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Despite Labour protest Ngige inaugurates NSITF Board

…Calls for reports of Fund’s audited account

By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

ABUJA – AT last the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, led by Austin Enajemo-Isire, was on Monday inaugurated by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige amidst tight security.

Members of NLC protesting at Federal Secretariat Abuja over Minister of Labour actions to NLC Members . Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

But the inauguration did not go without protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, over the alleged attack of labour members by suspected thugs at the private residence of the Minister in Asokoro and the replacement of the veteran labour leader Chief Frank Kokori as Chairman of the Fund’s board.

While the inauguration took place at the Old Banquet of the Presidential Villa, the protest was staged at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja.

This is as the Minister of Labour has called for the reports of NSITF audited account as soon as possible, alleging that there was no record of its audited account in the past seven years contrary to the act that established it.

Inaugurating the board, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Ngige recalled the alleged fraud uncovered under the past NSITF management which had been investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

He described the process leading to the inauguration as long and tortuous, adding that before the composition of the board membership, extensive investigations were conducted into financial crimes and administrative flaws perpetrated by the former board members.

According to him, the output of the investigation was a useful guide for the composition of a new and promising board with the capacity to efficiently discharge its functions.

He said, “The route to this event of today has been long and tortuous due to conditions precedent that needed to be addressed and resolved to ensure a viable and progressive NSITF for today and the future.

“Extensive investigations, both for financial crimes and administrative breaches had to be carried out in the NSITF with outcomes in the form of reports and recommendations that have provided guides for the formation of a new and better NSITF where a new board can thrive and efficiently discharge its statutory functions,”

Recall that the conflict over the composition of the board dated back to 2017 when the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo appointed a former labour activist, Frank Kokori, as the chairman of the board.

Ngige charged the new appointees to leave the day-to-day running of NSITF to the Executive Directors, and not award contracts or review upwards their remunerations and allowances by themselves.

He also added that the Board should always be made aware of whatever the Tenders Board of the NSITF was doing, in order to enhance checks and balances in the system.

The Minister commended the current management of the NSITF, led by its Managing Director, Adebayo Somefun, for improving the fortunes of the Fund and implementing its statutory mandate, but enjoined it to work in harmony with the new Board to continually improve staff welfare and other indices needed to make the Fund function optimally.

Ngige said: “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.

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“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.

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“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.

“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 remainder 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.

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“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 admonished the members to 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.”

He further urged them to be mindful of the fact that their function and operations are regulated by various Federal Government circulars. “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. ”

In terms of remuneration, Ngige said the Board remuneration has 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 allowancesfor themselves like the former Board did,” he warned.

On contract awards, Ngige urged that “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.

He urged that investments of the Fund are to be streamlined and properly compartmentalised in line with due process. Ngige also urged them to with urgency “retrieve all abandoned building assets in the real estate sector that are scattered all over the countryat Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu etc with the whereabouts of some of the title documents not known.

“Other investments like the Trust Fund Pensions Ltd– our Pension Fund Administration (PFA) Company which was originally created 100% from NSITF assets and which the NSITF presently has a majority shareholding of 42% of which some “greedy and overzealous shareholders” have been trying to “poach” for sometime now without success should be religiously guided.

“If anything, NSITF should acquire more equity in the company being a profitable investment. The company is a prized investment as it’s the only biggest Revenue yielding investment for the NSITFas of today.”

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The board Chairman, Austin Enajemo-Isire, is a Chartered Accountant, professional Insurance Executive, and Banker.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was represented at the inauguration ceremony by Comrades Waheed Adeyanju and Ibrahim Khaleel, President Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE.

The secretary of the committee is Mrs Ijeoma Okoronkwo.

Other board members are Mr Olawale, Osuolale Timothy, (NECA) Dr Mohammed Yinusa, Dr. Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, Mrs. Dutse Aminu (CBN)

Other members are Mr Jasper Azutalam, Executive Director, Finance, Mr Tijani Suleiman, Executive Admin, Mrs Kemi Nelson, Executive Director, Operations and Mr. Ade Bayo Somefun, Managing Director & Chief Executive.

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The replacement of Chief Kokori who has been appointed to head Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), a diploma awarding labour institution, had pitched the NLC against Ngige.

This culminated in the Picketing of the private residence of the Minister where suspected thugs allegedly descended on the protesters on Wednesday last week.

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