Posted by News Express | 16 November 2022 | 626 times
Pension fund in Nigeria has never been taken seriously by some government officials, politicians, heads of service and other pension administrators and stakeholders as it is seen as free money and ‘national cake’ open for embezzlement.
The ‘national cake’ syndrome makes people see money accumulated from a fund to be redistributed to all tiers of government, contractors and individuals.
This is evident in the case of former chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina who was currently jailed for eight years for money laundering offences involving over N2 billion pension fund.
But the National Pension Commission (PenCom) has since come to change the narrative following the enactment of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004 as repealed by PRA 2014. The PRA established the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) that has accumulated N14.5 trillion as at September, 2022.
This notwithstanding, the commission is not finding it easy as the officials of the commission are pressured daily to share the money like national cake, The Nation has learnt.
Top sources in the commission disclosed anonymously that the Director-General of the commission, Mrs. Aisha Dahir-Umar, has been on series of attack from top politicians, individuals and so forth over her refusal to play ball by sharing the money. Series of allegations and blackmails are made against her leading to demand for bribes, fees and favours in different forms.
The DG has been in the eye of the storm from the National Assembly to civil societies with the most recent being National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and one would wonder what business students would have with pension funds.
Of course, it is easy to hide behind holding public servants for accountability and transparency in the public sector, the truth remains that many times, groups are used as tools to upset targeted institutions to play ball.
Although NANS has backtracked and issued a vote of confidence on the DG, the commission seems exhausted over the series of attack.
The case with pension legislators
The legislators have had many issues with the commission ranging from claims of alleged inappropriate use of funds generated by the commission to run its operations, moves to amend the Pension Reform Act against the commission’s will, alleged payments of humongous salaries and perks to the DG and other staffers, among other allegations.
The House of Representatives Committee on Finance in September this year rejected the financial statement of the National Pension Commission which, according to them, shows a remittance of N1 billion out of its N20.7 billion revenue generated in 2021, and some breaches of extant financial regulations.
The committee said in the document submitted to them that the commission’s actual operating surplus stood at N5.53 billion against the projected N1.85 billion while actual staff salaries were N10.15 billion against the N11.13 billion projected.
This, the committee insisted, violates extant financial regulations.
NANS, anti-corruption agency controversy
The country woke up to news that PenCom DG bribed NANS with the sum of $10,000, N3,000,000 and N2,000,000.
An anti-corruption organisation, the Global Integrity Crusade Network (GICN), had alleged that Mrs. Dahiru-Umar paid bribes through one James Umeh to some NANS officials in tranches of $10,000, N3,000,000 and N2,000,000.
NANS was reported by some bloggers to have written to the PenCom DG demanding an explanation on the allegation that she bribed her way to be confirmed as the substantive Director-General of the commission.
According to the reports: “NANS stated this in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request letter signed by the union’s National Secretary, Usman Baba Kankia, asking the commission to also confirm the truth or otherwise of the claim that it spent N14 billion for personnel costs annually”.
However, the Global Integrity Crusade Network in a letter to Dahiru-Umar dated October 17, 2022 which a news platform (not this newspaper) obtained demanded her immediate resignation from office, citing alleged abuse of office and fraud.
GICN said: “Rather than clear your name by availing NANS the information and documents requested in ANNEXURE A, you opted to pay some bribe money through one James Umeh to the NANS officials in tranches of $10,000, N3000,000 and N2,000,000.”
Reacting to the allegation, NANS denied the bribery allegations levelled against the association by GICN.
In a statement made available to journalists, NANS President, Usman Barambu, described those behind the anti-corruption organisation as mischievous.
Barambu said the association didn’t collect a dime from the embattled PenCom DG and challenged GICN to name an executive member of the students’ movement who collected bribe.
“We are shocked to read a publication that the leadership of NANS collected a bribe from the DG of PenCom, Aisha Dahiru-Umar. The publication is not only false but malicious and an attempt to malign the reputation of the association. We want to make it clear that at no time did any genuine member of the Barambu-led executive collected any bribe from Mrs. Dahir-Umar or her agent. We challenged the so-called an anti-corruption organisation, the Global Integrity Crusade Network (GICN) who made the allegations to name the NANS executive this money was paid to.
