Mystery over missing N17b NSITF fund

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The Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) is enmeshed in a crisis of confidence of some sorts including alleged misappropriation of over N17billion employers’ contributions, low staff morale, alleged indiscriminate employment which has pit the labour unions against the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, among other unresolved issues. Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf and Tony Akowe in this report, examine the contending issues

This is not the best of times for the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) and the reason for this is not far to seek: like the Americans are wont to say, the agency is literally hemmed in on all sides!

Crux of the matter

At issue is that the agency is fighting many wars at different fronts, chief among which is the problem of low staff morale, especially among the rank and file who from available information are disillusioned over the unsatisfactory way and manner their welfare has been handled by successive management team.

But there is a more troubling issue as well, which is almost threatening the continued existence of the organisation itself: and it’s all about the money!

The truth is that the NSITF Act stipulates that every employer at both the public and organised private sector with at least 10 staff strength must pay certain percentage into the NSITF purse to cater for employees’ benefits in case of accidents at the workplace among other exigencies.

The sad part however is that whereas the private employers have been consistently contributing to this pool, with total contributions valued at over N17billion thus far, the federal government is reported to have reneged on its own pledge for many years now.

Findings by The Nation revealed that successive governments dating back to the Olusegun Obasanjo administration had relied on the said contributions to bankroll the expenses of the NSITF.

Speaking with separate sources at the Ministry of Labour, and the NSITF, they confided in our correspondent that the issue of the missing N17billion predates the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, noting that the monies are the accumulated wage bill incurred by the Fund in the last few years.

According to one of the sources, who asked not to be named, “At the moment, the federal government owes the Fund about N17 billion. What that meant is that the Fund is currently being financed through contributions from private employers. This is not supposed to be so.’’

More startling revelations

Investigations by The Nation revealed that the management of the Fund was been compelled to recruit fresh staff even though they are not in any position to do so due to paucity of funds.

Several attempts to get the Barrister Adebayo Somefun-led management of NSIFT were futile as he was said to be away on official assignments.

But sources close to the management said currently, the wage bill of the fund stood at over N900 million monthly while it has not received any capital allocation from the government since 2015.

“They have told the Minister to source for funds for them to carry out their assigned mandate. I am sure if they have money today, they will not hesitate to carry out the directive to employ new workers. But they have argued that they don’t want to employ new ones when there is no money to pay them.”

On staff welfare, the source said “when the current management came in about nine months ago, the staff morale was very low as a result of non conducive working environment. But they took it upon themselves to boost staff morale and started paying the furniture allowance that has not been paid since 2012. They have not finished paying that, but at least we know that many people have received and more will soon receive theirs.

“They have also released the list of promotion for staff which has been withheld for some time and has constituted a committee to ensure proper placement for all staff. They have also brought back due process in procurement and staff were paid 13th month salary during the just concluded celebration.”

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The source confirmed the purchase of five vehicles for the use of the management team, explaining that while four of the vehicles are to be used by the management team, the fifth which is yet to be purchased as be designated as poll car which will be put at the disposal of the Board when it is inaugurated.

Union at daggers drawn with Labour Minister

Meanwhile, the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) is on a war path with the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, over what the former described as alleged illegal recruitment at the NSITF.

The Nation was reliably informed that successive management of the Fund have been recruiting staff indiscriminately without due regard for extant civil service rules and procedures.

Investigation by The Nation further revealed that most of the staff were irregularly employed between 2012 and 2016 and placed over and above better qualified and experienced existing staff.

Independent checks by our correspondent revealed that the current staff of the organisation is about 5, 000 with 71 of them in the management cadre and several others who enjoy a lot of perks of office to the detriment of other staff.

Just recently the EFCC has commenced court action against three former directors and two current staff of NSITF on issues bothering on alleged diversion of contributions paid to NSITF. The NSITF has been badly hit since 2011.

Confirming this development, Mrs. Oyinkansola Olasanoye, National President of ASSBIFI in an interview with our correspondent said the organisation has an over-bloated staff.

“The federal government is trying to create employment; it has been overbloating the organisation with too many staff.  As at present they have over 5, 000 staff. And or recent al so the federal government said they should employ additional 370, which we have done a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. And those they are employing are not just fresh graduates that we would that the government is seeking employment for. They are insisting that they should be part of management even if there are no jobs available for them.”

