NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

NATIONAL PENSION COMMISSION: A CLARION CALL
‘BEFORE THINGS FALL APART’

(a public memo by the advocacy group for ethical public service )

We the members of the National Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (NATA) have come to the grave conclusion that the National Pension Commission (Pencom) is an abyss of scandal and a habitat where impunity flourishes. While we commend the efforts of the Federal Government in making change at the helms of Pencom’s affairs, we hereby propose that the current leadership of the commission needs to execute additional reforms for the agency.

As an organization that is committed to advocating for ethical standards in public service, NATA has for years consistently insisted that Pencom needs some bold and exigent steps to sanitize the conduct of the regulatory agency. Our organization will be adjudged guilty by history if we fail to alert Nigerians in general and the relevant supervisory tier of government in particular that Pencom is mired in manufactured internal crisis of its own – and that consequent on such a debilitating situation, the commission may not be able to perform its statutory assignment effectively.

It is germane to note that even the best efforts and visionary initiatives of the current leadership of Pencom will be squandered if the commission is not cured of some endemic and ingrained sociological mindset and practices at the commission.

Our alliance submits that the role of the pension commission in the lives of Nigerians and the economy of our nation is too vital and, therefore, should not be allowed to vegetate and sink into a culture of impunity. With nearly 7.64 trillion naira asset being held in trust and supervised for retired Nigerian workers who laboured in sweat (perhaps in tears) to make the pension savings, Pencom ought to be the paragon of ethical transparency. It is our premonition that the source of survival of nearly 8 million retirees could be potentially jeopardized under Pencom without more drastic changes by the management.

When has it ever qualified as logical thinking and commonsense that foxes would be made to guard chicken pens or that some sinister hawks would be placed in charge of the security of spring chickens?
There are persistent issues over which our alliance has consistently deliberated and requested answers in the past.

1. For instance NATA requested in 2016 to know the rationale by Chinelo Amazu-Ahonu (immediate past chief executive of Pencom) for investing 1 billion naira of the commission’s operating cost in a fragile micro savings bank? For an agency with the omnibus fiduciary duty of regulating, supervising and ensuring the effective administration of pension matters, the action of the referenced chief executive calls for closer scrutiny- at the minimum the conduct smacks of recklessness and of dubious opaqueness in the extreme. We are demanding again through this public memo to know the propriety and security of the funds so deposited by the concerned chief executive.

2. Additionally, our alliance sought through various correspondences to the regulatory agency in the past years an explanation regarding the establishment of a 2-biilion naira Pencom TV within the premises of the commission. We are renewing our call for investigation of the media project whose utility to Pencom is at best dubious.

3. Pencom cannot attain the cherished zenith of its envisaged services when some of the commission’s heads of departments are currently enmeshed in serial ethical violations and precarious legal tango with multiple banks. The centrality of this story in one of the instances triggers the very definition of impunity.

NATA wonders how could the concerned senior staff of Pencom genuinely claim that she was introduced to a commercial bank by her employees and consequently used and perhaps abused the prestigious correspondence to draw on a 400-million naira personal loan; the 400-million naira loan is now the subject of a messy and sprawling litigation. Documents from a Maitama Abuja High Court (Motion No. FCT/HC/M/9133/16) has now listed Pencom among the garnishees for the debt owed First Bank by Mrs.Grace Usoro of Pencom. Mrs. Usoro who is the General Manager (national data bank) for Pencom along with other associates launched into private businesses other than agriculture as allowed by the regulations and the code of her employment. The financial endeavor proved to be a disaster.

Despite the irredeemable embarrassment that the commission has suffered as a result of the conduct of Mrs. Usoro, the administration of Pencom throughout 2015 and 2016 did not deem it fit to initiate any kind of inquiry into the conduct of Mrs.Usoro. All requests by our alliance for transparent disclosure on this matter were arrogantly ignored by the previous management.

It seems from all indication that the previous leadership of Pencom was engaged in every step to shield Mrs. Usoro from questions arising from her conduct – an action that detrimentally compromises the image and profile of Pencom in the estimation of right thinking public. Does it not raise alarm signals that a conspicuous management staff of our national pension regulatory agency is involved in an unmanageable personal 400-million naira debt?

4. Our alliance is also hereby demanding full accountability for the so-called World Africa Pension Summit for which an estimated 1 billion naira was expended annually in 2014, 2015 and 2016. All efforts to get the previous management to speak truthfully on this matter proved abortive. Our campaign for ethical public service is hereby requesting the current leadership of Pencom to respond to our correspondence seeking details on the global pension summit under the headship of Mrs. Usoro.

5. NATA further deposes that in the quest for probity, Mrs. Grace Usoro should clear the air regarding her role in the procurement of an approximate I billion naira prostate cancer machine which has been inoperable and idle for years.

6. The National Alliance for Transparency and Accountability is hereby urging the current management of Pencom to immediately establish an edifying procedure and legal inqury for re-ordering and cleansing the internal affairs of Pencom.

7. The obligatory statutes and functions of the agency bear enormous consequences for our nation and can therefore not be left in the hands of top management staff with questionable profiles. 8 Our alliance hopes that we shall finally receive responses to the various inquiries and correspondences that we initiated in previous years and recently on these matters. In tandem, our alliance implores the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), the Head of Service (HOS), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the EFCC to ensure that the issues raised here are thoroughly investigated. Time is of the essence – this is our clarion call!

Chibuzor Apugo
General Secretary