*Maltreatment of NIRSAL Plc. Contract Staff*

The Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL Plc.), a $500 million non- financial and non-profit institution, was created by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and mandated to manage agribusiness-related credit risks in Nigeria. However, the organization has been surrounded by a lot of controversies since its establishment in 2017. The alleged monumental corrupt practices and misappropriation of funds in the organization forced the CBN to suspend funding to the organization in 2021.

The most recent controversy rocking the organization is the alleged maltreatment of contract staff who have been the pillar of the organization since inception. NIRSAL has about 900 staff among which an estimated 500 of them are contract staff stationed at the various Field Offices located in the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who have helped to build the organization’s corporate image, carry out its mandate and achieve its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) through the generation of agricultural projects on a massive scale in the country. The remaining estimated 400 are core staff who provide support services for the Field Offices nationwide and are stationed at the organization’s corporate Head Quarters in Abuja.

Our reporters gathered from an employee of the organization who claimed anonymity that contract staff have been disgruntled by the level of injustice meted on them by NIRSAL’s Management. He alleged that contract staff have been paid unfair compensation with no other benefits, and that they took several measures to seek redress but to no avail. He added that their job dissatisfaction began during their employment with the organization’s consultants since 2017. However, the consultants were sacked by the previous management of NIRSAL due to poor handling of state operations, both morally and financially.

Recall it was reported on Daily Nigeria in 2022 that NIRSAL’s management accused the consultants of paying contract staff less than 41% of their salaries originally designed by the CBN. Also that, on quarterly basis, key persons from every Project Monitoring, Reporting and Remediation Office (PMRO) were invited to a training session in Abuja. NIRSAL spent not less than N40 million to organize the training. However most of the funds were allegedly diverted. Also, every Head of PMRO was entitled to the sum of N57,600 per night (N172,800 for 3 nights) as Duty Tour Allowance (DTA), but ended up being paid N20,000 (N60,000 for 3 nights) – the balance of N8,288,000 was allegedly diverted.

Our reporter gathered that the total amount of money being spent monthly by the CBN on PMRO staff salaries and operations nationwide is about N300 million as outlined in the contract with NIRSAL. The entitlements are as follows:

1. Head PMRO monthly salary – N850,000
2. Program Officer monthly salary – N580,000
3. ICT Officer monthly salary – N485,000
3. Admin. Officer monthly salary – N485,000
4. Field Officer monthly salary – N375,000
5. PMRO Operations – N1,979,000
6. Grand Total Cost of running each PMRO – N8,129,000

However, the consultants paid Head PMROs N350,000 each while Field Officers (the least staff) were paid N137,500 each, both representing about 41% of their actual salary sum payable. Meaning the variance representing 59% of funds due to PMRO staff salaries was unaccounted for. This poor practice was what led NIRSAL to sack the team of consultants and directly employ the PMRO staff, who are now converted as Field Officers (FOs) of NIRSAL Field Offices (NFOs) nationwide, on a 1-year renewable contract basis.

The fundamental question is, are these discrepancies in the Field Office contract staff salaries still subsisting in the organization or has the CBN changed the terms outlined in its contract with NIRSAL Plc.? Our reporter gathered from a reliable source with NIRSAL that since the dismissal of the team of consultants in June 2022 and the absorption and conversion of the PMRO staff, the management of the organization has failed to implement the orginal salary structure designed by the CBN. Rather, their salaries were increased by less than 30% which implies that a Head NFO is paid N375,000 as opposed to N850,000, while a Field Officer, the lowest cadre, is paid N158,000 as opposed to N375,000 monthly.

In February this year, NIRSAL Plc. purportedly sacked 500 contract staff who have been working for the organization since 2017. An inside source told our correspondent that the affected staff were paid one-month salaries in lieu which was later converted to March salary, and threw them into a financial mess as some of them were indebted to banks. He added that the management has continued with the maltreatment and neglect of Field Offices contract staff despite their contributions to the growth of the organization. He added that NIRSAL management used favoritism and nepotism to confirm drivers, who were similarly employed on contract basis, and placed them on full employment benefits while the Field Officers who are the core business drivers, are left to maintain status quo as contract staff.

Another staff who pleaded anonymity told our reporter that NIRSAL’s contract staff were excluded in an approximately N800 million hardship relief bonus from the federal government for all Nigerian workers and shared it among core staff and drivers based on their ranks. This highlights the significant disparity and lack of recognition of same economic hardship faced by contract staff. He added that Sallah bonuses were also exclusively shared among core staff and drivers, excluding the contract staff who equally deserve to be rewarded to commemorate the festive. Other financial benefits that contract staff were excluded from are the N35,000 presidential bonus for all workers, 30% salary increment for core staff, yet no corresponding increase has been made for field officers and several others. This decision further widens the financial gap between core staff and contract staff, despite the crucial role the latter plays in the organization.

With the recapitalisation and full commercialisation of NIRSAL in line with the recommendations of the Oronsaye report, the current Managing Director (MD) has a lot on his plate to deal with to improve the efficiency and management of the organization for a seamless enhancement of the agricultural sector. Consequently, the onus is on him to investigate and correct the alleged injustices on the organization’s contract staff and avoid falling victim of sabatours ganging up against him to stop him from succeeding in leading the organization. The RENEWED HOPE agenda on Agriculture championed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must not be compromised. Therefore, contract staff are still instrumental in recovering Anchor Borrowers Program (ABP) loans, and as such must be promised job satisfaction to bolster their commitment to work.

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