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Aisha Dahir-Umar: Ensuring effective administration of pension matters.
Superintending over Nigerian Pension sector that had long been riddled with outright embezzlement of huge pension funds in the past and confronted with several administrative challenges ranging from shortage of relevant staff, dearth of biometric data capturing machines numerous pensioners on the payroll to ghost pensioners is certainly one of the most sensitive and challenging job in the public service especially after the enactment of The Pension Reform Act 2004.
And for one to have successfully run the National Pension Commission (PenCom), the body charged with regulating, supervising and ensuring the effective administration of pension matters in the country since April 2017 without a major scandal or disruption speak volumes about the character and pedigree of its incumbent Director-General, Aisha Dahir-Umar, who most stakeholders agreed had fully internalized the major attributes of highly effective pension trustee or manager which she deploys effortlessly.
A pioneer career staff of the Commission which is the apex regulator and supervisor of all pension matters in Nigeria, Dahir-Umar, who hails from Adamawa state joined the organization as a Deputy General Manager in 2004 and rose to the rank of General Manager and had been part of the journey to reform pension administration and management in the past 18 years.
Similarly, before her appointment as DG, she served as Head of several departments in PenCom, including Management Services, Human Capital Management, and Corporate Responsibility & Servicom. But her working career in the public and private sectors of the economy dates back to 1984 when she served as News Editor at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
She also, had previously worked at Signal Investment & Trust Company, the defunct Peoples Bank of Nigeria, the National Electric Power Authority and the Bureau of Public Enterprises, where she held senior managerial positions in various departments without blemish. The DG has a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s degree in Public Administration, both from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria as well as an alumna of the prestigious Harvard Business School in the United States.
Consequently, It was no surprise when President Buhari in April 2017, after a careful perusal of the credentials of some of the nominees for the top job appointed her as Acting Director-General of PenCom, a role she discharged diligently and selflessly until her eventual appointment as substantive DG by the President and subsequent confirmation by the Senate in October 2020.
“In other words, apart from making history as a pioneer staff of the Commission who attained its pinnacle meritoriously and in accordance with extant civil service rules, Aisha, according to pension experts and colleagues possesses several virtues which include “integrity, courage, ability to articulate clearly without bias, diligence, ability to focus on important issues no matter the distraction, the skill of being a great listener as a selfless leader, zero tolerance for corruption and above all the fear of God”.
They further argued that these attributes had been the secret behind the ability of both management and staff of the Commission to remain focused and faithful to its functions and mandate stipulated by The Pension Reform Act 2004 which established the PenCom as the body to “regulate, supervise and ensure the effective administration of pension matters in Nigeria”.
It’s major roles also include, ‘Issuance of guidelines for the investment of pension funds; approving, licensing, regulating and supervising pension fund administrators, custodians and other institutions relating to pension matters as the Commission may, from time to time, determine; establishing standards, rules and guidelines for the management of the pension funds; ensuring the maintenance of a National Data Bank on all pension matters and promoting capacity building and institutional strengthening of pension fund administrators and custodians; receiving and investigating complaints of impropriety made against any pension fund administrator, custodian or employer or any of their staff or agents amongst others’.
More importantly too, the DG, who has been serving with the complement of a governing board with Dr Oyindasola Oni, Chairman (Kwara, North-Central), Clement Oyedele Akintola, Commissioner (Ondo, South -West), Ayim C. Nyerere, Commissioner (Abia, South -East) and Charles Efe Sylvester Emukowhate, Commissioner (Delta South-South) together with the Commission’s management and staff, have kept its flag flying despite the challenges facing the nation’s economy.
Meanwhile, giving an account of stewardship when she appeared before the Senate Committee on Finance recently, Dahir- Umar had comforting message for federal pensioners who had hitherto suffered various deprivations due to delayed payments of their benefits and disclosed that they would no longer face the problem of delayed pension payment after retirement even as she clarified that the nation’s Pension Fund which stands at N14.5trillion had been invested wisely.
The DG who was in the Red Chamber to interface with the Committee to defend the PenCom proposals for the 2023 – 2025 Medium Term Expenditure Frame Work ( MTEF ) and Fiscal Strategy Paper ( FSP) hinted that the backlog of accrued rights component of pension payments to pensioners which had mostly been responsible for the delay over the years is almost cleared by the Federal Government, adding that within the last 17 years , the Federal Government has been paying an average of N49billion monthly in order to offset the accrued rights backlog of pensioners .
“Late payment of pension to pensioners will be a thing of the past very soon as required steps in that direction have been taken by the Federal Government whose retirees are affected”, she assured the senators urging prospective pensioners to carry out the required documentation at least a year to their retirement in fast tracking the whole payment process. Continuing, she informed the Committee that of the available N14.5trillion Pension Fund, N9.5trn out of the amount had been invested in Federal Government Securities, N1.23trn in Equity shares while 35% of the fund was invested in money market .
But pension stakeholders were quick to challenge the Commission to go the extra mile in its advocacy and enlightenment nationwide for state governments and private sector operators who have defaulted in the compulsory Contributory Pension for workers or yet to subscribe to any of the schemes to wake up from their slumber and do the needful not only in the interest of their employees but the overall social and economic development of the country.
They contended that such a bold move has become imperative considering that only four states, namely Lagos, Kaduna, Edo and Benue out of the 36 states have remitted their workers pension contributions fully as at December 2021, in line with the mandate of the Contributory Pension Scheme, CPS.
According to the 2021 fourth quarter report, Q4’21, released by the PenCom, five other states of Osun, Delta, Ekiti, Ondo, Anambra and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which are also remitting both employer and employee contributions have backlogs in remittances even as 25 states had enacted pension laws on the CPS, and seven others are the bill processing stage. Five states are operating other pension schemes, four states had adopted the Contributory Defined Benefits Scheme (CDBS), while one state operates the Defined Benefits Scheme (DBS).
In other words the DG and her management team have a lot of ground to cover regarding full compliance by the states and employers of labour in the private sector in ensuring that they do the needful to guarantee better future for their employees who will henceforth look forward to a bright retirement devoid of fear, intimidation, and loss of self confidence because of the unknown and not turn to beggars or liability to the larger society, and even suffered untimely death due to poverty that had been the lot of pensioners across the country.
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