Historically, in Nigeria, any mention of abandoned properties takes anyone who knows something to the Biafra returnees’ era. This is not the story I am about to write here because I know little about it except through other people’s accounts presented in books or orally. Most workers in the country are familiar with the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) which has also, functionally, transmuted to the National Housing Fund (NHF). The National Housing Fund (Establishment) Act 2018 replaced the 1992. The key objective for the establishment of the Fund is to provide affordable housing and close the huge housing deficit in the country.
If the mandate of the NHF had been worded in another way, like “to provide the environment for affordable housing”, maybe it could have achieved something more laudable and significant. “Mobilization of funds for the provision of affordable residential houses for Nigerians” is thus, the real mandate of the housing agency. The funds are derivable from mandatory 10% investment from commercial and merchant banks’ loan portfolios.
The largest chunk of funds should come from insurance companies that are statutorily mandated to invest 20% of non-life and 40% of life funds in the housing sector with 50% of these going directly in the funds. There are also contributions by the Federal Government.
The activities of the agency, particularly its revenues and remittances from contributing entities are now undergoing probe by the federal legislature. The NHF is among those federal government agencies whose accounts are notoriously opaque and at variance with any standard accounting governance system.
What the investigations ought to demonstrate
Undoubtedly, the legislators have a duty and the right to uncover remittances, revenues and utilization of funds by NHF or other MDAs for accountabilities. Beyond this, they ought to take, as part of this national assignment, the actual disbursements and refunds by NHF to contributors. For, this is where the major problem lies. The true face and identities of housing loan disbursements and refunds in sum and quality need to be established. It must be stated that some officials mount roadblocks and make incredibly difficult, any attempt by contributors to claim refunds after they have qualified for it. Just a few points to demonstrate the things that should be central to the ongoing legislative inquest;
- The current number of contributors to the fund
- The average deductions of the 2.5% mandatory contributions from remitting organizations both in the public and private sector
- The actual number of beneficiaries, identities of NHF loans, and actual loan portfolio
- The contributors’ refund rate and the number of those the Fund has paid with interest accrued.
- The number of dead contributors.
Number 5 is particularly disturbing because NHF has no system in place to ‘repatriate’ the monies to the dead contributors’ relatives, either for the reason that both at the employers’ books and NHF there is no KYC with a next-of-kin to whom the money would be paid to.
These questions are vital to unravelling the stonewalling that officials present whenever a contributor turns up to request refunds and why the agency is unwilling to refund. The general impression that one gets from the ‘irritations’ that some of us engender in these NHF officials, is that no one expected you to come. “After all, how much is this money that we are being bothered,” seems to be the general almost nonchalant attitude of these employees.
For clarity, contributors that can apply for a refund are those who have retired at 65 years, those at 60 and other contributors who are ailing and have no employment. In addition to these are those contributors that have been disengaged, retired and have not been employed for upward of 10 years. The last two categories are granted waivers to apply for a refund.
How the investigation is going so far
Accusations and counter-accusations by agencies of government have so far characterized the probe. But more interesting and revealing during the course of the investigation is that the Federal Government, pressed for funds, had dipped its hand into employees’ contributions to the NHF and cornered N11.6billin while another N11.5 billion was yet unremitted from the same IPPIS.
Mr Madu Hamman, the NHF boss also disclosed that “another N3.5 billion deducted from the NHF by IPPIS between April and July 2021 is also yet to be remitted to the bank”. Overall the housing bank denied receiving N26.5bn into its coffers from the integrated payroll system which the Office of the Accountant-General of Federation superintends.
Total remittances to the National Housing Fund from both the formal and informal sectors between 2011 and July 2023 stood at N591.5 billion. Out of this a total of N347.5 billion was used to “finance the constructions of 158,521 housing units under various schemes across the country.”
It is hoped that this investigation is holistic and that part of this exercise should also include a thorough audit of the claimed 158,521 housing units constructed by the agency. The bidding process, quality, type and the actual number of the houses constructed with N347.5 billion.
I started my bid to get a refund early this year on the basis of the aforementioned categories. Under the NHF administrative convenience, since my office was located on Broad Street, that is the location to apply for a refund, notwithstanding where I reside. For instance, if I retire to my village and am unable to travel the distance, I should be able to persuade myself that I have lost the money to an unclaimed pool which NHF is not known to account for.
During the back and forth, I learnt that most remitting companies did not procure ‘passbooks’ from NHF to record monthly deductions from each staff. It is this passbook, signed and stamped by the organization that the retired employee is expected to take to NHF to apply for refunds. Incidentally, I didn’t have this passbook and had to procure one and after that take to my last employee to record all those monthly deductions. This is not the end. This is actually the starting point as another back and forth begins with NHF claiming they are unable to locate the receipts and if actually your organization is certain that they remitted, then they must attach evidence. While my employer filled the passbook and totalled my nearly 5 years contribution at a little over N100,000, NHF said it was not up to that figure. While I left the NHF due to their deliberate designs to frustrate my refund, I woke up one day to see a credit notification of N78,000 (approx.).
What I could deduce from all these after many trips to Marina office the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) or simply the NHF is that, head or tail, some amount must be sliced off the little amount that is left in your contribution balance. Besides, you are never to get any interest in it! Many contributors have abandoned any effort to take their money.
So the scheme is designed as a Scheme; small deductions each month that you may never bother to think about. At the end of the day, it’s money to fund all kinds of government appetite for free funds. The organized labour seems indifferent to this and the NHF conveniently shies away from mounting a public campaign for the rights of contributors. Fortunately, no matter the intendment of the federal legislators, the scope of its probe would continue to expand until it is drilled down to those who perpetrated the national heist against the working masses. Every contributor must have his eyes on the legitimate contributions he has made to the NHF and demand settlement at the appropriate time. The system must now respond to the robust and varied digital payment system and make it easy for individuals to make claims without the deliberate distance created by an analogue operator.