Govt, stakeholders at daggers drawn over unity colleges’ insurance scheme


• Amid oppostion, FG explains stance

 • UN urged to probe legality of policy

SINCE the recent introduction of the Students Welfare Insurance Scheme in the 104 federal government colleges, also known as unity schools by the Federal Government, stakeholders including parents and interest groups have constantly revolted against the idea with some describing the policy as exploitative and abusive.

   Under the new policy, which has also received kudos from sections of the society, students of the colleges round the country numbering about 125, 000, are expected to pay a compulsory insurance premium of N5, 000 each per academic session. A circular to this effect has since been distributed to the schools across the country. 

  According to the circular, “In view of the current security challenges in the country which has impacted seriously on the safety of our students and teachers in federal unity colleges, the Federal Ministry of Education has decided to engage the services of NICON Insurance Company, to insure our students. To this end, an insurance premium of N5, 000 is to be paid once in a year. Students are hereby expected to pay the above amount through the college upon resumption for third term.”

  Details of benefits of the proposed insurance includes: payment of school fees up to the year of graduation in the event of the death of sponsor or guardian in which N500, 000 was earmarked; compensation to a named sponsor in case of accidental death of student (N500, 000).

 In the case of accidental permanent disability for student, he/she would be entitled to N500, 000 as compensation. For accidental medical expenses, a pupil would be entitled to N50, 000 for medical treatment; if a student is involved in an accidental death, the insurer will pay N50, 000 for burial expenses.

   Importantly, the claim documentation requires a duly completed claim signed by the student or sponsor and countersigned by an authorised officer in the principal’s office.

  For death benefit, however, a medical certificate of cause of death is required; for permanent disability, medical report confirming extent of disability would be needed. To claim benefit for burial expenses, a certificate of burial is required and for accidental medical benefits, evidence of actual medical expenses incurred like receipts of payments for drugs purchased and other medical treatments are also needed.

 The scheme was proposed by NICON Insurance Limited, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Education. The firm is also the sole insurer to this scheme, which is designed to provide the above listed; much needed benefits under a combined personal accident and life cover for pupils and their sponsors.

  Only recently, a civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), made an urgent appeal to the four United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs and the Special Envoy on Global Education, over what it described as the “imposition of compulsory insurance scheme for students of federal government colleges in Nigeria.”

  The organisation in the letter signed by its executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, asked the bodies to use their “good offices and positions to urgently request the Nigerian government to immediately and unconditionally withdraw the exploitative insurance scheme imposed on the students on the excuse of protection against attack and violence by Boko Haram.

  “We consider this insurance scheme to constitute an abusive practice and renouncement of the obligation by the government to provide education as a public good. The insurance scheme also flies in the face of prohibited grounds of discrimination and amounts to exploitation of the students and parents involved, and a shocking attack on the right of access to education.

   It continued, “Rather than expanding public educational opportunities for all Nigerian children, especially children from poor families, the government is restricting them, and commercialising education. In its response to Boko Haram, the government has not prioritised the right of children to quality education. Many Nigerian children are driven to Cameroon as refugees and made to recite Cameroon national anthem as a precondition for attending school,” the organisation said.

   Meanwhile, according to new reports, the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education and Office of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons have responded to SERAP’s appeal and are seeking additional information to enable them probe the legality of the policy.

   Mumuni who disclosed this in a statement, informed that the two UN mandates have confirmed to SERAP that they are “studying and looking into the issues relating to the compulsory insurance levy of N5, 000 per student imposed by the government.”

 “SERAP welcomes the urgent intervention and attention by Mr. Kishore Singh and Professor Chaloka Beyani in this matter and looks forward to a positive resolution of the matter by them. We hope that the other mandates will follow suit. Now that the two UN mandates are engaged in the matter, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan is strongly advised to suspend the implementation of this draconian insurance policy pending the final determination of the matter by the special rapporteurs.”

 “This is important if the government is not to prejudice the final outcome of the consideration of the matter by the two mandates. As a member of the UN, Nigeria has a binding legal obligation not to circumvent its rules or undermine the authority of its mechanisms or render them impotent. Nigeria in fact should not be seen to be making it harder for UN institutions to effectively discharge their mandates,” he said.

 Getting parents to embrace the new policy has been very tough for the proponents of the idea, even though they (parents) were arm-twisted to comply or risk their children and wards being disallowed access to their schools at the commencement of the ongoing session. 

  For instance, last December, some parents whose children and wards school at the Federal Government College, Ilorin, stormed the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Press Centre in Ilorin, Kwara State to register their opposition to the idea, which they described as a conduit pipe, and further alleging that the scheme was a backdoor approach at raising funds for 2015 election campaigns of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

  They were further irked by the fact that the entire scheme was being handled and coordinated by NICON, an insurance firm tightly linked with a PDP chieftain, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim.

  The concerned parents had complained that after they approached the school principal, Mrs. Rita Okpaleke, she simply said the directive was from the Federal Ministry of Education. They added that despite resistance from the National Association of Parent-Teachers Association (NAPTA) the principal insisted on going ahead with the scheme.

 When The Guardian sought the views of the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Dr. Mac John Nwaobiala, he informed that the welfare scheme was created to offer insurance benefits to pupils and their parents. He, however, regretted that some parents and stakeholders could not understand the intents of the policy.

 “The Student Welfare Insurance Scheme for unity schools was designed by NICON Insurance, to provide cover for students and their parents in the event that something in the negative happened,” he explained adding that, “It is unfortunate that the scheme has been grossly misunderstood,” he stated.

