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NSITF: NLC’s rift with Labour Minister

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Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige. Photo/Twitter/LabourMinNG

It is now in the public space that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is kicking against the inauguration of the Board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

To refresh our minds, the NSITF was a product of the liquidation of the old National Provident Fund (NPF). It was set up by the Federal Government via Decree 23 of 1993 and embodied into the Law of the Federation as NSITF Act Cap   N88, LFN 2004.

The Federal Government made a take-off grant available. Most of the NPF Asset was sent to set up the Pension Commission, and the NSITF was given a new role of workers Insurance in the old Workmen Compensation Act, which was later amended and expanded to produce the Employer Compensation Act (ECA) 2010. The major function and role are to insure workers against accidents and pay benefits to them, their families or their organization for accident, injuries, invalidation and even death in the course of work– i.e. going to work, in the workplace or returning from work.

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In the enabling Law establishing the Agency, the Federal Government in its wisdom decided to give it a tripartite coloration (Government, Labour, and Employers) because of the Industrial Relations nature of the entity.

Consequently, the Management and Board as set out in Section 4 of the Act should have a Chairman who shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister of Labour, Two (2) persons each nominated by the Nigeria Employees Consultative Association (NECA) – then the only Employers’ Association, The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) (because they were the only Labour Federation then).

One (1) representative each of Federal Ministry of Employment, Labour & Productivity (Supervising Ministry), The Central Bank of Nigeria (Financial Institution), Three (3) Executive Directors (EDs) – Federal Government interest, one (1) Managing Director (MD) – Federal Government interest.

Section 5 (3) of the Act also says – the members of the Board shall be paid certain remuneration and allowances as the Minister of Labour may from time to time determine.

The Act further in section 7 (4) stipulates that the Minister shall also make recommendations to the President on the appointment of the Managing Director or an Executive Director after consultations with the NLC and NECA.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the appointment of the Chairman for the Board of NSITF is a straightforward engagement by the Minister recommending a fit and proper neutral person to Mr. President for the appointment. So also, for the appointment of the MD and EDs. Here the ILO principle on tripartite representation comes into play, which in this situation does not permit any of the partners to dictate to another on who is to represent them in a meeting, consultations, negotiation or on any joint venture like the NSITF, provided the person nominated has no criminal record against the Law of that country.

From the information gathered, NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Waba approached the Hon. Minister sometime in 2017 to inform him that he and other Social Partner, the then DG NECA submitted an NSITF Chairman nominee to the office of the Vice President, which the Minister bluntly told him that it was incongruous for NLC or NECA to do so as it breached the Law and was also an erosion of the Hon. Ministers function to nominate persons to the offices listed in the Act.

More revelations according to the Minister showed that NECA DG at the time did not participate nor had any hand in the so-called nomination, while the person nominated was Comrade Frank Kokori, a veteran NUPENG General Secretary.

Since the minister had insisted on due process of appointing NSITF chairman, he has continued to receive a tirade of abuses from the Wabba-led Labour since it does not favour their candidate.

There was a time Wabba wrote a letter of congratulations to Mr. President for appointing Comrade Kokori to Chair the NSITF Board and copied the Labour Minister, and then leaked the letter to the media even when the Minister had not made any recommendation to Mr. President.

All these antics were aimed at blackmailing and railroading the Hon. Minister and Mr. President into a forced acquiescence.

Sadly too, Kokori himself went to Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture in January 2018 alleging the Labour Minister delayed his inauguration as Chairman, following his appointment in November 2017, accusing the Minister of trying to be in-charge of NSITF to award contracts and milk the juice in the place and favour his village people as recruits into the NSITF.  He threatened to call out NUPENG members to a “fight” if after one month he was not sworn in.

He actually in April 2018 attended the NUPENG NEC in session meeting and reported “Minister Ngige” for trying to humiliate him. He reported the Minister to the Senate Committee on Labour, Productivity, Employment and the House of Representatives counterpart with strongly worded petitions.

The Minister attended to the queries by both House Committees, of course, explaining the situation he met NSITF financially frustrated in November 2015 when he assumed duty and what the situation was and that nomination of Comrade Kokori was irregular and anomalous and that, of course, this was an Executive responsibility that does not need a Senate screening.

When Ngige took over the Ministry as Minister on November 15, 2015, parastatals sent in their reports and omitted the fact that the last Board of NSITF in collusion with some management staff in charge of Finance and Legal Departments looted funds in place. This grave “omission” was because the Executive Directors of the last Board were still in charge up to end December 2016.

It would be recalled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) commenced criminal investigations into the Financial Affairs of the place from 2011 – 2016 for criminal conspiracy, abuse of office and diversion of public funds and money laundering, based on petitions received by the Ag. Chairman of the EFCC, against the Chairman and Members of the last Board.

The EFCC was able to establish through Forensic financial investigations that a total of N62,358,401,927 (Sixty-Two Billion, Three Hundred and Fifty-Eight Million, Four Hundred and One Thousand, Nine Hundred and Twenty-Seven naira) could not be accounted for.

The report concluded by revealing Eight top NSITF officials of General Managers cadre who operated private companies in which they are Directors and signatories and which they also used in milking Public Funds from the NSITF.

After briefing Mr. President on the damaging EFCC report, an Administrative Panel of Enquiry on the finances of NSITF and ancillary matters was instituted.

It was discovered also that over N5b was removed from the NSITF account in one day without a single voucher to trace the movement except for the forensic trail of the EFCC.

As at today, the Administrative Panel report is being implemented vigorously, the NSITF procurement process, financial records, plugging of leakages are receiving visible financial sanity. Today, workers’ salaries are promptly paid against what obtained in past years.

Accumulated allowances such as housing, educational, clothing which were owed workers for years have been cleared, same with furniture and out of pocket expenses.  Workers stagnated on the same position for six years have been promoted to enhance productivity.

The Port Harcourt (PH) regional office and the three branch offices at Onne, Trans Amadi and PH were sealed in May 2018 by Rivers State Inland Revenue Services (RIRS) for non-remittance of Standard Taxes deducted during the ‘period of the locust’. Today, the regional office has been unsealed since November last year.

The Minister in the exercise of the functions of his office and recommendations of the Administrative Panel of Enquiry sought the help of the immediate past Commissioner for Insurance of NAICON and got a square peg to fill the square hole. That was how Mr. Austin Enajemo-Isire, a Chartered Accountant, Fellow Chartered Institute of Insurance of Nigeria (CIIN), Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN), and Chartered Institute of Taxation (ACTI) came in.

This candidate has a rich background needed as an Insurance Executive to chart a new course for the NSITF. Isire was recommended after the CV evaluation and it was based on competence.

There is nothing against Kokori as a person. The evaluation is done for a neutral, fit and proper person with the required cognate experience who will chair a vigorous and active Board for the financially ailing NSITF did not fit him.

Chief Frank Kokori has a rich knowledge of Labour studies and administration and that is why the President magnanimously approved his appointment as Chairman of the Michael Imoudu National Institute of Labour Studies.

The only sin of the Minister is that Wabba’s candidate (Kokori) was not chosen as the chairman and for that Ngige must be dragged into the mud.

* Atupor writes from Abuja

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Ayuba WabaNECANLCNSITF
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