Extending frontiers of social security

Munir-Abubakar

Managing Director of NSITF, Munir Abubakar

ONE fact of life is that all human beings are not equal but all need to live a life that guarantees basic necessities of life. Not having access to these basic necessities of life has indeed pushed many people into crimes and other needless struggle for survival.

While it may be impossible to guarantee average life standard for everyone in the midst of inadequate resources and competitive demands, achieving social equity is indeed inescapable.

Yet, the fear of social imbalance with the haves under constant pressure from the have-nots has indeed made social equity imperative hence the advent of social security where those under social pressure are taken cared of by governments in one form or the other.

The International Social Security Association (ISSA) defines social security as any programme of social protection established by legislation, or any other mandatory arrangement, that provides individuals with a degree of income security when faced with the contingencies of old age, survivorship, incapacity, disability, unemployment or rearing children.

It may also offer access to curative or preventive medical care. ISSA also insists that driving social security to the vulnerable groups is faster when social security outfits adopt Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

With low-level penetration of social security in West Africa, the international organization submitted that ICT must assume the driver of social security penetration in the sub-region. Towards achieving this feat, ISSA is bringing most of the countries in West Africa together to brainstorm on the impact of ICT in the performance of social security.

The technical seminar tagged, “impact of new information and communication technology in the performance of social security institutions” slated for Abuja this week is organized by the ISSA Liaison Office for West Africa and hosted by the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

Given the dynamics of socio-economic problems, the creation of an inclusive and easily accessible social security for all has become a priority for all countries. This effort is further justified in light of the low coverage rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Improving both access to, and the quality of, services are concerns that must be addressed to promote social justice.

In recent years, social security organizations have taken concrete action to extend social coverage, facilitate access to rights and strengthen obligations of employers and the insured and improve service quality.

These institutions were among the first to deploy a client-oriented approach, to use new technologies and to integrate their programmes to allow, for example, information exchange between different national agencies or to implement international social security agreements.

In this context and in response to these emerging trends, the need to reinforce the role of ICT in the operations of social security institutions is greater than ever. This capacity enhancement must be in line with the actual needs of the populations and the capabilities of the social security institutions.

Objectives of the technical seminar is to identify the impact of using new information and communication technology to manage social security institutions and client satisfaction and will have its main focus on allocation of resources to ICT, service quality and impact on contribution collection.

While explaining why Nigeria is hosting the event, the Managing Director of NSITF, Munir Abubakar said it is indeed a big step for the Fund in many respects. “First, our Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has just taken off and secondly, the Employees Compensation Scheme (ECS) is ICT driven.

These are the two principal reasons why the seminar is very important for us. What is more satisfying for us is that it is ISSA itself that selected NSITF to host this seminar for West Africa.

Social security in West Africa needs to have the best of ICT and for us in Nigeria; the situation is a complete turnaround from what we used to have. During the operations of the defunct NSITF scheme between 1994 and 2004, one of the biggest challenges we faced was the computerization of our records.

In fact, this took us into warpath with employers because they did not want to be part of the scheme because of the lack of computerization of our system. “So, the first thing the management decided to do when Employees Compensation Scheme (ECA) implementation began was to prioritize ICT in our operations.

Looking at the population of Nigeria, there is no way ECA can be implemented successfully without the deployment o f ICT when we are expected to cover the whole country with 36 states and the FCT. ISSA is aware of all these developments and that is why we are hosting this conference.

ISSA as an international organization is encouraging its members to embrace ITC in the execution of social security schemes,” he added. The NSITF boss stressed that Nigeria presently implements one of the nine social security arms and the immediate National Assembly has expanded that mandate by extending provision of social security to all Nigerians and that cannot be done that if there is no internationalized ICT, saying, “by the time the law is signed by the present government, implementation of additional mandates will be an easy ride for us because we are fully ready.”

He explained that the ICT expansion into all the NSITF offices nationwide would be done in phases with the ICT component of the head office now completed, adding, “the next stage is to finish the ICT in our big offices in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano.

Lagos is almost completed now. The plan is to have every office in the country linked up with the head office.” The NSITF boss also highlighted that it is not safe to have ICT installed in rented offices as currently happening in most state offices hinting that plans are underway to acquire buildings in the states to ensure security of information in the care of the Fund.

Abubakar, who lauded the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA) and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said the two organizations contributed immensely to understanding of what the scheme is about within the stakeholders.

He said: “I must thank NECA and NLC for assisting the NSITF in explaining to major stakeholders what the scheme is and also ensuring that they continue to play key roles in the implementation process.”

Though he said state governments are still not reluctant to adopt the scheme, the NSITF helmsman revealed that the Fund is adopting fresh strategies to ensure compliance by state governments.

He added: “Workers at the level are shortchanged by state governments’ non-participation in the scheme. If the workers know what they are losing from not participating in the scheme, they will be on the streets demanding their employers participate.

I say this because if a worker dies in the course of duty, the dependents get something at the end of every month to sustain themselves but is that happening at that state level?” He stated that the conference would present West African countries opportunity to share experiences on how to engender the faster ways of implementation of social security schemes’ in the sub-region.

On mainstreaming ICT into the operations of the NSITF, the General Manager, ICT of NSITF, Mrs. Catherine Ugbe, said since 2012, the Fund decided to draw up strategies for its ICT implementation confronting formidable stumbling blocks as the implementation processes progressed.

Her words: “Some of the challenges in mainstreaming ICT into NSITF operations include the people in terms of changing from the manual ways of doing things to ICT and to also ensure that our operations are citizen-centered as required by ISSA, which insists that the people must be the centerpiece of all social security schemes.

There was also the challenge of electricity instability as well as that bringing in new infrastructure to be to support the information system that being created.”

She highlighted that the Fund decided to adopt the ISO-270001 ahead of other standards to ensure safeguarding of information; making it available for those who need it at the time it is needed by all the stakeholders, adding that for an ICT system to work properly in terms of security and reliability, governance procedure needed to be put in place.

She hinted that NSITF prioritized three key services that included registration, notification and claim processing in its website to assist employers register their workers seamlessly without physical contact with the office.

On how the process works, Ugbe explained: “Notification can now be made online and claimants don’t have to come to our offices physically to submit their claims.

Although physical examination of occupational injuries may be required at some point for verification exercise. Even at that, NSITF staff travel to where the claimant is to carry out verification exercise.

Human intervention cannot be totally eliminated because of the way ECA is designed. We are also planning video conferencing within the head office and state offices to further enhance real-time interaction.”

She added that since the website became functional, the Fund has witnessed about 80% increment in the usage of emails for communication. Mrs. Ugbe hinted the establishment of an information security forum where all head of departments come to discuss matters relating to information security. “Information security is the protection of information of the Fund along three lines that include confidentiality, integrity and availability.

Confidentiality means information is only disclosed to authorized persons while integrity stands for accurateness and completeness of information while availability means that information is available to authorized persons when they ask for it.

At that forum, it was observed that the adoption of ICT has been able to popularize its services because they are now readily available when needed.

Registered injured workers can now make claims anywhere and at anytime of the day online and will be attended to. The Fund respond to correspondences now faster than before as enquiries are responded to almost immediately via our online platforms. So, the deployment of ICT ahs indeed boosted our operations in many diverse positive ways,” she explained.

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