Issues in PenCom Appointments


A few weeks ago, the federal government announced the removal of the Director General of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, who was immediately replaced by Alhaji Aliyu Abdulrahman Dikko. In reconstituting the board, Mr Funso Doherty was also announced as the new chairman to replace former PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Ahmed Adamu Muazu. Since PenCom is a statutory agency where appointments require Senate confirmation, there was a lacuna that did not escape the attention of the lawmakers who instantly asked the appointees not to resume work.

However, there are also a few critical issues that are still lingering. One, Anohu-Amazu was confirmed as DG on 30th September, 2014 for a five-year term, which ordinarily was expected to end on 29th September, 2019. Two, the man initially named to succeed her hails from the North-west, a violation of Section 21 (2) of PRA 2014 which states that, “In the event of a vacancy, the President shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member who vacated the office to complete the remaining tenure.” Since Anohu-Amazu hails from the South-east geo-political zone, why was another person not appointed from that zone to complete her tenure as prescribed by law?

Three, Dikko’s appointment ran contrary to Section 19 (5) of PRA 2014 which says that “the chairman and members of the PenCom Board shall not own controlling shares in any of the pension funds administrator or pension funds custodian prior to or during their tenure of office as chairman or members of the board”. Arguably one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Abuja with considerable interest in real estate and the education sector, Dikko is currently a majority shareholder at Premium Pension Limited, one of the fastest growing pension funds administrators in the country today.

Apparently mindful of the foregoing, the federal government last weekend made changes by sending Dikko to the Bank of Industry (BoI) as Chairman of a reconstituted board. That, I must say, is most fitting for a man of his pedigree who can bring his business acumen and wealth of experience to bear on BoI while the conflict of interest arising from his earlier appointment has been resolved. But the appointment of Doherty who hails from the South-west as the new Director-General appears to me as a clear breach of the PenCom law, regardless of whatever may be his qualifications for the job.

In a nation where critical institutions, especially those with substantial funds, hardly survive one administration, it is a credit to the vision of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the then Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) Director General, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, who wrote the first concept paper as well as Mr Fola Adeola, the founding chairman of PenCom and his supporting staff, including Anohu-Amazu, that they have created a mega institution out of nothing. Between these people, they gave Nigeria the law which governs and regulate the administration of the uniform Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) for both the public and private sectors in our country today.

That is why the cynical manner in which an important, and very delicate, agency like PenCom is being treated should worry critical stakeholders. But the more worrisome aspect of the recent changes was the unfortunate ethnic slant that unwittingly gave oxygen to all sorts of pro-Biafra franchises, a vocal minority that has practically hijacked the otherwise genuine conversation in the South-east because of the disposition of the current administration. What happened on Tuesday in the South-east should teach the Buhari administration a lesson in how not to alienate a people.

Indeed, if there is anything that has given impetus to the renewed agitation for “Biafra”, it is in the manner the Buhari government has responded to issues concerning the Igbos, especially in terms of appointments. Unfortunately, it is now difficult to give the president any benefit of the doubt given the recent declaration by the Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr Chris Ngige. “They (Igbo people) refused to listen to me and to make matter worse, there was no voting in most of the areas in the South-east; they just allocated 5 per cent to APC. It was that bad. Politics is business in a way, you invest in business and you reap profit” said Ngige whose rationalization for whatever may be the lot of the South-east today is that it should be located at the way the people voted in the 2015 presidential election.

Incidentally, Ngige was only reinforcing the earlier position of President Buhari with his “97 percent and five percent” thesis. Yet, any keen follower of the Nigerian social media cannot but see the slant of debate over the PenCom appointments. The removal of Anohu-Amazu is viewed as part of the “anti-Igbo agenda” of the Buhari administration. Even if that may not be true, the administration has provided ready ammunition with the fact that it responded to a similar situation in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by adhering strictly to the law in the correction of an earlier mistake in appointments. Why then is the PenCom situation being treated differently?

