Tension grew in the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) as sack threats dangle over some staff who accused the management of diverting their pension and housing funds contributions.
The affected workers, mostly from the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, along with others from the outstations in the States, have already been issued queries demanding explanations why they should not be sanctioned for acts the management describes as an attempt to “malign” and “sabotage the commission.”
NIMC is the government agency in charge of the National Identity Management System. It also operates a National Identity Database by issuing unique national identification numbers to citizens and legal residents.
According to reports by some of the workers, a disciplinary panel had already been constituted to try those who participated in the March 5, 2018 protest march by the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria in Abuja.
The protesters accused the management of NIMC of failing to remit to the relevant administrators, deductions from staff salaries for both the pension and housing funds for over five years.
The workers said the unremitted funds, amounting to billions of Naira, belonged to over 4,000 staff of the Commission across the 36 States of the federation and Abuja.
The National Pension Commission (PENCOM) imposes the responsibility on workers to monitor the deductions of contributions to the pension scheme by employees.
The aggrieved workers said they began to ask questions about their contributions after receiving a notice from PENCOM reminding them of employees’ rights to their insurance policy and pension contributions.
A spokesperson of the workers, who requested anonymity for fear of victimization, said the notice stressed the need for workers to ensure all pension contributions were remitted to their savings accounts within seven days, in line with Section 4(5) of Pension Reform Act 2014.
Based on the information, the workers said they made several requests to the management to know the status of their pension and housing funds remittances, having not received regular alerts from their administrators for at least the last five years. However, no response was forthcoming.
Some of the workers said deductions from their salaries for pension actually began in 2008 when the Commission was still under the then Department of National Civil Registration (DNCR).
Until recently, when the Commission was captured under the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) for all federal government ministries, departments and agencies, information about the management of the contributory funds and other deductions were close management secrets.
Apparently frustrated by the lack of information, the workers said the ASCSN stepped in to demand adequate information on remittances of the funds to the relevant government agencies.
It was reported that the ASCSN’s intervention appeared to have paid off, as contributors to the pension scheme for the first time began to receive alerts on remittances by the Commission after the protest in March.
Regardless, however, they alleged there were discrepancies in the remittances presumably because of the haste in which the management of the Commission was pressured into finding solutions to the problem.
Some of the discrepancies bordered on differentials in the amounts employees were credited. Those recruited same time for similar positions and grades received different amounts as a pension.
Several of those in this category still complained of underpayments. Yet, others who were employed from 2013 till date were not captured at all on the pay schedule till date despite repeated complaints.
NIMC reacts, threatens sanctions
The management of NIMC has, however, said the agitations by the staff were “without due process” and an act to malign and embarrass the commission.
Some of the workers who participated in the ASCSN protest were queried for alleged dereliction of duty, making false claims against the Commission; unauthorized disclosure of official information; violation of oath of secrecy; divided loyalty and sabotage against the commission.
Mrs. Yahaya declared the protest a violation of Public Service Rule No. 030421(i) forbidding public servants from granting interviews or expressing any opinion for publication on any question of political or administrative nature.
When the spokesperson for the Commission, Loveday Ogbonna, was contacted for comments, he dismissed the allegations against the management as “mischievous” and “nothing but sheer fabrications.”
Mr. Ogbonna, in a statement on Saturday, said the directive of the Pension Reform Act of 2004 (and 2014) which established the contributory pension scheme for all employees in the public service was clear.
About 10 percent of the employee’s salary is contributed by the employer and 8 percent by the employee must be deducted at source.
He said the implication of the directive was for the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to deduct the pension contributions before releasing the personnel allocation for any ministry department and agency, MDA.
With the arrangement, Mr. Ogbonna said contributions do not get into the account of any MDA, as “the OAGF remits it directly into the account of PENCOM.”
On the allegation of not receiving regular alerts on Pension contributions, the spokesperson said this was the responsibility of the Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs) as a result of the protracted problem of non-remittance of pension contributions for NIMC staff.
He attributed the problem of non-remittance of pension contributions to a number of reasons.
He said many NIMC staff had more than one retirement savings account (RSA) personal identification number (PIN), as a result of their movement from one employment to another. Consequently, each time they moved, they registered afresh with different PFAs, creating multiple RSA PINs.
He said the confusion was recently resolved after a NIMC staff portal was created for all RSA PINs to be upload, from where information was collated to compile a nominal roll sent to PENCOM.
The outcome of harmonizing the multiple RSA PINs, Mr. Ogbonna said, was the alert all staff received from the PFAs (not NIMC) starting from March 4, 2018.
But, the receipt of the alert from the PFAs appears to have coincided with the period the staff were agitating for the details of the pension contributions, which culminated in the March 5, 2018 protest march by the ASCSN, declared illegal by management.
“If the workers did not demand information on the status of their contribution, management would not be moved to take steps to resolve the problem. Therefore, the threat by management to discipline or sack members of ASCSN who participated in the March 5 protest should be seen as nothing, but victimization,” one of the aggrieved workers told this reporter on Sunday.
The spokesperson of PENCOM, Peter Aghahowa, confirmed the process for the management of the pensions funds would not allow NIMC management access to the contributions by the workers.
Mr. Aghahowa identified two categories of contributors to the scheme those from self-funded public sector organizations and Treasury-funded agencies. Contributions from the first category are remitted directly to the PFA on behalf of the workers.
For those in the second category, contributions are deducted from source by the Office of the Accountant General and transferred to the pensions account at the Central Bank of Nigeria before PENCOM use the nominal roll provided by the organization to remit to the PFA.
He said all the parties have to come together to reconcile the records, trace the flow of the funds and determine where the alleged discrepancies came from.
“They will have to provide answers to a few questions. When did the deduction take place? Was it remitted when it was supposed to have been remitted? Was it moved from the CBN account to the PFA at the time it was supposed to have been moved? Did the organization concerned submit the proper nominal roll? ”
Staff still suspect wrongdoing by the management, wondering the striking coincidence between when they publicly demanded their funds and when lodgement alerts began to appear after five years.