By Musa Dankade
To say that there has been a deliberate attempt to misinform the public on the regulatory intervention of the National Pension Commission, PenCom, to save the First Guarantee Pension Limited, FGPL, a Pension Fund Administrator, PFA, is to state the obvious.
Leading this campaign through frivolous petitions, interviews, and proxies, is a former Member of the House of Representatives and the erstwhile Vice Chairman of the PFA, Hon. Nze Chidi Duru. He claims that PenCom sacked the Board of Directors, in defiance of court orders and to enable the Director General of PenCom to transfer ownership of FGPL to another PFA.
On the other hand, PenCom, which stands by this action carried out in 2011 by the previous administration under M. K. Ahmad, contends that it sacked the Board of FGPL and set up an Interim Management Committee (IMC) pursuant to Sections 88 (2), 20(i), and 21(j) of the Pension Reform Act 2004 (as it was then). It maintains it was consequent upon the findings of the various routine and special examinations undertaken by it on FGPL in the years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, which exposed tenacious infractions and unsafe corporate governance practices that put the PFA at serious risk.
The reports, according to PenCom, indicted , the former Chairman of the PFA; former Vice Chairman of the PFA; and an erstwhile director of the PFA representing the interest of Novare Holdings (Pty) Ltd of South Africa, for violations of the Code of Ethics and Business Practices issued by PenCom, the Code of Corporate Governance for Licensed Operators issued by PenCom, the provisions of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) 2004 (in force at that time) and other laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For instance, the reports alleged that the N30 Million cheques (N10 million each of Guardian Express Bank cheque Nos 221 and 227 as well a Diamond Bank cheque) presented by Duru as payment for his purported shares at the formation of the FGPL, could not be traced to the PFA’s account.
Therefore, in Chidi Duru’s case in particular, submissions made by PenCom to various offices where the former Member of the House of Representatives petitioned against it, show that he indeed willingly resigned as a matter of soft-landing, which he pleaded for, following his alleged indictment. In the submission to the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions, PenCom attached, as “Annexure C”, a resignation letter by Hon. Chidi Duru marked dated July 21, 2011.
In the letter titled “Re: Recall of Notice of Intention to Divest Interest in First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL) and Reconfirmation of My Resignation from the Board of Directors”, Duru wrote: For very personal reasons, I wish to (a) Recall our letter of July 13th 2011 re: Notice of intention to divest interest in FGPL and (b) Further re-confirm my resignation from the Board of Directors of FGPL”.
He, however, reportedly made a volt face, resorting to semantics, as he subsequently claimed he was still a member of Board, since he addressed his resignation letter to the DG of PenCom (office occupied by M.K Ahmad at the time), rather than the Commission Secretary/Legal Adviser, and was therefore still a member of the Board.
The board was sacked and an Interim Management Committee (IMC) empanelled by PenCom to run the PFA in line with Sections, pending the resolution of the disputes. But Duru sued PenCom, in a futile bid to turn back the hand of the clock, thus opening the floodgate of litigations that informed the continued running of the FGPL by an IMC. Curiously, the same Chidi Duru has gone about petitioning and granting interviews, claiming that PenCom has deliberately kept the IMC in place for over five years for ulterior motives.
For instance, Duru said in his interviews and petitions that PenCom’s DG, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, has deliberately retained the IMC at the FGPL in the bid to transfer the PFA’s assets to Premium Pension, where he claims the DG’s family holds a “controlling” share. But this is only blatant lie and cheap blackmail. And it necessitates the question: Who owns Premium Pensions?
Facts sourced from House Committee on Public Petitions show that Premium Pension has a diverse shareholder base, consisting of 48 individuals and corporate bodies, going by its latest shareholders structure (2012). While there is no known law in Nigeria that restrains any individual from investing in PFAs merely because his or her relation invested or works in the pension industry, so long as the person scales the fit and proper person test by the National Deposit Insurance Corporation and the security agencies, the facts even show that among the highest shareholders of Premium Pension is Zaina Nigeria Limited, which holds 59,654,966 (9.8%).
Victor Anohu, holds a paltry 1.61% shares bought by the family at the formation of Premium Pension in 2005. How 1.61% constitutes a “controlling” or “substantial” share of Premium Pension, as variously claimed by Duru in his eccentric propagandas and frivolous petitions, is for the discerning members of the public to judge.
Besides, this ownership structure of the PFA (verifiable from the Premium Pension’s company file at the Corporate Affairs Commission) has not changed since 2012; hence it predates Mrs. Anohu-Amazu’s appointment as Acting DG in December 2012 and substantive DG in 2014.
Also, Pension Reform Act 2014) clearly spells out in Sections 24(h)&(i) and 98(2)(a), circumstances where PenCom can order the transfer of pension assets under the management of any licensed PFA. This includes where it believes that the assets are endangered.
Instructively, FGPL, which Duru and his team left in red (deficit) to the tune of over N422 Million as at August 2011, has been doing very well under the IMC set up by PenCom, recording a profit of nearly N2 billion (N1.922,390,000.00) as at April 2016. The value of Retirement Savings Account (RSA) in its care in the same timeframe has also moved from N32.7 Billion to N93.9 Billion, while the Retirement Fund in its care has grown from N8.5 Billion to N18.5 Billion. Book balance of FGPL has also grown from N42.1 Billion to 115.2 Billion.
Thus, allegations, by Duru, on transfer of FGPL to Premium Pensions, qualify only as sheer mischievous conjecture about the powers conferred upon the Commission by PRA 2014 to transfer pension assets from a PFA whenever there is a threat to the pension assets.
Indeed, the proper interpretation of Duru’s desperation to have a hold on FGPL should be that he wants to reap where he did not sow, or better still, from a farmland he nearly ruined. All PFAs are currently doing so well under the strict regulatory control of PenCom, such that they have become the beautiful brides attracting rich suitors in terms of foreign investors, who want to buy into them. So, Chidi Duru is desperate to sell shares, which he does not have in the first place, since he did not pay for them.
It is people’s life savings that is the issue here. Duru should come out from hiding and face the EFCC and the Police if he has done no wrong. PenCom should continue on the path of strict regulation, which President Muhammadu Buhari not only hailed at the recent World Pension Summit in Abuja, but indeed gave PenCom a matching order to continue the crackdown on violators of the laws and regulations.