By UCHE CHRIS
The suspicion over the removal of Mrs. Chinelo Anoku- Amazu, as Director General of the Pension Commission, has continued to grow as questions on the legality and justice of the action remain unanswered. Investigation by BusinessHallmark revealed that government not only breached the extant law setting up the agency but clearly exhibited manifest injustice to the Igbo.
Checks showed that her removal, which was protested by the management and staff of the agency, was primarily political in nature and had nothing to do with her performance, any offence or the need to improve the fortunes of the establishment. Many people believe that her sack in spite of the positive transformation she brought on Pencom was a deliberate political measure against the Igbo.
As a major custodian of public funds now standing at about N7 trillion, observers believe that she was removed to give government direct access to the funds. There is also insinuation that the fund could come in handy for the government in critical times such as election funding and bridging short falls in budget. Government needed its direct appointee in the office.
President Buhari had on assumption of office pledged that he was not for anybody and for everybody; but his policy and action subsequently belied such pretended posturing as he later confessed that he could give the same reward to those who voted 90 percent and 30 percent for him respectively. And he made good this position by loading his kitchen cabinet with his people and practically excluded the Igbo from any strategic appointment in his government.
Mrs. Anoku-Amazu was the only south east Igbo person holding an important and non constitutionally required post in this government and she was appointed by the previous government like the Central Bank governor. Both positions are tenured for a specific period of time and she was on her second term which still had three years to elapse.
The 2014 Pencom Act as amended expressly states how the DG and board members of the agency could be appointed and removed to ensure its independence and integrity, and guarantee performance. Framers of the statute understood the fact that political interference had been responsible for the failure of previous pension bodies such as the NSITF and NPF, and most government organizations for that matter.
Section 19(d) 3, of the Act states that the chairman, who is part-time, and the DG, shall be appointed by the President subject to confirmation by the senate; S19(d)4 says the chairman, commissioners and DG shall represent each of the six geopolitical zones in the country. Section 20 stipulates that the chairman and DG shall hold office for five years in the first instance and may be reappointed for another term.
Section 21(1) a-g gives condition for ceasation of appointment or removal which precludes any discretionary powers by the president. The conditions include resignation, expiration of term, death, unsound mind, bankruptcy, incapacitation, conflict of interest or breach of provisions of S. 19(5 or 6), which deals with involvement with any PFA.
However, Section 21(2), which deals with vacancy, is where government acted with impunity and in total disregard of the law: It says that, “In the case of any vacancy, the President shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining term.
The consequent effect of this action of government is that her removal without a replacement has denied the Igbo a place in the board as anticipated by the law; which is illegal and unjust to not only her as a person but the entire Igbo group. There is nothing new or unusual about this provision of the law or practice; it is used in the appointment of ministers and key government officials. So why was her own different?
Chief Goddy Uwazurike, lawyer and president emeritus of Igbo think thank group, Aka Ikenga explains:
“It is not a question of where the person is coming from. I see it as an act of impunity. The appointment of PENCOM board has its statutory framework, and that board can only be dissolved by the National Assembly. That’s what the law says. The person is never appointed according to the whims and caprices of the president or the minister. There are some positions in this country that have statutory framework; I can give you some of: the CBN board, NDIC… in fact, most of the places where money is involved.
“The National Judicial Council, the Federal Civil Service Commission and so on are statutory in the sense that you do not wake and sack the boss; you do not wake up and dissolve the board. No, you must go back to the National Assembly. I understand that some of those cases are right now in court. Central Bank has no board because the matter is in court, and soon the tenure of Buhari would be over.
“They are acting with impunity; they do not want to know what the law says. The Pension Commission is a statutory creation, and the law setting it up also stated what will happen when you want to appoint anybody from a certain category. It is a simple matter of looking at the law and doing what the law says.”
The sudden removal of Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, from the top job of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), came as a surprise to many Nigerians. Her replacement with Mr. Funsho Doherty, a south-westerner in utter violation of the pension reform act further raised even more dust, with many calling for either her reinstatement or appointment of a south-easterner to complete her five-year term.
