The nomination of Hajiya Aisha Dahir-Umar as the director-general of the National Pension Commission (PenCom) by President Muhammadu Buhari has generated controversy from some quarters.
On September 29, 2020, Senate President Ahmed Lawan read President Buhari’s letter conveying the nomination of Dahir-Umar (North-East) and Dr Oyindasola Oluremi Oni (North-Central) as the chairman of the commission’s Board.
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Others nominated into the Board included Hannatu Musa (North-West), Clement Akintola (South-West), Ayim Nyerere (South-East) and Charles Emukowhale (South-South) as executive commissioners.
However, Senate Minority Leader Enyinnaya Abaribe objected to the nomination of Dahir-Umar as the director-general of PenCom.
Dahir-Umar has been acting as director-general of PenCom since President Buhari dissolved its Board in 2015. The dissolution of the Board displaced Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu (South-East) from her former position as director-general of the commission.
Senator Abaribe argued that the next substantive director-general of PenCom should come from the South-East to replace Anohu-Amazu.
“I recall that the tenure of the incumbent was truncated; therefore, the new letter from the president that has now moved the chairman of the commission to another zone may not be correct because it is against the law setting up the National Pension Commission,” he said.
Abaribe based his objection on the provision of Pension Reform Act, 2014 (PRA, 2014).
Dismissing Abaribe’s point of order; Senator Lawan referred the nominees to the Committee on Establishment and Public Service Matters for screening.
Speaking of Abaribe’s observation, Senate President Lawan said, “That is for me to interpret because I interpret the laws here. If there is any petition to that effect, it should be sent to the committee.”
Similarly, the president of Igbo Lawyers Association (Otu Oka Iwu), Joy Nzube-Uzoeghelu, said in a statement that the next PenCom director-general should come from the South-East as the former one was ousted by the Federal Government “under hazy circumstances.”
Nzube-Uzoeghelu said the nomination flouted Section 21(2) of the PRA, 2014, which states that, ‘‘In the event of a vacancy, the president shall appoint a replacement from the geopolitical zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure.”
Meanwhile, PenCom has explained that the appointment of its director-general from the same zone as the former occupant does not apply to a situation where the president dissolved the entire Board.
Daily Trust on Sunday recalls that in 2015, the Federal Government dissolved the Boards of Federal Parastatals, including that of PenCom.
The spokesperson of PenCom, Mr Peter Aghahowa, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the replacement of any PenCom director-general removed from office from the same region as the former occupant of the position only applies to occasional vacancies and not when the whole Board is dissolved by the president.
Aghahowa said the entire PenCom Board was completely dissolved and the president reserves the right to reconstitute it from competent people across the country. He said the president made fresh nominations into the Board of PenCom, and this did not equate to replacing a single member ousted from the Board.
He pointed out that Section 106(4) of the Pension Reform Act, 2014 provides that where a Board of the commission is yet to be reconstituted after six months of the dissolution of the last Board, the president may appoint fit and proper persons with pension cognate experience to constitute the Board at the first instance, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The Board of PenCom has not been constituted in the past five years.
The executive director of the Centre for Pension Right Advocacy, Ivor Takor, a lawyer, said the appointment of the next director-general of PenCom was at the pleasure of the president.
“The Board of PenCom was dissolved in 2015 or thereabouts, and for almost five years, the commission has been without a Board. It has become a convention in Nigeria that once a new administration is sworn in at the federal level, all governing boards of Federal Government Agencies are dissolved and reconstituted at the pleasure of the president,” he said.
Takor, a former Board member of PenCom, said the absence of a substantive director-general and Board had affected effective management of the pension industry, and the confirmation of the nominees would do the country good.
Relevant statutory provisions governing appointment to PenCom Board.
Section 19(3) of the PRA, 2014 provides that the chairman, director-general and commissioners shall be appointed by the president, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Section 19(4) of the PRA 2014 requires that each of the appointees represents each of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, while Section 21(1)(h) of the PRA, 2014 provides that a person would cease to be a member of Board if the president is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the commission or the public for the person to continue in office.
Section 21(2) of the PRA, 2014 provides that in the event of a vacancy in the Board of the commission, the president shall appoint a replacement from the geopolitical zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure.
Section 106(4) of the PRA, 2014 provides that notwithstanding Section 19(2)(a) and 26(2)&(4) of the Act, where a Board of the commission is yet to be reconstituted after six months of the dissolution of the last Board, the president of the Federal Republic may appoint fit and proper persons with pension cognate experience to constitute the Board at the first instance, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Similarly, Section 171 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) vests in Mr President the power to appoint persons to hold or act in certain offices and to remove such persons.
To add context to the PenCom director-general palaver, the founder/chief executive officer of The Cable, Simon Kolawole, explained that the president nominated Dahir-Umar as a successor and not a replacement to Anohu-Amazu.
“Anohu-Amazu barely served three years before her removal and the dissolution of the Board. But there is a new Board. The previous Board, dissolved three years ago, is history. Technically, therefore, Dahir-Umar has been nominated as a successor to, not as a replacement for Anohu-Amazu,” Kolawole explained.
Similarly, a researcher, Chinedu Asadu, explained that Anohu-Amazu, whose appointment as PenCom director-general was confirmed by the Senate in October 2014, was to spend five years in office as provided by the law. However, her tenure was cut short in 2017 with the dissolution of the Board.
“With the Board yet to be reconstituted after six months as stated in the law, the president appointed Dahir-Umar as acting director-general, and she has remained in acting capacity beyond October 2019 when Anohu-Amazu’s tenure was to expire. In other words, while Section 21(2) of the PRA deals with the replacement of Board members who did not complete their tenures, Dahir-Umar is being appointed as Anohu-Amazu’s successor, not her replacement,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) has backed President Buhari’s nomination of Umar-Dahir as the director-general of PenCom. A statement signed by the union’s president, Comrade Quadri Olaleye, secretary-general, Comrade Musa-Lawal Ozigi, stated that PenCom was too sensitive to be entrusted into the hands of people with questionable characters.
“As stakeholders, we have watched with keen interest, the activities of the commission and can say that Mrs Umar-Dahir has done creditably well enough to earn a promotion,” the TUC stated.
According to the union, “Before now, Nigeria had issues with payment of pensions, and pensioners were dying without being paid statutorily stipulated percentage of their contribution due to them at retirement. The story is changing.”
While the controversies surrounding the nominees to the Board of PenCom rage on, the Senate Committee on Establishment and Public Service Matters is expected to work in the background, screening the nominees. The committee is expected to submit its report to in two weeks.