Sympathizers of Mrs. Chinelo Amazu Ahonu have persistently criticized as illegal, her disengagement by the federal government before the expiry of her tenure as Director-General of Pencom. Facts were either ignored or twisted to give credence to a convenient interpretation of the Pension Reform Act 2014 to buttress this argument. It was further argued that Amazu was doing an incredible work at Pencom and her sudden exit was negatively affecting the stability and progress of the agency and the pension industry.
Thus, when recently on the eve of President Muhammadu Buhari’s return from medical vacation, the federal government announced that the second set of nominees to the executive management offices of Pencom should report to work in acting capacity, supporters of Amazu re-launched their media offensive to push forward the narrative of illegality of the government’s decision to sack her and called for her reinstatement.
Of course, the federal government’s directive is yet to be realized in view of the Senate’s position that the nominees could not assume duties until they are confirmed by it.
At the onset of Amazu’s disengagement, two cases were instituted at the Federal High Court, Abuja by individuals and organizations of Igbo extraction, challenging the legality of her disengagement and nomination of first, Mr. Aliyu Abdulrahman Dikko (from North-West) and later, Mr. Funsho Doherty (from South-West). It was argued that, should Amazu’s disengagement remain, her replacement must come from the South-east zone. While we await the argument of lawyers and the verdict of the court in these cases, there is a compelling need to present another perspective to the conversation, especially in the light of persistent publications on the subject.
Amazu’s sojourn in the pension commission presents an interesting trajectory of controversy and impunity from entrance to exit. She served as Director in the agency until December 2012, when she was appointed by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration as Acting Director-General following the exit of the pioneer executive management led by Mr. M. K. Ahmed. This was done in defiance of the Federal Government Public Service Policy introduced by the President Yar’Adua administration, mandating the retirement of directors who served for eight years in office.
Amazu continued in office as Acting Director-General and Sole Administrator of Pencom from December 2012 to December 2013 when Jonathan appointed her as Executive Commissioner and Acting Director-General along with other three Executive Commissioners and Alhaji Ahmed Muazu as Chairman. The controversial amendment of the Pension Reform Act to lower the qualifying experience for appointment as Director-General of Pencom was done in 2014. It is common knowledge that the amendment was done to pave the way for Amazu’s appointment as substantive Director-General, which was consummated in October 2014. Since then, she continued in office until April 2017, when she was disengaged by the Buhari administration along with the managements of other Federal Government parastatals.
Indeed, it was reliably related that when the Federal Government’s disengagement order was issued to the affected agencies, Amazu refused to vacate office until she was forced out by State Security Services operatives. That was the beginning of the resistance against her disengagement, which is being advanced in the media and the law courts as well as in political and sectional circles. This resistance has persisted without minding the fact that the personality involved indeed thrived in impunity.
Finally, it is safe to leave the legality of Amazu’s disengagement for the court to decide since the issues have been presented before it. However, it should be noted that the Pension Reform Act gives the President the power to remove any or all members of the Pencom executive management in public interest. Where the whole team was disengaged, it does not require a lawyer to realize the illogicality of the argument that the next Director-General must necessarily come from the South-east.
The Federal Government must, therefore, not succumb to the ethnic and baseless clamours for the reinstatement of Amazu. Indeed, Nigerians must give credit to the pioneer executive management of Pencom for laying a solid foundation for the agency, such that the career staff are currently smoothly and competently navigating the tides of politics and ensuring regulatory stability in the pension industry. That is the sort of institutional stability we should focus on, evaluate and customize for adoption by other public institutions in Nigeria.
- Olumide Bajulaye is a public affairs commentator based in Abuja.