By Alex Enemanna
To say that Hajia Aisha Dahir-Umar has set the tone for barrage of many goals in the National Pension Commission (PenCom) and indeed the country’s pension industry since she came on board on acting capacity in the last three years will be to say the least. A woman of resilience, focus, candour, capacity and character, she has amidst vicious and venomous political interferences kept her head high in carrying out her reformatory agenda, an assignment she was both emotionally and psychologically prepared for.
The results of the energy she has exerted in repositioning the foremost pension regulatory agency in the country is there for all to see. Despite the tantrums deliberately targeted at distracting her, Aisha Umar has risen above Machiavellian distractions and set an eye towards leaving a lasting legacy for which posterity will be kind to her and the right page of our history proud of her.
For the first time in a long while, we see a PenCom that has exhibited readiness not only protect the pension assets of our senior citizens and retirees, but to ensure they receive their benefits as at when due with a minimal stress. Under a robust and rejuvenated PenCom which Hajia Aisha Umar presides, we are seeing a near total compliance by employers with the guidelines for life insurance policy for their employees and submission of insurance certificate in accordance with the provisions of Section 4(5) of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2014.
Under her leadership this is not only followed religiously as a way of protecting our people from exploitative tendencies of some employers, but as a regulatory agency that knows her onion, defaulters and recalcitrant employers are dealt with using the instrumentality of the law. Also, under her leadership, employers who fail to remit their employees’ pension contribution into their RSAs are not ignored but prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to intending offenders.
As at the last count, the Commission has instituted legal actions against 191 recalcitrant employers, out of which 79 opted for out-of-court settlement with the Commission, 35 judgments obtained while 77 are at different stages in court. Who would dispute her competency and focus towards fostering better post-service years for our people and protecting the rights of those who have meritoriously served our country? President Muhammadu Buhari, being a man who has never hidden his desire to ensure that the competent and most qualified persons occupy key positions may have intentionally delayed the confirm of Hajia Aisha Umar as the substantive Director General of PenCom to be sure of her integrity and capacity after the unceremonious removal of her predecessor, Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu. Has she proven that? In multiple ways.
Under her fruitful leadership, pension has been taken away from the period when only those in the MDAs were captured in the scheme. Courtesy of her marshaled out focus, we now have Micro-Pension Plan (MPP) guideline which has provided a safety net for those who are in the informal sector of the economy as a way of increasing pension awareness in the country.
This is exclusively meant for self-employed persons, especially those with irregular income, usually in the informal sector and those largely financially uninformed with limited or no access to financial services particularly pension plans. The focus of this outstandingly visionary leader in introducing this was to improve the standard of living of the informal sector participants at retirement and reduce dependence on extended family for support upon retirement. Today, the MPP has given the okada rider, the mechanic, the tailor, the welder etc an opportunity to be enrolled in pension scheme while leveraging on this effort to boost the country’s pension assets which has since exceeded N10 trillion. President Muhammadu Buhari personally flagged off this exercise last year.
Under her watchful eyes, cases of people forging death certificates to claim death benefits of retirees especially by next-of-kins even while they are still alive has drastically reduced. Today, we have Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) who have been firmly mandated to improve on internal risk control, investigate documentations submitted by beneficiaries before forwarding to PenCom for approval. Errant next-of-kins do not dare such under the current PenCom leadership and go scot-free. We are all living testimonies to how the pension sector has consistently made meaningful contributions in the area of infrastructure financing in our country courtesy of the Sukuk fund and others.
At a time when all efforts are geared towards ensuring that we move forward as a nation, all hands ought to be deck so that we achieve the country for which coming generations will be grateful for. It is pertinent to say when confirmed the substantive Director General of National Pension Commission, she will consolidate on the current achievements which has undoubtedly brought pride to millions of Nigerian pensioners. Lest we forget, her experience, expertise and technical know-how were not purchased with the currency of ethnic correctness or political alignment.
While I wholeheartedly agree with the principle of Federal Character and the rights of every part of this country to have a sense of inclusion in governance, it is also important to state that the history of our stunted growth as a country cannot be complete without the mention of trivialities such as ethnicity and our penchant to murder merit on the slab of regional correctness. I am also happy that notable civil society organizations have engaged the lone voice in the Senate who from all indications appears interested in what is going on in PenCom over the huge capital base and not necessarily an effort to have someone from the region of the unceremoniously disengaged former DG complete whatever was left of her tenure.
Hajia Aisha Umar has shown that she is a treasure to her fatherland and the President, Muhammadu Buhari has done the needful by forwarding her name for confirmation to the Senate as the substantive Director General of PenCom. I appeal to the leadership of the Senate presided over by Distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan, a nationalist and a pro-development patriot to do the needful by ensuring the speedy confirmation of Mrs. Aisha Umar as the substantive DG. This will not only be a value addition in terms of her morale boost but will be a collective honour for millions of our retirees who courtesy of her vision are no more subjected to artificial bottlenecks before they could access their pension fund investment after meritoriously serving our country.
Enemanna is a Public Affairs Commentator