The operations of the NSITF should be overhauled

Right from inception, allegations of financial impropriety have always been a reoccurring issue in the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). The last management team before the current one was accused of misappropriating the organisation’s fund to the tune of N69 billion. Some members of the preceding management board that served from 2009 to 2015 were also brought before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. (EFCC) for treating it like a slush fund. That particular scandal is currently being prosecuted by the EFCC, after some affected officials had forfeited several assets to the federal government.

It is against this background that President Muhammadu Buhari sacked the previous management team and appointed the present one in 2016 with the charge to ensure that the fund is prudently managed to deliver on its mandate. However, less than four years in office, the NSITF management team has found itself in the same web of corruption allegation. This time, the management is being accused by the parent ministry of sundry acts of misappropriation. According to a statement by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the Ministry of Labour, Charles Akpan, some of the infractions uncovered at NSITF include N3.4 billion allegedly squandered on non-existent staff training split into about 196 different consultancy contracts, in order to evade the Ministerial Tenders Board and Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval.

Some suspended officers, according to the ministry, are to face a Joint Board and Audit Investigative Panel that has been set up to look into the financial and procurement breaches, as well as gross misconduct in the NSITF from 2016 to date. Whatever may be the outcome of the investigations, what this development indicates is that there are more fundamental problems besetting the NSITF as an organisation. The clash of interests by various partners and stakeholders seems to be working against the smooth operation of the scheme and creating avenues for corruption within the management.

For instance, not long after the new management came on board, fresh problems arose about the leadership. The constitution of a new board brought the supervising ministry and other stakeholders like the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Assembly (NECA) in open confrontation. A former president of the National Union of Petroleum and Gas workers (NUPENG), Frank Kokori claimed the president had appointed him as board chairman of NSITF. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige countered the claim. The ensuing face-off with the NLC, NUPENG and Petroleum and Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) went on for several months before a new board under the chairmanship of Mr. Austin Enajero-Isire was constituted.

However, the constitution of a new board has not resolved the problem at the fund. If anything, it has only just added a new layer of problems. Apart from incessant tussle for prominence among the fund’s stakeholders, there seems to be no transparent accounting and procurement procedures in place. There is also the issue of poor placement of priorities by the management of the fund with more attention given to the awards of contracts on frivolous projects than voting more money for employee compensation, medical treatment and other welfare packages.

Meanwhile, a close observation of the activities of the NSITF shows that its core mandate has been relegated to the background while issues of pecuniary interests have become the main preoccupation of those overseeing its affairs. If there is going to be any meaningful change, the federal government and other public and private sector stakeholders need to review and overhaul the operations of the NSITF. That is the only way to make it more transparent and result-oriented.