“And if truly Mrs. Dahir-Umar paid anyone to silent the students’ association, we urged her to immediately request for refund as the current leadership can’t be bought. We remain resolute to the cause of securing an egalitarian society. We know those doing everything to tarnish the image of NANS because we refused to bow to their intimidation. The fight against victimisation of students’ leaders and activists on campuses remain one of the top priorities of the Barambu-led NANS.
“As promised before the election, the current leadership has started building strategic partnership with development organisations to ensure students on campuses enjoy better welfare in terms of ICT, Smart Campus, and access to resources for research and academic productivity, so we won’t be bothered by faceless groups.”
The NANS President again warned Nigerians to be wary of any impostor parading themselves as leaders of the organisation.
One of the top sources who spoke with The Nation, said the DG was recently asked to pay N500 million as bribe.
The source said: “They asked us for N500 million. The DG is determined not to succumb to blackmailers. But honestly, it has been exhausting for her dealing with spurious allegations and demands every day. The good thing is that she will not compromise pension money. She does not want to go to jail on behalf of anyone.
“She is being dragged left and right just to share the money. A weak person would have just given up and give them what they want and eventually keep some for his or herself but Mrs. Dahir-Umar is very strong and ready to safeguard the fund under the ambits of the law. There are some people working and waiting for her downfall. But she is smarter to know that if she gives them what they are asking for, that is where she will end up”.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Dahir-Umar while reacting in a statement made available to journalists to the allegation of payments of humongous salaries and perks to herself and other staffers of the commission, said the commission consider the allegations making the rounds that each staff earns N3 million monthly as blackmail by some mischievous people.
She warned that the commission won’t succumb to cheap blackmail, describing the allegations as false and misleading.
For clarity, she stated that the highest paying staff which is her, earn less than N1 million.
The statement read: “Following the false and misleading information on the compensation package of the commission being circulated in the traditional and social media (not this newspaper), it has become necessary to set the record straight in the interest of the Nigerian public. It is being alleged that the least paid PenCom employee earns a salary of N3 million per month. This has fueled all sorts of false allegations and unfair insinuations. The public is invited to note that the claim is absolutely false.
“The highest paid official of the commission earns less than N1 million a month. It is, therefore, completely illogical and improbable that the least paid will earn a monthly salary of N3 million. We understand that there is an element of mischief and possible blackmail on the commission’s compensation package. From our understanding, it appears someone calculated all staff costs, including training, staff exit benefit scheme, and employer’s pension contribution, and divided the total by the number of the Commission’s employees and concluded that the least paid employee is on a monthly salary of N3 million. There is a clear difference between staff cost and staff salaries.
“It is imperative to point out that right from the inception of the Commission in 2004, the Federal Government mandated the Board to adopt an employee compensation policy that favourably compares to comparator government bodies in the financial services sector, such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Section 25(2)(b) of the Pension Reform Act 2014 also empowers the Board of the Commission to fix the remuneration, allowances and benefits of the employees”.
Mrs. Dahir-Umar continued: “More so, the Presidential Committee on the Consolidation of Emoluments in the Public Sector headed by the late Chief Ernest Shonekan, former Head of the Interim National Government, made a number of recommendations which guide the PenCom Board in its compensation review exercises. One of the recommendations is that the pay structure of self-funded agencies should be benchmarked with their private sector comparators so as to ensure relativity in such agencies and attract and retain high-calibre professionals.
“The Shonekan Committee, which was set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005, also recommended that the pay structure of regulatory agencies should be benchmarked against sectors they monitor to avoid regulatory capture, and that an annual increase in pay should be undertaken to account for inflation/cost of living adjustment and establishments may strive to attain 50th percentile and above their comparators in the private sector. We made all these facts known in a recently submission to the House of Representatives Committee on Finance over the compensation package of the Commission.
