Given several internal reforms that were introduced in the last one year to engender more transparency in the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, Sam Akpe argues that recent investigations into the conduct of the organizationâ€™s affairs in the preceding years must not be allowed to derail its statutory functions
For Adebayo Kolawole Somefun, a lawyer with a priestly mien, these are no ordinary times. Times such as these, call for one-line prayer: Lord, if it be thy will, let this cup pass away. The cup in question is the job he approached with high hopes and perceived enthusiasm; and the impregnable tension that has gripped the sprawling estate that caters for the welfare of Nigerian workers nationwide. It is taking time to ease despite articulated efforts at employing hitherto unknown approach towards getting things done.
Less than a year ago, Somefun was appointed the managing director of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF); that was precisely May 2017. Being a complete outsider, doubts and fear of the unknown greeted his assumption of office. However, he seemed determined from the outset to apply the rules, follow the script, and leave a mark. It was not lost on him that he would step on and possibly bruise some toes â€“ from top to bottom; and be smeared by those opposed to his style. He simply wanted to get the job done with desired results.
Spurred by the orchestrated â€œchangeâ€ approach of the government in power, the new management team soon surfaced with a-four-point agenda which included: consolidating the achievements of previous administrations and improving on them; raising the revenue base of the organisation to effectively meet its statutory responsibilities; re-branding NSITF through aggressive campaign to improve acceptance and patronage by the various stakeholders; and motivation of staff through improved welfare provision. A time-frame was attached to the agenda.
While this sounded as a complete package that deserved everybodyâ€™s applause, certain crucial issues suddenly emerged as staff of the organisation almost carried placards over pending issues. One of them was staff promotion. The new management team was informed that the matter had been pending since the staff promotion examination of 2016. The result of the examination was neither released nor was any of the deserving staff promoted. Swiftly, Staff Proper Placement Committee was set up; and the matter was resolved.
At the same time, the unresolved issue of furniture allowance carried forward since 2012 came up. The management team was stunned. Faced with paucity of funds caused by the current economic situation in the country, it was faced with the hard choice of either ignoring the protest (not a likely option) or engaging the unrelenting staff in a dialogue while implementing the package by installment. The second option worked with the first tranche of furniture allowance paid to qualified staff in July 2017.
However, managing or executing the Employees Compensation Act which forms the central operation of NSITF demands more than meeting workers welfare needs. For a better understanding of this discourse, a little background on NSITF is imperative here. Established by the Federal Government to implement the Employees Compensation Act (ECA) 2010, the NSITF was conceived to serve as a catalyst for enhancement of workersâ€™ productivity. It is meant to provide adequate compensation for all employees or their dependents for any death, injury, disease or disability that may arise or affect workers in the course of employment.
The ECA which is implemented by the NSITF is expected to provide compensation for employees with work-related disabilities; establish and maintain a solvent fund managed in the interest of employees and employers; and among others, combine efforts and resources of relevant stakeholders for the prevention of workplace disabilities, including the enforcement of occupational safety and health standards. What this implies is that employers of labour must buy into the ideals of ECA.
Put in more simple terms, the NSITF is expected to compensate employees who suffer workâ€“related injuries, disabilities or occupational diseases, through a claims procedure that is simple, fast and less cumbersome for the injured employees, their families or dependents in the case of unavoidable death. It must also ensure the enforcement of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Contingencies covered extend from compensation for injuries, mental stress, occupational diseases, hearing impairment, permanent or temporary disability, and even vocational rehabilitation.
Available statistics show that from its inception in 2011, NSITF has rehabilitated more than 54 employees who had injuries in the course of their work. Twelve of them have been fully rehabilitated and have since gone back to work, while 42 are still undergoing rehabilitation. This is a tedious process that entails providing prosthetic limbs for those who lost their limbs in the course of work, and training such employees on the usage.
There is also a record 298 injured employees placed on either monthly or periodic payments. Those on periodic payments are employees still in their productive years of 55 and below, but no longer functioning effectively because of workplace-related injuries. Twenty persons above the age of 55 years are said to have been paid lump sums on a once-off basis. For families of employees who died in the course of their work, NSITF currently pays 226 families monthly benefits while 41 families have been paid lump sums for accidents/diseases resulting in death of the employees.
The law mandates that all these be administered by the NSITF at no cost to the employee. The employer of labour is simply expected to pay just one per cent of the total remuneration of every employee to the NSITF monthly. Employees are not expected to make any further contribution. When this is done, in the case of an injury in the work place, the employer has no responsibility for the treatment or rehabilitation of the employee. In the case of death, the employer is not expected to settle dependants of the employee as all the details are taken care of by the NSITF after proper documentation.
Beyond executing its mandate, Somefun and his team also stormed the National Assembly with a request to compel enforcement of the ECA. It initiated a motion in the House of Representatives aimed at enforcing compliance to the Employeesâ€™ Compensation Scheme by employers of labour. The motion resulted in a public hearing. It brought together stakeholders of the Scheme from the federal to local government levels. They included government organisations whose patronage of ECS will boost the success of the overall vision of NSITF. They were mandated to fully comply with the Act or face the necessary punishment specified in the law.
To consolidate a scandal-free management cruise, the team opened its doors to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to scrutinize its transactions. It introduced and implemented a procurement policy hitherto unknown at the NSITF aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in the procurement process. The implication is that every job must be advertised and formal bidding held before any award is made to the most competent, cost friendly bidder. This is assumed to have checked and saved money for the organisation.
Are all these not good enough to ensure a smooth cruise at NSITF? No, not quite yet; because of the baggage left behind by Somefunâ€™s predecessors. Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, alleges that some fraudulent act by the past regime is in the region of N62 billion. While the case is being handled by the EFCC, a ministerial probe panel has again been set up on the same issue. At the same time, there is a court process going on. Meanwhile, top staff members of the organisation are already on suspension; not for any confirmed direct involvement in the fraud, but for being in office when the alleged fraud was committed.
Minister Ngige must however ensure that none of the scandalous drama affects the statutory functions of the organisation. NSITF is a social security organisation that puts smiles on the faces of people who are in pain; and that must not be compromised.
– Akpe is former assistant editor at the Punch