The Director-General of the National Pension Commission Aisha Dahiru-Umar, has revealed the many battles she faced while implementing series of reforms in the Nigerian pension industry.
She made the disclosure in a book authored by her titled “Fighting for the future: Nigeria’s pension reform journey”
In the 173 page book, a copy of which was made available to THE WHISTLER, she also narrated the turning point in the pension industry, the policy pillars of the industry, the pushbacks she faced when she was acting DG of Pencom and after her confirmation, the media war she contended with, how she managed stakeholders in the pension, success stories of the industry and how she confronted the challenges faced by her administration.
Dahir-Umar explained that the mistake which reform agents must avoid is assuming that because a policy is good and the benefits are there for all to see, then everybody will embrace it and become its advocate.
According to her, in every reform, there are always gradients of reactions and attitudes among the stakeholders because some will “lose” and some will “gain”.
She recalled how some blackmailers hiding under a Civil Society Organisation attempted to blackmail her with frivolous allegations.
Dahir-Umar explained in the book that while some heads of government agencies would have panicked and succumbed to the wishes of the blackmailers, she stood her grounds and refused to be intimidated.
Rather, she said the claims made by her blackmailers made her to continue to put in her best to ensure that the reforms being implemented in the pension industry under her watch was never derailed.
According to the Pencom DG, it is more complicated for the reform agents when what is regarded
as a “loss” by the opponents of reform is really not a loss but rather a different way of assessing what should be considered as a “gain”.
She said, “Those opposed to the reform may try to throw away the baby with the bathwater.
Despite the glaring successes of the pension reform, there has been one pushback or the other.
“There are usually insiders working with outsiders and extortion is often the ultimate goal. The outsiders are in some of the so-called anti-corruption NGOs — many of them run by one or two hustlers who are available for hire by aggrieved parties.
It is a huge racket. “They take a document that says virtually nothing and cast it as evidence of impropriety through twisted interpretations. They cook up a petition to blackmail you into negotiating a ransom, otherwise they will threaten to hold a “World Press Conference” to disparage you.
“They threaten to submit the spurious petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
(EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) or some legislative committee.
“For the blackmail to be effective, there must be a media outlet to give it oxygen. That is if the media outlet itself is not the orchestrator of the blackmail. Some of these fraudsters masquerading as anti-corruption agents have their own media outlets, mostly online, or they go into partnership with some journalists with whom they share the ransom.
“Many times, the blackmail works. Some agency heads panic and succumb. Some are guilty and would do anything to kill the story.
They fall into the hands of the blackmailers who are never satisfied because extortion is what they do for a living.
She added, “Some public officers may not be guilty of the allegations but fall for the bait all the same
and offer financial inducements just to avoid the embarrassment of negative media.
“Some Agency heads told me how they had been held captive by websites that specialise in blackmail and extortion. To them, they had to tag along because they were dealing with a bull in a China shop.
“For me, I was determined never to be blackmailed. There is a cynical circle of insiders and outsiders all
interested in extortion rather than anti-corruption. How can the full-time job of anybody be petition-writing and holding “World Press Conferences”?
“When you discover that some of the full-time anti-corruption campaigners are sending their children to school abroad and building mansions in choice areas of Abuja and Lagos, you know something is not right. There are too many of them on the loose.
“There were too many half-truths and outright lies. I believed I would be wasting my time trying to engage with the blackmailers.
“There were so many of them coming at me from different angles, most of them doing the bidding of those who never wanted me to be DG of PenCom in the first place.
“When I was nominated as the substantive DG of the Commission in 2020, I came under fire in sections of the media as some faceless groups began to attack me on a regular basis.
“First, they said I was a Northerner and that the Southerner who was there before me did not complete her tenure. Therefore, I was not qualified to be DG in their own books.
“A body calling itself “Pension Reform Advocacy Group” petitioned the Senate to kick against my confirmation. Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, then Minority Leader, also said my appointment would contradict federal character.
“For me, I was not really bothered because appointments are at the discretion of the President. If he did not nominate me, I could not have nominated myself. There are enough appointments to go round if the real interest is federal character.
‘Second, there were many irrational insinuations being circulated about me. The federal character argument was even a decent one, although weak. I was being cast as a novice who was not suitable
for the job, yet I was a pioneer member of staff of the Commission in 2005. I rose through the ranks to become a General Manager.
“This is to say nothing about the fact that I was the Secretary of the Pension Reform Committee that birthed the Commission in 2004. It was clear to me from the fierce and desperate media attacks
that I was not going to have a fair hearing. I really did not know there were so many vested interests in matters regarding PenCom until I was nominated for the top job.”
The PenCom DG described the opposition to her nomination as a “blessing in disguise” because it prepared her for what was ahead.
She wrote in the book, “It (opposition” toughened me up. After my appointment was confirmed, I started facing regular attacks from the purpose-built NGOs and media outlets. Many of the attackers would later confess privately that they were sponsored.
“They named names. When some were questioned by the security agencies for writing threatening letters to me, they disclosed how much they were paid, usually in dollars, to do the hatchet job.
“One of them confessed to being given money to recruit protesters, lodge them in hotels on the outskirts of Abuja, bus them to the city, occupy the premises of PenCom and declare that they would not leave until I was fired by the President.
“These were the ‘anti-corruption activists’ who took over the pages of newspapers maligning me all the time.”