 Nwaobiala continued, “It is a well thought out policy and it went through due process. We did our memos to the minister and don’t forget that the minister, Mr. Ibrahim Shekarau, started as a school principal, became a director in the school system, became a permanent secretary in the Kano State Ministry of Education and also became a two-term governor of Kano State, and he was also the President of All Nigerian Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPPS).

  “So when this policy was presented to him, he reviewed it and saw the advantages. That was why he appended his signature to it, and so it was duly approved. Though some people have misconceptions about it, but let me tell you that parents have seen the efficacy of that policy. And even before the little agitation we have here and there, about 75 per cent of parents had enlisted their children in the scheme. It is at no cost to the Federal Government, and it is something that is beneficial to all our children and we encourage all parents to accept it.”

  He said the ministry would engage in a massive awareness programmes to educate other parents who do not understand the purpose of the policy.

   His words, “In fact we have held consultations with the Parents Teachers Associations (PTA) and have explained the entire process to them, and the idea has been well embraced. What we are doing now is we are going round the country to sensitise various groups and parents, so that it would be accepted fully and become an enduring national policy.”

 Principal, Federal Science and Technical College (FSTC) Mr. Chris Ugorji, is in sync with the government’s position on the issue even as he describes the policy as being student-centred and taking into cognizance, welfare and security concerns involving students. 

Said he, “Welfare for students is very important especially in the area of security. It is very key. Most of the northeastern schools that have been closed down were closed down because of insecurity. Government is doing much, but remember government cannot do it alone, so parents and other stakeholders should be part of their wards’ welfare.

  On how parents in his school have welcomed the policy, he said, “Generally, I am not sure parents are very much aware, but circulars have come from the ministry. Awareness programmes are ongoing to sensitise parents but at the end of the day, the policy is going to be implemented. On our part, we would have our PTA meeting in the next few weeks and in that meeting, we will inform them that this is the directive we are going to apply and implement, I’m sure they will embrace it.”

  A teacher at Queens College, Lagos, who pleaded anonymity said, “I’m sure parents have been informed of this policy in one of our fora. They are expected to start paying from next term. The policy goes beyond our schools because it involves the ministry and the national body of the PTA. So, parents have been asked to pay for their wards while returning next term. Until then, we wont be able to know their reactions.” 

   Reacting to the reports from various quarters that the scheme was planned to extort money from students, she regretted, saying such claims were irrational since insurance policies are always beneficial.  

  She said, “For me, it is a good policy. We all know the value of insurance policies. They may not be immediately beneficial, but in the long run, the value of insurance comes in handy, especially when matters concerning it take place. Insurance policies help to restore people to their former state when something unusual happens. Parting ways with N5, 000, a year is not extortion. Some of these parents use this amount of money to buy suya (roast beef) in one night. So, if they claim that they are being extorted, they are either being unrealistic or have not fully understood the benefits of scheme.

  “Some parents sit down where ever they are and do some kangaroo mathematics. They multiply N5, 000 by the total number of students and so on. But the truth of the matter is that if anything goes wrong, the insurance company will pay them more than what it has collected from them. So, the policy has numerous benefits that are in favour of the student in the case of the death of parents or injury as a result of an accident. The whole idea is that if a student looses his/her parents the child cannot be thrown out of the school, the company will take over.

  “But you know most parents, either because of ignorance or selfish reasons, don’t like to spend on tangible and valuable initiatives like these. 

  However, for a parent who identified herself as Mrs. Josephine Obeh, irrespective of the benefits of the scheme, it is still not wise to impose the policy on students.

  She said, “To the best of my knowledge, insurance policy of any kind is usually optional, be it for students or other individuals. They know the benefits and so they go for the type that is appropriate for them. This forced policy is not ideal, especially coming from the government that is supposed to cater for the security and wellbeing of its citizens.”

  Since the activities of Islamist group Boko Haram entered a higher gear a couple of years back, Nigerian schools have become some of the worst as far as safety records are concerned. 

  The abduction of over 200 school girls from the Chibok Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Bornu State, opened an entire new chapter in the annals of school abductions in particular and general insecurity.

  The increased assault on innocent Nigerians by the religious bigots in the North, especially in the North East, has seen grotesque and bizarre scenarios playing out in schools in the worst hit states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states.

  It was these abductions, maiming and killings in schools and sundry soft targets before and after the Chibok girls’ abduction and the mindless killings of school children at the Federal Government College, Buni-Yadi, Yobe State among other things that led to the launching of the Safe School Initiative by the Federal Government.

  President Goodluck Jonathan kicked off the Safe School Initiative programme with a start off fund of N3.2bn, with half of the amount coming from the private sector. 

  After a meeting on the initiative between Jonathan, former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and governors from the three least educationally developed states, the Minister of Finance, and Coordinating Minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, informed journalists that the fund would help ensure that children in schools in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states got educated in a safe environment.

  Iweala said Mr. Gordon Brown, who was also an envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nation on children, was expected to also assist in raising some funds in addition to the benchmark set for the programme.

  She informed that a total of $100 was the targeted amount needed as take-off grant for the programme by the government and the international community for Nigerian schools.

  “The trust fund would also include: emergency relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation,” she said.

  Currently, over 10 million children are out of school in Nigeria and some in school in the three states are beginning to lose interest in education after being subjected to series of attacks on schools by the Islamic group.

 The former British Prime Minister, who has the backing of the United Nation and the international community on the project which will also take care of the Chibok girls abducted by the Boko Haram sect when they are released, had at the unveiling of the initiative maintained that the abduction of the Chibok school girls was a nightmare to the international community.

 The Safe School Initiative is a fall-out of the World Economic Forum on Africa, which took place in May last year in Abuja. 

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