Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige Monday inaugurated the board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) at the State House Conference Centre in Abuja.
The board is chaired by Austin Enajemo-Isire, a chartered accountant, professional insurance executive and banker.
Members of the board were Mr Adebayo Somefun, Managing Director; Mr Jasper Azutalam, Executive Director of Finance; Mr Tijani Suleiman, Executive Director of Administration; Mrs Kemi Nelson, Executive Director (Operations); Mr Osuolale Timothy (NECA), Mrs Dutse Aminu (CBN), Dr Mohammed Yinusa, Dr Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, and Mrs Ijeoma Okoronkwo who serves as secretary.
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was represented at the inauguration ceremony by the duo of Waheed Adeyanju and Ibrahim Khaleel, President Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE).
Inaugurating the board, the minister said the new board came into place following alleged fraud uncovered under the past NSITF board currently being investigated by anti-graft agencies.
He charged the new appointees to leave the day-to-day running of NSITF to the management of the agency, and desist from awarding contracts or reviewing upwards their remunerations and allowances by themselves.
“Though this board is being inaugurated much later than its contemporaries, the NSITF is however better set to welcome a new board than it was at the time when the other boards of the ministry were inaugurated. As you all may be aware, the last board and management of the NSITF left negative trails inimical to development and progress for both the human and infrastructural components of the agency.
“The criminal investigations by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the subsequent Administrative Panel of Enquiry investigations revealed financial atrocities that would go down the annals of history of the NSITF as shameful and monstrous.
“At a time, the national dailies and social media were agog with the news of corruption and deep sleaze by some members of the previous board in collusion with some top management staff of the agency who aided and abetted the looting of both government and private sector funds of about N48 billion from the N62 billion contributions between 2012 – 2015 of the NSITF.
“This resulted in about four board members including the last chairman being arraigned and charged to court by the EFCC. Some monies have been paid back to government treasury and about 37 houses are now under forfeiture. The administrative panel report also indicted some board members and NSITF management officers,” he said.
“The affected officers have now been shown the way out, and many more indicted officers by the Auditor General’s Periodic Report on the NSITF will soon be made to refund the monies illegally taken from the Fund. The Auditor General of the Federation (AUGF) had to be requested by us in 2017 when it became clear that there was no audited account for the place for five (5) years, past to undertake the constitutional periodic check.
“The Administrative Panel also made some far reaching recommendations towards making the NSITF financially viable and plugging all the loopholes exploited by some members of the last board. Permit me to say that we have implemented a lot of the recommendations in order to restructure and reposition the agency, especially strengthening the financial and audit points of the Fund through some strategic staff deployment.
“At least N5 billion cannot now varnish in a day without audit trial or voucher!! The legal department was also strengthened for their functions. The reminder of the recommendation will be passed on to the board and management for their immediate implementation.
“Meanwhile, areas of financial haemorrhage which made the Fund financially anaemic such as uncoordinated appointment of collection agents and indiscriminate investments as well as multiplicity of bank Accounts have been also tackled.
“The Single Treasury Account (TSA) is in place and has made sure that the issue of multiplicity of accounts and investment are handled and undertaken wisely. The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) has vetted and appointed very few consultants for collection for a period of time.
“With all these in place, enough funds are now available to attend to staff salaries, allowances, and running costs of the agency unlike years 2015/16 when the Fund was living from “hand to mouth.
“The Executive Directors appointed in 2017 have also adjusted and had within the time period been able to lift the Fund to a better level. Government has also started paying up their contribution since 2017/18 and 2019, as they were initially reluctant to do so because of the massive looting that took place in the Fund in 2012 – 2015. In all, it was difficult to put up a board without sanitizing the place.
“As at today, the Fund is in arrears in her audited accounts – the period is 2012-2018, a period of seven years. We need these audited Accounts as soon as possible, to enable us do our annual reports to Mr. President. FG, Labour negotiation meeting on minimum wage inconclusive
“More work will also be needed in the area of resolving the issue of unremitted PAYE Tax, which were deducted from staff but not remitted to the State Tax Boards resulting in the sealing up of many branch offices, e.g. Port Harcourt, Owerri, etc.”
He said members must ensure proper conduct of the affairs of the agency to “restore the confidence of the Nigerian Public in the administration of the fund collected for the execution of the Employees’ Compensation Act (ECA), 2010 which is now the major mandate of the Fund, especially in view of the fact that it is the funds contributed by the public and private sectors to execute this mandate.
“These contributions are strictly speaking employers’ fund which they contributed to purchase an insurance package for their employees. In both would-be beneficiaries, i.e. the employees and employers should be concerned about the monies used in running the operations of the Fund.”
“You are to execute the general policy formulation for the implementation of the ECA by the management team of the NSITF. Be mindful of the general principle which states that nominal board members are not to be involved in the day – to – day running of the Fund.”
On remuneration, Ngige said this had been clearly spelt out as to what to be paid for board meetings and for travels both within and outside the country while salaries and emoluments of staff members fixed by the board but subject to the ratification by the supervising ministry and subsequent confirmation of the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission.
“Therefore the board should not step into the temptation of fixing remunerations and special allowances for themselves like the former board did.”
On contract awards, the minister said, “The parastatal tenders board should strictly adhere to the prevailing public procurement thresholds for contract for consultancy/supplies of goods and for construction. Expenditures threshold that are above the parastatal tenders board should be forwarded to the Ministerial Tenders Board (MTB) for approval and from there to the Federal Executive Council, if the threshold is above the MTB’s approval limit.”
NLC begins nationwide protest
As the board was being inaugurated, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) further carried on with its protest over the minister’s position on the choice of the board chairman.
The Presidency Sunday clarified that Frank Kokori was not President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominee for the board chairmanship.
Instead, it said Kokori should now chair the board of Michael Imoudu Institute of Labour Studies, Ilorin, Kwara state.
The position came weeks after a heated face off between the minister and the leadership of the NLC, culminating in verbal and physical assaults.
For instance, journalists and NLC members were attacked by suspected pro-Ngige thugs during a protest at the minister’s residence in Asokoro, Abuja.
But while the inauguration was on , labour leaders commenced what they called a nationwide protest.
The protest, which kicked off at about 9.am from the Labour House, had in attendance members of affiliated unions.
Addressing the rally, NLC President Ayuba Wabba said the unions were protesting the attack on Nigerian workers during a protest to his (minister’s) house.