Abuja — The premises of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) have been one where silence could mean anything and speaking in certain manner could easily be misinterpreted. Everyone suspected everyone.
Staffers were on edge while the management team was unsettled by the intrigues that dogged the inauguration of new board.
The resultant effect was that the implementation of the Employees Compensation Scheme (ECS) was threatened.
As the intrigues unfolded one after another, the Managing Director/Chief Executive, Adebayo Somefun, and his management team that include Executive Director Operations, Mrs Kemi Nelson; Executive Director Administration, Tijani Darazzo; Executive Director Finance and Investment, Jasper Azutalam took steps to steady the ship.
In an encounter, Mrs Nelson said setting aside a special fund for the settlement of claims remains topmost on the agenda of the management.
To her, such step would ensure injured workers get compensation and those that require rehabilitation get the needed medical attention promptly.
For Somefun, employers getting certificate of registration in record time is of utmost importance.
He highlighted that the management has ensured that registration of employers is completed in one day while yearly compliance certificate is issued within seven days of request.
He also hinted that certificates would soon be issued online in a fresh move to boost efficiency.
A former President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, who lauded the management team for remaining forward-looking and refused to be distracted by the non-inauguration of the board while it lasted, said all matters that relate to the inauguration and the attendant politics should be discarded forthwith.
His words: "Now that the President has declared that Austin Enajemo-Esire should chair the board of NSITF, the matter should be closed because it is the prerogative of the President to decide who chairs the board. Now that there is a board, it is my expectation that the board would manage the fund in its care to the best of its ability and do better than the previous board."
He submitted that with two statutory members representing the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), it is the responsibilities of the representatives to make sure that the interests of the workers are protected.
He added: "Whoever is representing the NLC on the NSITF board is there to carry out some sorts of oversight function. A lot of things happened during the tenure of the last board in the presence of labour representatives. What were they doing then? Why didn't they shout when things where not done properly for Nigerians to know? It is not good enough that their names were not mentioned as people that committed infractions. So, labour must examine itself."
Esele contended that the NSITF fiasco shows that the present crop of labour leaders do not have access to critical personnel of government.
His argument: "There are core areas of government that labour must have access to. As a former TUC President, things get to the open only when there is a complete breakdown of negotiation. Even before things break down, labour would have made sure it was in charge of the narrative. One of the fallouts of this event was that the Minister of Labour was completely in charge of the narrative. The Minister was ahead of labour in the narratives that came to the public. That was an anathema. No one is trained to be ahead of issues more than the labour movement. We are trained for things like that. If labour movement had marshalled its narrative very well, the President would have been under immense pressure and would not have gone the route he went.
"Though labour did not have its way in getting one if its own to be the chairman of the board, it has other members that are there. The onus is on the two representatives to make sure the interests of workers are protected."
He said labour leaders should work with the representatives of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), who has two representatives as well.
He insisted that labour did not lose though it did not succeed in getting Frank Kokori to chair the board.
"Labour still has everything in its corner. Labour must deploy its tactics very well by using less to achieve more. I know that before things are gotten to the open, a lot of other things would have happened," he said.
He also enjoined the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige to be magnanimous and must not be feel a sense of triumph, saying, "to the Minister of Labour and Employment, he must give the board the free hand to do their job. I watched the feeling very elated in a recent interview on television beaming with some element of triumph. The Minister must know that he is not the winner in the battle that was fought in the bid to ensure the board is inaugurated. I think the Minister is the loser in the whole process because the process was not done in a manner that I think is honourable. This also includes the labour movement as well. The two sides are losers. I believe that the labour movement should have used its informal contacts to understand the politics that was involved in the matter. There was a huge politics at play and I expected the NLC, even before it called out it members to protest, to have understood the politics and then go behind and carry out effective negotiation to make sure nobody had a bloody nose."
Esele said the inauguration brouhaha provides labour a unique opportunity to re-examine its conducts with a view to re-strategizing for future engagements.
"I think that labour movement has to look at itself and see how it conducted itself in the entire episode. I think that if labour had used informal processes, there would be no need for all that played out," he explained.
Esele opined that as a chartered accountant, the board chairman has what it takes to turn around the fortunes of the NSITF in the near future.
Esele submitted that both sides must win less so that they can both be the winners.
He also urged the board chair to see all the board members as his constituents, saying, "the interest of the Minister was that he should have a say in who becomes the chair of the board and the law says the Minister would recommend who becomes the chairman. Then the interest of labour was that they wanted one of their own to chair the board. Labour would have found a way to assuage the Minister if they had that informal conversation and then find a common ground that is beneficial to the two parties. But they missed the opportunity. I call on the board to always reach a mutually beneficial agreement in the way they steer the affairs of the organisation in order to avert any major disagreement going forward."
Austin Enajemo-Isire is a chartered accountant and has practiced insurance for over 25 years.
Indeed, as the chairman of NSITF board, his responsibilities include effectively implementing Part 1. 3(b) of the Act, which is the payment of the various benefits provided under the Act to persons entitled to the benefit.
Undeniably, the board must also not see itself as 'executive board' whose duty it is to run the Fund on daily basis and must also refrain from awarding contracts.
The Minister while inaugurating the board in Aso Villa underscored this point.
Ngige said: "You (board members) are to particularly note that boards are not to award contracts as there is Parastatal Tenders Board put in place for such purposes, guided by the Public Procurement Act (PPA), 2007. In this wise, the Parastatals 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."
To the President of National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Ibrahim Khaleel, who is one of the representatives of NLC on the board, the mandate is to protect the interests of the working people.
He said: "For us, the focus is to concentrate on what we are there for, which is to ensure that the Employees Compensation Scheme (ECS) is delivered creditably within the ambience of the law that establishes NSITF. But specifically, as labour representatives on the board, ours is to provide quality representation for the workers. So, as the representatives of the workers, our focus would be make sure that injured workers get adequate compensation and that no dependant of workers that sustain injury or died in the course of work suffers. That can only take place when compensation packages are delivered in a quick and efficient manner. We will give the management the necessary cooperation to achieve this feat."
Khaleel said the board would work with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) with a view to getting more employers to join the scheme which will in turn increase the number of employees that would be eligible for compensation when they sustain injury in the course of work.