By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has given the management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund(NSITF) a January 2022 ultimatum to re-adjust the staff salary structure of the fund.
The Minister who addressed the closing ceremony of its two-day Management Performance Review, Saturday, at the Nigeria Airforce Centre, Abuja also gave the agency three months to fully automate its operations.
Commending the new management of the Fund for what it termed “new focus and work friendly,” the Minister said the conduct of the new team has justified the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to relieve the immediate past management team of their responsibilities.
A statement by Charles Akpan, Deputy Director Press and Public Relations in the ministry quoted the Minister as saying, “When in July 2020 the President approved the suspension and later removal of the former management of the NSITF after over three years in office, the fund’s savings was at a paltry sum of N2B. The Acting Management of Kelly Nwagha who bridged the gap for less than a year, moved the savings to N8B. And in six months, the current management under Mike Akabogu has moved it to N17B. The people they succeeded in office had only N2b in the account but left a liability, debts of over N30b. Is that a good management?
“So when you hear Ngige likes to fight, Ngige doesn’t like them because they are Yoruba, do not listen to them. I’m a nationalist. I try my best to model my practice of politics after the Great Zik of Africa. If you are working with me and you do the right thing, I don’t care where you come from.
“I don’t hate any tribe in Nigeria. I’m a nationalist. I have worked everywhere in Nigeria. If you are good, I will spot you out and encourage you. If you are Hausa and you do well, you are my friend, Yoruba, Igbo or other tribes, the same .
“If you are Igbo and you shun your responsibilities, I will kick you out. The same with Hausa, same with Yoruba. We are all Nigerians and I love all equally. But what I hate and will continue to fight is when people derail from their responsibilities.
“The Chairman of the Board of the NSITF, Austin Isere, a chartered accountant, chartered banker and chartered insurer is an Urhoboh from Delta State. I didn’t know him. The man who brought him to me is a Yoruba man, Fola Danniel and President was pleased with his pedigree. This is the kind of Nigeria we want. When people are qualified, you give them their due.
“The best Director of Finance I have worked with in my Ministry is Ishaya Awotu from Nasarawa State. I have worked with others, even from my tribe. But Ishaya is brilliant and competent, that I keep recommending him till today for any finance and accounting jobs without blinking.
“When you hear any story, oh, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, don’t bandy it around me. I look for an excellent person and that’s how I operate. A lot of people hide under tribalism to cover up weaknesses and inefficiency. We can’t build Nigeria with such predilection.
“This new management is worker friendly. Unlike the politicians before them, they have not given themselves N10 million for vacation with their spouses. Even though it is there in the operational manual, but I advised them it is immoral for them to do so when some staff members cannot afford house rents, that the strategic reform they set for themselves must be all-inclusive and they paid heed.
“We discovered very sadly that the NSITF has not re-adjusted staff salary but it is not the fault of this management but of preceding ones who didn’t think about the lowly placed persons. We discovered it and have given them an ultimatum to do so by the end of January 2022.
“Other incentives will follow and will be tied to performance. If you improve your contributions before the end of March, all your allowances will be reviewed. So all the staff must sit up . A new system is here to reward hard work. The era of clocking in 8:30 am to sleep and clock out 4 pm is over.
“The more target you meet in terms of returns, generation of contributions, the more the incentive. When you exceed your target, there must be a way of saying thank you. You must live down the NSITF of old and brace up for the new NSITF, where there will be special promotions for outstanding performance. There will also be a review of condition of service .”
The Minister who listened carefully for four hours to the presentations of the challenges and future of the fund, from all the branches grouped into five teams, charged the management to fully automate the operations of the agency within three months, in line with global trend.
“Information on every aspect of this agency should prop up on a touch of a button. It saves cost, saves time, promotes synergy, efficiency and transparency which is a bulwark against fraud. You must achieve this in three months. Both ITF and FIRS are organizations you should be competing with, but they have left you behind,” Ngige said.
He further directed that the Management Performance Review be made more frequent, every month, especially for those in operations, using virtual platforms, to bridge the gap in communication between the branches, zones and the headquarters, so as to properly ventilate every issue and carry along, all levels before decisions are taken.
The Minister re-stated that every contract must be in line with the Procurement Act and must be done based on NEEDS assessment, vowing that the era of procurement just for sake of it was over.
“When you visit some branches, you find items of furniture, some new, dumped all over the place. They were procured for sake of buying them and not based on the needs of the branches. This must stop.”
He again charged the legal department to pick up the challenge a charge recalcitrant employers to court, directing that a legal department be established in every branch. He said additional recruitment of lawyers and accountants was done to firm up operations and there should be no excuses hence.
“How many persons have you taken to court? We are amending the law so that the penalty will be stiff. But you must take people to court even if the fine is N10, 000. The law says N10,000 or six months imprisonment or both. A magistrate or judge might not give you N10, 000 only, he might give you both or even give you six months only. And once you are given six months and you come out, you become an ex-convict. If it is a company, it will be blacklisted. So, nobody should say the law is loose and hide under it not to perform.”
Ngige further called for the re-enforcement of the Informal Sector Department of the agency as he described the informal economy as one whole opportunity waiting to be tapped for the social security benefits of all.
The review, a quarterly, which was the first since the new management took office last year, had in attendance, all branch and regional managers as well as other senior and executive management of the agency.
The Managing Director of the Fund, Dr. Mike Akabogu had earlier said the decision to invite the branch managers to take the lead in the presentation was part of the new strategic management system that prioritizes horizontal leadership.
He further said the agency was being reformed to raise the bar of performance, hence the need for continuous cross-level engagement of the workforce to engender synergy needed for the achievement of target goals.