The Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and the National Pension Commission (PenCom) are three major institutions that have profound influence in the way the welfare of Nigerian workers, retirees and pensioners is shaped.
The three institutions share certain features in common: one of the features is that Federal Government employees are automatically enrolled as contributors to the pool of money meant to make it easier for them to meet their need for housing and basic health care while still in service, and periodic pension payments on retirement, respectively.
The amount of money deducted from the salary of each worker as contribution to each of the trio is decided without any consultation with the worker. This feature, which negates the principle of participation, is also common to the three organisations.
The decision on how and when any worker can benefit from his own money deducted and lodged with them ostensibly to further the welfare of the worker is left to the three powerful institutions to choose. This is another shared feature.
To illustrate, the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria may only advance loans to a worker to build or renovate or purchase a house when its management deems fit to do so, not necessarily based on the urgency of the need of the worker to have accommodation. Likewise, the NHIS, in addition to severely limiting the type of health care accessible by workers, it totally denies retired contributors access to its services regardless of the extent of their need for such services.
They are denied, even at the point of death. On its part, the National Pension Commission is supposedly constrained by the Act establishing it to pay Federal retirees a single kobo out of their Retirement Savings Accounts, even in the face of starvation, except after the Benefit Redemption Fund is activated in favour of the retirees. Some people perceive this arrangement as absurd.
The way and manner the three institutions operate need to be tampered with a human face; with empathy and in the context of the spirit of the humane intention that justified the establishment of each of the three institutions.
While the PenCom was busy earlier this week talking to Directors of Pension Operations, frustrated retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme, which the Commission oversees, were crying out loudly for attention and payments of their pensions in several states of the country. So unsettling.
In the case of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, its Managing Director told State House Correspondents after his meeting with the Vice President of Nigeria that a fresh approach toward facilitating house ownership has taken off, thus raising hope on future housing projects for thousands of beneficiaries with zero equity subscription. This is a good initiative, but the reported case of 2017 and 2018 retirees who are still patiently waiting for the refund of their contributions to the National Housing Fund (NHF) by the FMBN should be treated with the urgency it deserves. September is especially significant as school children resume, and the refunded money can be handy for many in paying school fees.
The sum total of this article is that the Acts establishing the three institutions, which came into being to preserve and advance the welfare of their contributors, should be usefully flexible: in the case of the FMBN the zero equity approach is good, the rent-to-own concept is wonderful with lower interest charges; the NHIS establishment Act deserves amendment to extend access to basic health care to pensioners who were contributors. The PRA 2014 should be revisited to make it possible for retirees to access part of their savings while remittance to their RSAs from the Benefit Redemption Fund is processed.
The three institutions should be the drivers of the process of making their operations flexible in the interest of their clients.
Salisu Na’inna Dambatta