Meanwhile, the tenure of Anohu-Amazu, who served as the pioneer Secretary/Legal Adviser of the Pension Commission, before becoming the Director General in December 2014 recorded a geometric rise in pension assets, which stood at N2.4 trillion in 2014 and was N6.5 trillion at the time of her exit from the commission. Anohu-Amazu therefore ought to have been treated with some respect. No matter what, Anohu-Amazu gave a good account of herself and she can hold her head high. She was edged out of PenCom not due to incompetence but rather as a result of petty politics.

That the president decided to make changes at PenCom was well within his prerogative even though there are still some procedural issues. But following his recent sack as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director by President Donald Trump, Mr James Comey said most memorably that a president could relieve him of his job for any reason or no reason at all. As it is in the United States so it is in Nigeria since we both practice presidential system. But the needless propaganda against Anohu-Amazu at a time she wanted to hand over properly, something that a critical agency like PenCom demands, was rather unfortunate.

What worries is that picking and choosing what legislation (and court order) to obey and which one to ignore has become the ideology of this government that seems to have scant regards for the rule of law. But on PenCom, there is an urgent need to be more circumspect. This is necessary so that corrective measures can be taken quickly otherwise, the Senate may have to use the confirmation hearing to intervene on the side of the law, commonsense and national unity.

Buhari’s Quiet Revolution

In the course of his Democracy Day address to the nation on Monday, Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo talked about the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative which he described as the “product of an unprecedented bilateral cooperation with the Government of Morocco that has resulted in the revitalisation of 11 blending plants across the country, the creation of 50,000 direct and indirect jobs so far, and in the production of 300,000 metric tonnes of NPK fertilizer, which is being sold to farmers at prices significantly lower than what they paid last year” and I didn’t know what he was talking about.

It says so much about this administration that prominent All Progressives Congress (APC) politicians, on both the executive and the legislative sides, whose opinions I sought also had no clue. Only my friend, Waziri Adio, the NEITI Executive Secretary, had a vague idea because, as he explained, he met one of the beneficiaries two weeks ago while adding that the National Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) is involved. Out of curiousity, I called the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) Managing Director, Mr Uche Orji, who then explained to me what could actually be a catalyst for the much-talked-about diversification of our economy from oil to agriculture.

The Fertilizer Initiative, I understand from my interaction with Orji, started with a question posed by President Buhari at a meeting where he asked if there were methods that could be adopted to make farmers receive Fertilizer on time and at a reasonable price. To address this question, the Fertilizer Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEPSAN) provided a concept which invoked a partnership with Office Cherifiendes Phosphates (OCP) of Morocco and when Buhari visited the country early last year, he started the discussion that culminated in a final agreement last December.

With the design and finance driven by the NSIA, a presidential committee chaired by the governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Mohammed Badaru Abubakar worked on the final details. The basic idea is to import 35 percent of the raw materials for Fertilizer which is di-ammonium phosphate from Morocco’s OCP and Potash from European traders while using 65 percent local content which are Urea from Indorama and limestone granules produced in Okpella, Edo state to blend.

Since most of the domestic blending plants had over the years become moribund, the NSIA entered into agreements with them for blending at a fixed margin on behalf of the agro-allied dealers with the state governments expected to pick up from the plants and sell to the people. It was from this arrangement that 10 hitherto comatose blending plants were revived to participate in the programme. That was what Osinbajo was talking about in his speech.

Meanwhile, the NSIA also entered into a contract with logistics and transport companies to move the materials from Lagos port for the imported materials and from Port Harcourt and Edo for the local content. Yet, the factory price is N5000 and the retail price is N5500, making fertilizer, essentially produced in Nigeria, very competitive and affordable with all the multiplier effects for the economy and social order.

What this means is that we will do away with subsidy and the corruption associated with it in the fertilizer regime. And this is a solid achievement that should be well projected by a government that only thrives in hollow propaganda. Beyond that, if there is any lesson to learn from a country like Netherlands, with a land mass of 41,543 sq. km (far smaller in size than Niger State which is 76,363 sq. km) and a population of 16 million people, it is that we should take agriculture much more seriously. In the year just ended (2016) for instance, the  country earned US$105 billion from agriculture exports whereas, the best we have ever realised from oil sales in any year remains US$99 billion, and that was at the peak of the oil boom in 2011.

