By Kabiru Ushafa
Recent revelations of sleaze at the Nigeria Social Insurance Trusts Fund, NSITF, a key agency of the federal government saddled with the task of mobilising funds for the prompt payment of workman’s compensation to Nigerian workers, are to say the least, highly embarrassing. It is clear to all that since its inception, the NSITF has never suffered such high level of pillage and haemorrhage, leading to the inability of the agency to discharge its statutory functions to the workers, thereby leaving them with a sour taste in the mouths and almost defeating the purpose for which it was established by the government.
The discredited board headed by a female politician with many labour leaders as strategic representatives, allegedly made away with a staggering sum of N62.3 billion from the coffers of the NSITF between 2011 and 2015 while it was ‘actively working’ with a faction of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, to ‘protect’ the interest and well-being of the workers in the agency. Shockingly, the vociferous NLC faction did not see the danger of aligning itself with such a malevolent board to plunder the commonwealth of workers in the agency and did not even raise the alarm to draw attention to the monumental looting. The bubble burst only because some patriotic workers in the NSITF daringly reported the alarming rot in the agency to the EFCC, which began to arrest and investigate the suspects. Incidentally, two of the six key suspects being prosecuted by the EFCC for the NSITF scam, represented labour-related agencies in the fund.
But the NSITF has reasons to appreciate the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, who quickly understood the hidden power game building up at the agency and acted swiftly to prevent the vital establishment from being hijacked by forces still loyal to those who plundered the funds and are actively using the proceeds to fight for their clearance in the ongoing probe and prosecution of the suspects. Ngige, who has survived many political battles in the past, including an ambush while in office as Anambra governor, is not new to the unfolding drama at the NSITF and has not hidden his resolve to box the culprits into submission in the interest of the workers, whose compensation has not been forthcoming for many years now. The minister while raising the nine-man panel to probe the accounts of the NSITF, noted that the agency’s account had not been audited for five years and had suffered massive looting to the extent that in one instance N30 billion was carted away while in another N5 billion was taken away and converted to dollars without vouchers.
There are whispers however, that the Administrative Panel set up by the Minister with requisite experts not below the rank of directors carefully selected from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Auditor General of the Federation , the Budget Office of the Federation , National Salaries Income and Wages Commission and the Federal Ministry of Labour, does not enjoy the support of a faction of the NLC, which appears to be more interested in the inauguration of the new board of the NSITF before any probe is done .
But the labour minister, who has received insists the financial mess at the NSITF must first be cleared before a new board is put in place. In fact, this was what informed the non-inauguration of the Chief Frank Kokori-led board of the NSITF on the 15th of February 2018 when the minister inaugurated other boards of agencies under his ministry in Abuja.
Ngige has stoutly rebuffed all subtle and overt entreaties and threats from a faction of the labour with the mantra that ‘Kokori is our man’ and must be sworn in as NSITF board chairman while the probe goes on. He fears strongly that like the sacked board, which allegedly frittered away the funds of the NSITF with the active support of key labour representatives on its board, those clamouring for the ‘hasty inauguration of the new board’ with the NSITF house still on fire, may not understand the vulnerability such could expose the fund to.
The minister seems to have convinced himself and the Presidency that the campaign spearheaded by a section of the labour movement could have other implications. The minister has also found support from the United Labour Congress, ULC, whose General Secretary, Didi Adodo, in clear appreciation of the rot in the NSITF and the urgency of an in-depth cleansing, has asked the government to do the needful to save the agency from total collapse. “The plundering that has taken place in the NSITF is enough for any right-thinking organization and comrade to support a major probe that will not only unearth what has taken place but will also bring the perpetrators to justice,” Adodo said.
Adobo was supported by the Deputy President of UCL, Comrade Achese, who demanded that the roles played by the representatives of the Labour and the private sector in the alleged NSITF fraud be probed and those found culpable, punished, adding that the Nigerian workers should rise above board.
However, the NLC believes that with Kokori ‘their man’ as chairman, and with its two statutory nominees, in and another two from NECA on the saddle of the NSITF, it would be able to wrestle control from whoever is leading the agency and stamp its authority on it. It may even decide whether the probe of its former members now under trial should proceed or not. That seems to be the major bone of contention between the two gladiators in the power game.
The NLC’s ambitious calculation is however regardless of an internal threat from their breakaway brothers in the newly formed United Labour Congress (ULC) who have been petitioning the Labour ministry and the presidency that its 18 affiliate unions must be nominated into all the labour-related parastatals such as the NSITF, National Directorate of Employment (NDE) National Productivity Centre (NPC) where the Labour Acts mentioned the NLC.
The ULC has gone further to ask the Minister to extend the investigation to the Trust Fund Pension Ltd- a pension Fund Administration in which NSITF has 40% majority Equity with NLC, TUC, NECA, Skye Bank and Niger Insurance. Though the company is an NSITF initiative, the NLC/TUC and NECA with 15% and 10% shares respectively, are currently engaged in a bitter struggle over the appointment of Trust Fund Directors with the Managing Director and the Executive Directors of the NSITF. The NLC and their sympathizers want their non-Executive Directors on the Board of NSITF to be inaugurated urgently so that they can flow from the NSITF into the Trust Fund Pensions, thereby increasing their numerical strength of directors on the board.