DG in writing, was ignored.
And when the presidency eventually wrote to remove management team, one week after the announcing their removal, it relied on Section 171 of the 1999 Constitution rather than the PRA 2014. And it deployed men of the Department of State Security to sack and intimidate staff of the agency, ostensibly because the DG refused to hand over a week after ‘removal’ from office by media announcement, whereas it was the presidency that failed to disengage her in writing. Yet Okon Obla had the guts to repeat severally that there was nothing wrong in her handing over once she heard the media announcement. Then you wonder what manner of lawyer he is and the quality advice they give the president.
Then, Maope Ogun, the Channels TV presenter asked if the nomination of the DG’s successor, Aliyu Dikko without recourse to the provisions of Section 21(2) of the PRA, which provides that “In the event of a vacancy, the President shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure”, was not an affront to rule of law, he unashamedly retorted that Section 130 and 171 of the Constitution empowered the president to do and undo. Dikko hails from Kaduna, North-West, while the removed DG, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, hails fro South-East zone.
His attention was also called to Section 19(5) (a) of PRA 2014, which provides that “The Chairman and members of the Board shall not 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”, whereas Dikko is the founder and Chairman of Premium Pension, a PFA and holds major shares there.
Surprisingly, Okon, in an awful display of buffoonery, kept saying that Section 171 of the 1999 Constitution empowers the President to hire and fire anybody he likes and that since the constitution is superior to the PRA 2014, nobody should question the president’s action. I am not a lawyer, but I my mouth was agape in bewilderment.
This is not only an injustice done to this performing Lady, on whose leadership pension assets were painstakingly raised from N2.9 trillion to N6.5 trillion, but the entire South-East geo-political zone where she hails from. We may recall that South-East has been at the receiving end of this administration via lopsided appointments and award of capital projects. It is on record that not even a single corruption case has been attributed to PenCom Management under her watch. It is actually not Nigerian to sit on nearly N7 trillion and no stories.
So, allowing this gross display of executive recklessness in not only removing the PenCom management without following the Pension Act and intimidating the agency with DSS to cover their incompetence in not sending the disengagement letter more than a week after the media announcement, but also in trying to impose Aliyu Dikko from North West, amount to rain of impunity. Yes, the impunity in the land no longer drizzles, but rains heavily and capable of a tsunami.
Section 21(2) of the PRA 2014 is very unambiguous to the effect that if you remove a member of the management board before the end of his/her tenure, you must replace him/her with somebody from his/her geopolitical zone to serve out his/her term. Also, by appointing a big player who has entrenched interest in pension sector via Premium Pension—a Pension Fund Administrator, as new Director-General, will not only erode investors and pensioners’ confidence in the industry, but place hard-earned wealth of pensioners and potential retirees, worth trillions of naira in the hands of selfish hawks in corridors power, who are shoring up their “war” chest ahead of 2019 general elections. If you violate the law to install stooges, who says you cannot trample the law to syphon the nearly N7 trillion?
It is most worrisome that the persons at the head of the campaign of calumny against the outgone DG and for the incoming DG, such as the former Vice Chairman of the First Guarantee Pension Limited, Hon. Chidi Duru, were people who have been indicted and charged to court for fraudulent practices in the industry, both by Anohu-Amazu’s predecessor, M.K Ahmad (who spent two terms), and the iron lady herself. So, are we safe?
Those who want to cover up this abuse of power by referring to Section 171 of 1999 Constitution (as amended), are obviously digging the bottomless ditch, where our nascent democracy will collapse into- should other organs of government—Legislature and Judiciary, decide to join the bandwagon of impunity being displayed by some hawks in the presidency bent on presenting President Muhammadu Buhari in a bad light.
And if laws made by the National Assembly no longer matter; if the clowns in the presidency can no longer differentiate between extra-ministerial departments and statutory agencies, then let us disband the National Assembly and the judiciary and allow the Presidency to run Nigeria wholly like a banana republic on the strength of so-called ‘almighty’ Section 171 of the Constitution.
Nwobodo Chidiebere writes from Abuja