Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe,, the Senate Minority Leader, has resisted the nomination of Mrs Aisha Umar as the Director-General, National Pension Commission (PenCom).
President Muhammadu Buhari had, in a letter, urged the Senate to confirm the nomination of Oyindasola Oni as chairman and Aisha Umar as DG of PenCom board.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, read the letter on the floor of the Senate during plenary.
Abaribe, however, raised a point of order following the reading of the letter by Lawan.
He insisted that the nomination of a candidate from the Northeast to replace the former Director-General of PenCom, Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu from Southeast was in breach of the PenCom Act.
He said the National Pension Commission Act 2014 provided that “in the event of a vacancy, the President shall appoint a replacement from the geo-political zone of the immediate past member that vacated office to complete the remaining tenure.”
He maintained that the replacement for Mrs Anohu-Amazu must come from the South East.
Abaribe said: “I recall that the tenure of the incumbent was truncated, therefore, the new letter from the president that has now moved the chairman of the Commission to another zone may not be correct because it is against the law setting up the National Pension Commission.
“Before you send it to the appropriate committee tomorrow, I wish to draw the attention of the committee to it.”
Lawan, in his response, said: “That is for me to interpret because I interpret the laws here.
“If there is any petition to that effect it should be sent to the committee.”
Meanwhile, an expert and senior official in the pension industry has countered Senator Abaribe’s submission, stating that the nomination is back up by the PRA 2014.
The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in furtherance to Section 20 (1) and Section 21 (1) and (2) of the Act, Section 106(4) of the PRA 2014 provides that notwithstanding section 19(2)(a) and 26(2)&(4) of the Act, where a Board of the Commission is yet to be reconstituted after six months of the dissolution of the last board, the president of Nigeria may appoint fit and proper persons with pension cognate experience to constitute the board at the first instance, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Also, Section 171 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) vests in Mr President the power to appoint persons to hold or act in certain offices and to remove such persons. These offices include heads of all Federal Government extra-ministerial departments, howsoever designated.
He stated that the Act did not define what constitutes ‘vacancy’, a situation that created ambiguity as to the exact occasion when Section 21(2) of the PRA 2014 becomes operational.
He said: “However, it will appear from the context that the subsection contemplates the cessation of membership of the board through any of the scenarios listed in Section 21(1)(a) -(h) of the PRA 2014, which include resignation, death, bankruptcy, the conviction of a felony, removal by the President, among others. The argument, therefore, is that Mrs Amazu’s replacement as DG of PenCom must come from the Southeast zone to complete here remaining term. However, contrary to this submission, a careful review of the relevant provisions of the PRA 2014 would lead to the following conclusions:
“A reading of both subsections (1) & (2) of Section 21 of the PRA 2014 indicates that they consistently use singular phrases such as ‘a member’; ‘a vacancy’; ‘a replacement’; ‘immediate past member that vacated office’ etc. Accordingly, it is submitted that the correct interpretation of Section 21(2) of the PRA 2014 is to hold that it addresses only cases of occasional vacancies created by the exit of individual members of the board of PenCom as enumerated in subsection (1) of the same section, rather than where the whole board is dissolved or all executive management are removed by Mr President. Section 21(2) of the PRA 2014 seeks to ensure compliance with the provision of Section 19(4) of the Act, which requires that at all times, the Chairman, Director General and four Commissioners of PenCom shall each represent each of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.
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“There had been a precedent which illustrates the application of a similar provision under the defunct PRA 2004. Thus, in 2006 when the then President Obasanjo removed only the Chairman of PenCom, Mr Fola Adeola, who was from the Southwest, his replacement came from the Southwest when late Chief Wole Adeosun was appointed to complete the term started by Mr Fola Adeola. The provision of Section 21(2) of the PRA 2014 applies not only to the office of the Director-General but also the Chairman and other four Commissioners of PenCom where the respective individuals vacate office leaving others in the office.
“Without prejudice to the foregoing submissions, we would like to draw attention to the overarching provision of S. 171(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which gives the president unfettered powers to appoint or remove the head of any Federal Government extra-ministerial department, howsoever called. This includes appointments to the office of the Director-General of PenCom. This constitutional power cannot be eroded by an Act of parliament in the light of the provision of S. 1(3) of the Constitution which provides that “if any other law is inconsistent with the provision of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void”, he added.