Mrs. Anohu-Amazu is from Anambra State, in the Southeast geopolitical zone. She spent two years and five months of her five-year tenure before being removed recently. Going by the enabling Act, Anohu-Amazu is supposed to be replaced by someone from the Southeast, who will complete the remaining part of her tenure of five years. There is also controversy over the circumstance surrounding the removal of Anohu-Amazu and the board.
Anohu-Amazu’s case is a departure from the norm of staff of organizations celebrating the ousting of their Chief Executives. Instead the staff of PenCom, Nigeria Labour Congress, pensioners, and other industry stakeholders have condemned the action, describing it as waste of 16 years of pension reform, politicization of pension administration, and a breach of Sections 19, 20, and 21 of the Pension Reform Act 2014.
Prior to the pension reform, the Nigeria pension industry was stinking with roguery, mindless looting, incompetence, and unparalleled hardship for pensioners. .
Not only was the Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS), which promised to pay gratuity and lifelong pension to retirees unrealistic and not working, available funds were allegedly stolen through brazen embezzlement and ghost pensioners, while the real pensioners died of heartbreak, preventable/curable diseases, and hardship.
It was, however, during the privatisation of pubic enterprises under former President OlusegunObasanjo that the stack realities and burdens of the nation’s moribund pension system dawned on the FG. Every enterprise the government wanted to sell had huge pension deficits.
All the investors wanted the pension deficit removed from their liabilities or have the companies for low price. It was at that point that the then DG of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), MallamNasir El-Rufai, and Chief Obasanjo, took the initiative that gave birth to the pension reform.
Obasanjo constituted the Pension Reform Committee headed by FolaAdeola, with Mrs. Anohu-Amazu as a member/secretary. The Committee received ideas from various stakeholders, which it combined with global best practices and came up with a Bill that resulted in the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004.
He received a presidential Letter of Commendation for her service on that Committee. The efficacy of the PRA 2004 showed in lifting the nation’s pension liability from over N2 trillion deficit inherited at the takeoff of the reform, to over N6.5 trillion of assets it boasts of today.
Translating the script
Following the enactment of the Pension Reform Act 2004, Mrs. Anohu-Amazu was drafted to the pension commission to play key roles in translating the letters and spirit of the Act into action. She served as the Commission Secretary and Legal Adviser.
She was later appointed the Acting DG of the Commission in 2012. Among her major achievements was the innovative leadership and strict regulations and enforcements, which saw to the growth of the pension assets from N2.9 trillion as at her appointment as the Acting DG in 2012 to over N6.5 trillion in 2017.
One of the major steps she took as Acting DG was to get the then President Goodluck Jonathan to activate Section 20 (2)(a) of the Pension Reform Act 2004 in 2013.
The Section, which provided for the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) with an Executive Secretary, was activated to checkmate the activities of the various pension departments.
Another key achievement to her credit was the successful amendment of the Pension Reform Act in 2014. The PRA 2014, properly establishes PTAD and makes it law to directly transmit the benefits of pensioners under the old scheme to their accounts without the involvement of a third party (the Pension Departments).
Other major breakthroughs in PRA 2014 include the creation of new offences regime and provisions for stiffer penalties against infractions on pension law or mismanagement or diversion of pension funds and assets under any guise. PRA 2014 even criminalises attempt to commit an offence and imposes the same penalty as committing the offence.
Also penalties for misappropriation of pension funds have been increased such that operators who mismanage pension funds will be liable to a term of 10 years imprisonment upon conviction and also pay a fine equal three times the amount misappropriated.
PenCom under her watch has shored up the Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) subscriptions from 5.39 million to 6.89 million within a period of three years.
Her leadership successfully completed the establishment of PenCom offices in the six geopolitical zones to save Nigerians the stress of travelling all the way to Abuja when they have issues or need to make enquiries on the pension industry.
Her giant strides and global reach helped to open up the Nigerian pension industry to the world. In 2014, Nigeria became the first and only African country to host the World Pension Summit (Africa Special) on the continent.