As in all African cultures including Nigeria, traditionally it is expected that working and financially stable family members will provide financial and emotional care for their school-aged children and aging parents, in addition to other relatives who are coping with sickness, disability and lack of jobs, ones who are widowed and others who are in dire need of assistance of all kinds.
To help the needy is a long-held expectation, almost a societal guarantee and even enforced by customary mores, religious beliefs and cultural instructions.
This expectation, however, is undergoing a significant change as our nation becomes more and more complex, living-wise and economically. It is becoming increasingly difficult for many families to remain agents of favor for needy immediate family members, extended relatives, neighbors and friends.
The idea of social assurance and assistance as aspects of the business of the Nigerian government can be traced back to the Act of Parliament in 1961, positioned to protect non-government workers whose employers were mostly foreign firms who did not provide financial or insurance coverage for their employees.
Three decades later the Nigerian government positioned what is called the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) to provide Social Insurance arrangements for private employees, and a decade later the NSITF was mandated to provide Social Security to the entire nation.
In reality, the true and full practice of a Social Security system in Nigeria is nonexistent.
After half a century, the issue of Social Security in Nigeria came back into the light during the heat of the presidential election in January of this year when the National Assembly spoke of an amendment of NSITF Act as a way to begin providing Social Security protections in Nigeria. In the same month, January, as the presidential race was heating up, the now Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo of All Progressives Party (APC) acknowledged that his party would be the first political party in the whole of Africa that would introduce a Social Security system.
In a swift reaction to Osinbajo, the long standing Chairman of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Dr. Ngozi Olejeme, who was then the Deputy Chairman, Finance Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Organization, defended the Jonathan presidency by noting that efforts were being made to implement Social Security protections in Nigeria.
What exactly is a Social Security system and how will it affect working Nigerians and their families? It is a system popularly known in many advanced countries and some developing nations by which some form of guaranteed income is provided to a nation’s workers and their families who have lost income due to retirement, physical and/or mental disability or death. Beneficiaries of Social Security earn their benefits by paying into the system throughout their working years; the benefits paid out are based upon their earnings during their working years.
Social Security is not an avenue to give out free money as its benefits are reaped in the future through hard work, so that when one is no longer able to be employed, by virtue of a work-related injury, old-age, sickness and other conditions, he or she can continue to maintain some form of economic security in our society.
Social Security programs are forms of mandatory insurance arrangements covered by statutes and regulations of a country.
If properly drawn up and practiced as a systemic plan, it can be used to provide Federal grants to States to help provide public assistance to the elderly, disabled, dependent children and other survivors. As a systemic plan, it allows for adequate protection of pensions which is linked to combined past pension contributions commensurate to the level of one’s earnings at the time of retirement as determined by the plan formula.
The program uses the legal liability approach to force large employers to provide health care assistance to their workers and dependents. It can even cover flexible retirement plans for pension purposes from part-time earnings.
The Social Security system is unfortunately “cheatable,” as some employers may decide to become self-employed in what can be described as an “underground” economy in order to not contribute to the nation’s treasury. Some employers avoid contribution by employing contract labor instead of full-time workers.
While the Social Security system allows for meeting the social needs of people and helps reduce poverty as a form of social insurance, it equally assists those who have never worked, a pure disadvantage to the economy in terms of financial cost to those who have contributed to the treasury.
In a country like Nigeria where sudden illness, disability, joblessness, death and hazards like fire, accidents and criminal victimizations remain common, Social Security can be viewed as a fundamental human right.
In order to properly put into place a system of Social Security as it relates to the true calculation and understanding of an old-age pension, sickness benefit, disability allowance, family allowance, and death allowance, the government must have expert-based institutions, a strong system of state revenues, a sense of responsibility by public/corporate institutions, workable administrative policies, addressed-based office/residencies, an effective workman’s compensation system, an up-to-date population count, an adequate national identification system, and a suitable system of medical and mental health records in order to substantiate Social Security claims.
A special national court system devoted to Social Security claims’ matters would need to be set up to serve as judicial adjudicators between an aggrieved claimant and Social Security determination offices across Federal and State governments.
As the nation moves forward in our still growing democracy, we must recognize that the matter of Social Security is not a partisan, political, ethnic, tribal or power play issue but a social insurance program backed by human rights in terms of needs and existence. With over twenty years of expertise and experience in Social Security disability determinations in America, it is this author’s hope that during our new political governing administration, a Social Security system will be initiated, established and practiced fully. Social Security in Nigeria would not only guarantee the future of all workers– in old age, in sickness, in disability and in surviving the loss of a valued family member– but it would also serve as a tool for maintaining and guaranteeing Nigeria’s social welfare rights and systems at all times.
***Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi is a Florida based Forensic/Clinical Psychologist, a Consultant in Social Security Determinations and a former Secretary-General of the Nigeria Psychological Association.