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PenCom and challenges of public institutions in development

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PenCom

The tasks of building the nation’s economy has been that of twists and turns, facilitated by obvious inefficiency of public institutions that are charged with overseeing most critical areas of development. 

Many of these institutions, appear to be constrained by lack of robust enabling legislations to address the constantly emerging challenges that characterise the socio-economic and political situations.
 
Sometimes, the cause of the constraints and the tendency to nothing are traceable to the administrators of such enabling legislations, who often prefer to yield to abuse of power, both internal and/or external.

Indeed, the combination or any of these factors could undermine any public institution and render it incapable of achieving the objectives for its creation.
  
The National Pension Commission (Pencom) is a case study of the challenges of building strong public institutions in Nigeria.

Pencom, though relatively young institution, was established in 2004 to regulate and supervise a new pension industry, under the Pension Reform Act. It made provisions that ensured the establishment of institutions for the effective implementation of the requisite operations. 
 
The Federal Government also ensured that the pioneer management of Pencom was a blend of tested and trusted professionals, who in turn, head-hunted a crop of competent Nigerians to establish both the regulatory institution and the industry operators. 
 
The result of the Pencom experiment was a fantastic scorecard of unparalleled achievements in financial services regulation in Nigeria. For the first time in its recent history, the country successfully introduced and nurtured a socio-economic reform that became a reference point both at the domestic and continental levels.
  
Expectedly, however, Pencom’s management, enabling law, regulations, systems and processes evolved in the course of time. In 2012, Pencom experienced its first management transition. 
 
Two years later, in 2014, there was a review and re-enactment of the Pension Reform Act, which introduced many issues that are now controversial, setting the tone for ensuing challenges of the institution. Since then, the institution had been infested with issues that had plagued other public institutions in the country.

 
Reading through the abundant literature available in the public space on the first management transition in Pencom, one gets the picture that illustrates how one of these viruses negatively impacted the institution. Traditional public service practice in Nigeria requires that when the whole executive management team of an institution vacates office, the most senior career officer is tasked with the responsibility of holding forth, pending the appointment of the substantive Management and Chief Executive Officer by the Federal Government.
 
Thus, when the pioneer executive management, led by M. K. Ahmad, completed its tenure in 2012, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, administered Pencom as its chief executive officer in acting capacity for 20 months- December 2012 to October 2014. What was, however, interesting about this was that the long management transition was informed by the alleged desire of political actors at the time to adjust the rules of the game by amending the Pension Reform Act 2004 to allow for the confirmation in the substantive capacity.
 
It’s also interesting to know that she was recruited in 2005 as Company Secretary and Legal Adviser of Pencom on General Manager grade, which is equivalent to a Director in the public service, just eight years after graduation. 
 
Thus, public service rules were bent and abused through her placement on directorate cadre in the same organisation where senior and far more experienced officers, including the person that signed her first employment letter at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), were placed on lower grades. 
 
That was the incident, or should we say the virus, that put the first management transition in PenCom on a wrong footing.

Thus, she benefited from abuse of the public service rules to gain undeserved placement and ironically, used that platform to benefit from the same rules to ascend to the leadership of the organisation upon the exit of the pioneer management. This naturally weakened the moral authority of the institution to enforce standards on regulated entities in the pension industry.
 
Based on the provisions of the Pension Reform Act 2004, Amazu did not possess the 25 years minimum qualifying experience for appointment as a substantive CEO of Pencom.
 
However, private interest gained pre-eminence and national political authority was deployed to drive the legislative process of statutory amendment to make possible what was otherwise impossible. This fast-tracked the process of the enactment of Pension Reform Act 2014, which, three months after, made it possible for Mrs. Amazu to be appointed as the substantive Chief Executive Officer of Pencom.
 
In the process, many other fundamental issues that needed to be addressed by the amendment were either left out or superficially addressed, because the objective of the expedited exercise was clearly not in the public, but private interest.
 
The institution was, therefore, left with the challenge of grappling with a weakened legislation that left many questions unanswered. Nigerians would recall how the National Assembly inexplicably ignored the numerous cautions raised between 2013 and 2014 by pension industry stakeholders as well as the general public, against lowering of the qualifications for appointment to the office of the Director-General of Pencom.

 
An age-old adage says habits die hard. This is more so, when these habits bring about advantages to the individual. It was, therefore, unimaginable for her to accept her removal from office by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, in April 2017. Thus, although the dissolution of her management team in Pencom came together with the dissolution of the management of 22 other Federal Government agencies, she refused to leave office and waited to be sent packing by security agencies.     
 
Thereafter, she elected to challenge her removal from office through various methods and platforms, including exerting pressure on members of her political and social circles, as well as her ethnic, media and legal platforms. 
 
For almost two years now, Amazu has refused to move on, but instead, continuously uses all manner of tricks to fight her way back to the leadership of Pencom. Perhaps, if Pencom was a privatised or commercialised institution, her tenacious determination to return to its management would have been understandable. 

But the provisions of the Pension Reform Act 2014, recognises the President’s express constitutional powers to appoint and remove chief executives of all public institutions in Nigeria. So far, her direct and indirect overtures have either created or contributed to the apparent impasse on the issue of appointment of the executive management of PenCom. 
 
About two months ago, the battle ground seems to have moved to the National Assembly. Nigerians that had the time and opportunity to attend the public hearing held February 2019, by the House Adhoc Committee set up to investigate Pencom, are now divided, with doubts over the viability of Project Nigeria. 
 
There are allegations of a hatchet job carried out by mercenary elements to foster a private interest at the expense of overwhelming public interest. But generally, this is certainly a sad commentary for Nigeria where agencies or organs of government allow themselves to be used to undermine other public institutions.
  
Since President Muhammadu Buhari has now been re-elected into office, the coast is clear for this administration to proceed with good governance. Thus, in order to salvage the integrity and moral authority of Pencom from further erosion, the Federal Government should immediately address the issue of reconstitution of the board of Pencom.
 
Nigeria is blessed with very qualified, capable, resourceful and experienced persons that can effectively lead Pencom without compromising the law and public service rules and values. 
 
Accordingly, Nigerians earnestly look forward to having a Pencom Board and management manned by people with the right philosophy, competence, experience and above all, integrity, which are the necessary ingredients for building an effective and efficient regulatory institution.


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