Therefore, the fertilizer initiative not only provides a sure pathway for ensuring food security and economic diversification for our country, it is perhaps our best bet for massive job creation–from drivers to blenders to bagging staff to labourers to technical staff etc. Against the background that the same programme can be used in grain and silo management as well as in petroleum products, the NSIA has provided a good platform for the Buhari administration in its efforts to revive and reposition the economy. It is commendable.

Sheikh Gumi’s Report

In the last one week, Islamic scholar and medical doctor, Ahmad Gumi, has been trending on social media, essentially because of his critical dissection of the stewardship of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last two years. According to Gumi, in the interview granted ‘New Telegraph’ newspaper, excerpts of which are being circulated widely on WhatsApp, the president and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), are too divisive. “The kind of leader that Nigeria needs at this critical time is the one that can pacify. Not one that will show that he is clean and the other person is dirty. No. He should show that we are all dirty, let us all come and clean ourselves. So, the so-called clean party which has the broom, who is it trying to sweep? It is so antagonistic. It is so provocative that it has divided the country. If your house is also dirty, you cannot clean someone’s house.”

Before some people begin to dismiss the Sheikh as “corruption is fighting back”, which is the default mode of the operatives of this administration whenever they are called to account, Gumi provides a sociological explanation of corruption in Nigeria and why fighting such a problem requires a coherent strategy which he believes is lacking under the current dispensation. While I disagree with his thesis, I nonetheless find some of his summations quite fascinating, even if a bit simplistic. “Truly, corruption is crippling our progress and we are underdeveloped because of it. But I am very sorry to say that that corruption is the secret of the unity of Nigeria. When you see a Hausa Muslim, a Yorubaman, whether Muslim or Christian, and an Igbo Christian together in a room joking and laughing in peace, (you must) know that they are getting money. If they are not getting money, then OPC will come, Biafra will come; all kinds of insurgencies will start coming out. But once they are getting money, they will be quiet because they have something in common.”

In advocating a gradualist approach to fighting corruption, Gumi argues that it is the only way out of the hypocrisy that defines the efforts of the current administration which are not only counterproductive but also, according to him, may be at the root of the problem we have in Nigeria today. “Yes, you have to tackle corruption but in a subtle way. Fighting it shouldn’t be a slogan because it will boomerang and fire back at you. This is because, your own people will be caught in the act and you will keep quiet. There was a time that the president was in Dubai, asking the government to stop Nigerians from buying houses there. Then he suddenly discovered that the people who brought him to power have houses there.”

Apparently of the opinion that the administration is not handling the Niger Delta situation very well, Gumi cites the example of ‘Tompolo’ who has been declared wanted on allegations bordering on corruption. He believes that the government ought to be pragmatic enough to understand that it would be more beneficial to have Tompolo as a friend than as an enemy. On the way forward, Gumi says there are invaluable lessons to learn from the United States President, Mr Donald Trump. “In the formulation of policies, we should follow Trump’s example. Trump was so anti-Islam but when he went to Saudi Arabia, they gave him the sword of Wahabiyya. In actual fact, there is nothing like Wahabiyya but let’s assume it exists, Trump took part in a traditional dance that signifies the capturing of territories. After capturing territories, the ancient Arabs used to dance and thank God for the victory. It’s a war dance; a victory dance. Trump had to hold the sword of Jihad and danced with the Saudis because he wants their money. What I am trying to say here is that Nigeria, whether we like it or not, needs the cheap energy of the South-south region. So, we should dance with them. Don’t formulate a policy whereby they will be your enemies. Look at Trump swallowing all his pride to go to Saudi Arabia and beg for forgiveness. This is where people who created and configured APC made a mistake. They should have formulated their policies in such a way that they don’t divide Nigeria.”

There are many things to disagree with in Gumi’s interview which speaks to several national issues. But it is difficult to fault his patriotism and grasp of the challenges that currently plague our country. Much more importantly, it is clear that he can see beyond the narrow ethnic and religious divides being erected by politicians in Nigeria today. It will serve the presidency and the APC well to listen to him.