“We also stated that the last compensation package review was done in 2017 with the approval of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF). No review has been done in the last five years and this has affected the ability of the Commission to attract, hire and retain staff with competitive skills. The public is, therefore, implored to ignore the false and mischievous information on the staff compensation package. The Commission has nothing to hide and will continue to run a transparent and accountable system”, she said.
The Executive Director, Citizens Network for Transparency and Accountability in Africa, David Aches posited that the traducers of the Pencom DG have always been trounced on account of the verifiable facts and figures she always presented to counter them in every material particular.
“The outstanding achievements of the DG speak for themselves, including, but not limited to the astronomical rise in pension fund assets and RSA membership, novel multi-fund structure, online enrolment, payment of outstanding pension liabilities, recovery of outstanding pension contributions, micro pension innovation, recapitalization of Pension Fund Administrators, enhanced contributor registration system and the recent commencement of 2023 online verification and enrolment exercise. Indeed, there must be something unique and spectacular about this astute and no-nonsense technocrat.
“We therefore salute the courage, fortitude and forthrightness of Aisha Dahir Umar in her goal-oriented administration of this all-important agency which has greatly and positively impacted the lives of Nigeria’s hitherto longsuffering pensioners and senior citizens. We enjoin her to remain focused and ignore the antics of her vicious detractors, including those yet to raise their ugly heads. They are the real adversaries of the pensioners and Nigerian public”, he noted.
Chairperson, Conference of Civil Society of Nigeria, Comrade Adams Otakwu on his part stated: “These fifth columnists masquerading as civil society organizations have been in the habit of renting crowds to hold protests against their victims whom they also picket at will.
“Blackmail and extortion are heinous crimes in all statutes in the civilized world, Nigeria inclusive and must be confronted frontally by well-meaning citizens in all facets of life, but all the more so by genuine public spirited CSOs whose hard-earned images are being progressively tarnished by the sons of Belael in our midst. It is in this regard that we are proposing a nationwide onslaught against the toxic CSOs not only by the security and law enforcement agencies, but a wide spectrum of society including, but not limited to the media, academia, professional bodies, socio-cultural organisations, student unions and traditional institutions”, he said.
Understanding contributory pension scheme safeguards
Suffice to state that N14.5 trillion pension fund belongs to Nigerian workers from both formal and informal sector.
The money is an accumulation of a minimum of eight per cent deductions from about 10 million formal sector workers salary and 10 per cent contribution by their various employers respectively as stated in the Pension Reform Act, 2014.
Informal sector workers comprising 84,000 entrepreneurs and artisans on the other hand are also contributing to the fund.
Going by the Act, the commission does not have access to the fund, neither does pension managers, the Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) have access to the fund.
The monies are remitted directly by employers to Pension Fund Custodians (PFCs) for the PFAs who keeps it in their custody. The PFCs act as the banks and are in actual fact, banks in the country. They also invest the fund on behalf of the PFAs who makes day to day investment decisions in line with the investment regulations issued by PenCom.
Another source told the newspaper that the commission runs the administration of pension industry from fees, sanctions and fines derived from the operators. “We are inundated with different people looking for how to forcefully make money from the commission daily, forgetting that the money they are superintending over are workers money. The commission survives from fees, sanctions and fines. The only thing the commission has done is to ensure that the staff are paid well so as not to be compromised against the safety of the huge fund under their supervision.
“Until recently, we used to get a grant from the central government but this has stopped some years ago. Presently, despite the fact that PenCom is not a revenue generating agency like Customs, we have been contributing to government coffers when we have excess money that we don’t need at every quarter.
“We are not on the list of agencies that generate income for government. The Federal Ministry of Finance updates the list every year but has never included us. But on our own, we contribute to government coffers. It is voluntary. They should be clapping for us. They don’t know anything and they don’t seek to know. They are just interested in blackmailing us to get money from us which will never happen”, he said.
Full knowledge of the workings of pension fund will help the corrupt forces know that PenCom cannot compromise, not just because they do not have access to the fund but because they are focused on being one of the best government agencies that exists for the effective regulation and supervision of the Nigerian pension industry.
It is also pertinent that they allow pension administration function without fraud and embezzlement as seen in developed countries that provide best retirement plans for their retirees. (The Nation)
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