The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, suspended the management of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) last week over what he termed as some ‘prima facie’ evidence of fraud at the institution.
Among those suspended were NSITF Managing Director, Mr. Adebayo Somefun, executive directors, Mr Jasper Ikedi Azuatalam, Mrs Olukemi Nelson, Alhaji Tijjani Sulaiman, and several general managers, their assistants and deputies.
Other officials have been appointed in acting capacity.
With the long list of staff involved in suspected fraud, it is feared that NSITF qualifies as a house of corruption, if the allegations against the suspended management are true.
Some of the alleged infractions, as revealed in a statement by Mr. Charles Akpan, the Deputy Director, Press and Publicity of the Labour Ministry include, “N3.4 billion 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.
Non-existent unexecuted N2.3 billion was documented and paid while N1.1 billion is awaiting payment without any job done, all totalling N3.4 billion.
“Same goes for projects of construction of 14 zonal/regional offices in 14 states running into billions of naira – a policy issue being done without board or ministerial knowledge, not to talk of approval.
“This was done in 2019 by the managing director and his three-man executive.
“Some of the projects are duplications and hence waste of funds.”
In the statement, the ministry indicted the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), which plays supervisory role at NSITF, saying that the body looked the other way when a previous management stole N48 billion from the fund.
It is very distressing to hear about such unbridled looting from a fund that is meant to cater for the welfare of workers who make monthly contributions to it.
At its formation in 1961, the fund was meant to do the following: “Provide retirement pension benefit; survivors benefit; retirement grant; death grant; invalidity benefit; invalidity grant and such other benefits as may be approved from time to time by the board.”
Under the Employees Compensation Act (2010), NSITF is expected to “provide for an open and fair system of guaranteed and adequate compensation for all employees or their dependents for any death, injury, disease or disability arising out of or in the course of employment; to provide rehabilitation to employees with work disability as much as possible; to establish and maintain a solvent compensation fund managed in the interest of employees and employers; to provide for fair and adequate assessments for employers; to provide an appeal procedure that is simple, fair and accessible, with minimal delays; and to combine efforts and resources of relevant stakeholders for the prevention of workplace disabilities, including the enforcement of occupational safety and health standard.”
These are enormous responsibilities for which much is expected from the fund.
Over the years, Nigerian workers cannot be said to have benefitted from the fund, in spite of the fact that, at least, one per cent of their monthly earnings is contributed into its coffers.
It is shocking that such huge funds are available for the management of NSITF to loot when workers who made contributions hardly access them when they retire or suffer permanent disability on the job.
It is apparent that NSITF is the most lucrative agency under the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, hence the constant battle over its control.
In 2019, for instance, Ngige prevented Comrade Frank Kokori, who was appointed as chairman of NSITF’s board, from taking over that position, and on July 1, 2020, Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, ordered the interim forfeiture of 48 choice properties, allegedly belonging to the former chairperson of NSITF, Ngozi Olejeme.
Instead of merely investigating the suspended officials, we call on government to carry out a dispassionate forensic audit of NSITF.
There are fears that frauds, conflict of interests, waste and naked corruption are endemic at this fund, and Nigerian workers are at the receiving end.
Government must probe this agency and bring to book all those who had, over the years, looted it and denied Nigerian workers the benefits from their contributions to the fund.