It is heart-warming to hear from the pension authorities that the nation’s pension assets have reached N4.3trillion and still counting. Will the pension funds keep growing for the next 10 years? Will none of the six million contributors to the pension scheme be disappointed in the years to come? Knowing the capability of certain thieves to wipe out any sum in the twinkle of an eye, nobody should roll out the drums yet. Inflation, currency devaluation or outright theft can reduce the value of the current N4.3trn significantly within a few months. It has happened to the nation’s foreign reserves; it stood at over $50billion eight years ago, but has dwindled to less than $38bn today.
The only thing that can save this huge sum is wise investments that can yield commensurate dividends. The National Pension Commission (PenCom) would do well to save the value of the pension funds. Its problem now, it seems, is not money but what to do with money. N4.3trn can accomplish a lot if it is invested in businesses with high returns. But a government agency or government itself is not known to be a good investor. Pension thieves have since emerged in several ministries, departments and agencies, just as the looting of the nation continues unabated. All it takes to embezzle N4.3trn is an unscrupulous politician or an irresponsible government.
PenCom can embark on housing projects. At present, Nigeria has a deficit of 17 million housing units. Rather than leave the N4.3trn idle in banks, the commission can engage a good developer to build low-cost houses to be paid for by workers at low interest rates over a 10 to 20-year period. This means that the same pension contributors could be paying for houses into which they would retire. Business people with credibility could also borrow to set up private refineries and not just large refineries; several local entrepreneurs could be encouraged to establish small refineries. Thousands of “illegal” refineries have been destroyed in recent years for no just cause. Such entrepreneurs should have been encouraged to do their businesses in a legitimate way. Agriculture is another profitable business. Young people, including university graduates willing to go into farming need cheap funds.
Of course, PenCom is not advised to share the money among people of doubtful character or give loans without collateral. With careful planning, it can disburse the funds to business people through the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and similar lending organisations. Many banks, finance houses, mortgage banks and other financial institutions have failed, because they gave loans to people who did not plan to pay back. Committed entrepreneurs who have no godfathers or godmothers do not get loans except they recall them from the dead.
We warn that the pension assets cannot be considered safe where they are now. They should be put into regenerative investments immediately. They should be protected from pension thieves and bank wreckers as unfortunately, nobody is ever punished for defrauding Nigerians.