Regrettably, the ASSBIFI boss said: “The government keeps on forcing them to employ even when they don’t need staff. The problem we are having at the NSIFT is that it is top heavy. For a fresh graduate, their entry point in that organisation should be Level 7, which is the officer level. So those that came in without knowing anybody in power, it’s not this present government that started it, they have been on the same level but they would bring their own people and start giving them Level 13-14.”

Pressed further, she said: “Those that have been on Level 7, there is no vacancy for them to be promoted to. And that is what is causing frustration. People that have been in the company for 10 years that have done their Masters and all, there is no vacancy for them to be promoted. You employ fresh graduates without experience, no additional qualifications and you make them Level 13-14-15 Officers. And two weeks ago this present management wanted to do the same and we reminded them that we have been working together on the survival of this organisation and he said it is not about him. We also went to the Minister of Labour, and he said go back and still employ. We had to write to the SGF that Even if it is to create employment for Nigerian fresh graduates, it should have been at entry level.”

Raising some posers, she said: “How can such agency remain without a board? Why must it be left to the whims and caprice of the minister? Where is the tripartite content that is supposed to manifest in the day to day management of the agency. The board under normal circumstances is made up of government, employers, and organised labour (NLC). The NSITF needs cleansing but which the government is not too keen about.”

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In the letter titled: ‘creating A Healthy and Sustainable Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund’ with reference No. ANS/IR/GO/YOS/154, dated December 20, 2017 and made available to The Nation, was jointly signed by ASSBIFI’s National President, Oyinkan Olasanoye and the Acting Deputy Secretary General, Yekeen O. Shittu.

In the 12 paragraph petition to the SGF, the union queried the improper staff placement in the organisation arising from lopsided recruitment just as it complained that fresh graduates were placed on the ranks far above their experiences and qualifications against extant civil service rules.

Besides, the union leaders lamented the non payment of backlogs of outstanding statutory deductions like pension and housing funds from staff just as it queried the issue of overlapping salaries.

However, in a telephone interview with the minister’s spokesman, Nwachukwu Obidiwe, he told our correspondent that the minister will respond to all the allegations at the appropriate time.

When our correspondent made further entreaties to get the Minister’s reaction last Wednesday, Obidiwe said his principal was at a closed-door meeting with the management team of the NSITF.

More reactions

Speaking in an interview with The Nation, a staff of the ministry who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak said: “In 2015, the then government did not make any payment to NSITF. In 2016, the government discovered massive fraud. External auditors raised a red flag on the agency because of the high level of fraud discovered there. In view of that, the government withheld its contributions pending when the fraud issue is addressed.

“In 2017, the Minister of Labour and Employment intervened, insisting that if the private sector employers were up to date in their contributions as contained in the enabling act, there was no reason for the government not to pay its contribution. He later took the matter to the President who directed that all outstanding government contributions be released to them. At the moment, the Ministry of Finance is working on the Presidential directive and the money will soon be paid to them. Meanwhile, all non treasury funded government agencies are up to date in the payment of their contributions.”

On staff recruitment, the source recalled that: “In 2016, the management of NSITF sent a memo to the Minister seeking approval to employ 521 staff to fill existing vacancies. After exhaustive deliberations, the Minister gave approval and sent same approval to the Budget Office of the Federation for what is called Manpower and Personnel budgetary provisional approval. It was also sent to the Federal Character Commission for their approval before they went ahead to advertise the vacancies both internally and externally as required. Candidates were shortlisted and interview conducted. All employment carried out followed due process.”

Pressed further, the source noted that: “The union officials are only afraid because many of them don’t have certificates and if you conduct staff verification today, they know that many of them will be asked to go. But the President has said that no staff will be sacked and so, they can keep enjoying their job. But I can tell you that many of those union people are not qualified to work in such an agency.”

Fear over job loss

The fears being expressed in some quarters is that the same fate that befell the National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND) may be the lot of NSITF if nothing is done to address the drift.

Pray, are these fears real or unfounded? Time will tell.

The post Mystery over missing N17b NSITF fund appeared first on The Nation Nigeria.

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