Tasks Before Thomas

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Ebere Nwoji reports that much is expected from the newly appointed acting Commissioner for Insurance, Mr. Sunday Thomas

The federal government, through its supervisory ministry for the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM), the Ministry of Finance, on August 10th, 2019, effected a change of leadership at the commission, with the appointment of an Acting Commissioner for Insurance, Mr Sunday Thomas, to preside over the affairs of NAICOM.

Prior, to his new position, Thomas was the Deputy Commissioner for Insurance Technical.
His appointment was necessitated by the exit of the erstwhile insurance commissioner, Alhaji Mohammed Kari, who completed his first four-year tenure in office and handed over to Thomas as the most senior officer in the commission.

Though, since the development, the industry has been unusually quiet as operators are busy with activities to ensure they beat the recapitalisation deadline for the sector.
The present acting Commissioner, was a former Director General of the Nigerian Insurers Association (NIA)for almost a decade and it is believed that he understands the feelings and pulse of the underwriters and knows where the shoe pinches.

Therefore, whereas the operators saw the former regime in the commission headed by Kari as very high handed, punitive in nature and one that hardly seeks their opinions in critical issues, they are earnestly expecting to get solace from Thomas.

Commenting on the appointment, the Managing Director of one of the new generation insurance firms, who does not want his name in print, urged Thomas to improve the level of data available in the sector, which he described as a challenge for the sector.

This problem, which he said had lasted more than it should especially in an era of IT regime, was depriving the industry a lot of opportunities outside Nigeria. He stressed that nobody in the present world wants to do business with any organisation without data.

“There are no data, not even with government agencies and it is really affecting businesses. If I want to do a business with you, there are some basic details I will need you have but ready data are not there to fetch any required details from.
“In countries that have got it right, the information is there. For instance, through such data, you can know the level of compliance in terms of the purchase of the compulsory insurance.

“With such information available, you can effectively go after those who are yet to subscribe to ensure full compliance. And it is because there is such ready information that people feel apprehensive to readily respond to such compulsory regulations,” he added.
Currently, insurance contribution to the GDP of the economy is less than one percent.

A group known as Concerned Stakeholders, recently stressed the need for NAICOM’s operations to be automated. They pointed out that it was the only regulator in the financial sector that was not automated and urged the new acting commissioner to drive the process.
The group further said in addition to automation, the new commissioner should consolidate on some of the good initiatives of a former commissioner for insurance, Mr Fola Daniel.

In specific terms, they said the Portal system which the administration started but which was not pursued by the immediate past commissioner must be implemented. The NAICOM portal which the previous Commissioner introduced was meant to provide a means for members of the public to check that insurance policy they purchased was valid, allow members of the public to verify the credentials of insurance vendors and operators, allow insurance agents, brokers, and underwriters to interface with NAICOM to provide information to satisfy regulatory requirements of the commission, assist NAICOM in performing its regulatory role by monitoring the issuance of all insurance policies in the country, as well as allow law enforcement personnel to verify any insurance instrument tendered to them in the course of performing their function.

The group said the new commissioner must be ready to resurrect the portal system.
They also recommended that the new Commissioner must be ready to develop a data base for the industry and not relying on the data by operators.

Thomas, is also required to pursue the second phase of the industry’s medium term plan tagged Market Development and Restructuring Initiative(MDRI) which target is to transform the industry whose annual premium is still less than N400 billion to a trillion-naira market, increase insurance contribution to GDP to three per cent, from the current 0.06 per cent, create 50,000 jobs as well as enforce all the six compulsory insurances.

Above all, the group recommended that the new insurance commissioner must initiate policies that would scale up the performances of insurance and ensure that in comparison to other African countries in terms of premium generation, Nigeria maintains a positive premium generating column that justifies its present position as the largest African economy.

They said given the nature of insurance business in Nigeria, Thomas must be a regulator that does his work in most friendly manner and come up with initiatives that will sell the industry to the ever hostile Nigerian public, these qualities he said are naturally embedded in Thomas.

NAICOM has undergone series of metamorphosis under the leadership of six different chief executives as commissioners for insurance.
Thomas who is the incumbent Commissioner is the sixth commission.
The past commissioners included Chief Eugene Okwor, the late Chief Oladipo Bailey, Mr. Okechukwu Chukwulozie, Daniel and Kari.
Each of them contributed towards developing the insurance industry, which is obviously much behind its counterparts in other countries.

However, each of them failed to perfectly achieve the onerous task of securing complete autonomy for the industry with the total powers to prosecute and punish offenders in the industry, a development which has thrown big spanner in the wheels of sanitising the industry of careless and fraudulent managers.

Notwithstanding, their efforts towards repositioning the insurance market especially in the area of sanitisation of the industry and strengthening of its financial and human resources cannot be over emphasised.

However, the greatest achievement recorded by NAICOM was the autonomy granted it by former President Olusegun Obasanjo under Chukwulozie’s tenure, which was unfortunately lost by the industry, a situation, which has left the commission in its present state of partial autonomy and lack of powers to prosecute and punish erring firms and their managers.
Therefore, Thomas is expected to reposition the sector to take advantage of opportunities in the economy.