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Making insurance work in Nigeria

Without probably giving it a second thought, a number of Nigerians are gradually getting used to tragic events and tragic lifestyle. This can be deduced from the way people move on after very deadly occurrences. Just two weeks ago, a gas bearing tanker caused a major fire in Lagos that killed at least three people and burnt properties including 25 vehicles. The tragedy was the latest in the series of such crashes and fire disasters all over the country in recent times.

In all of these, the families of such victims are simply left to lick their wounds while life goes on. The disposition simply testifies to how much we want to remain careless as a people living in a country where even governance is also not taken seriously.

Just a day before the OPIC gas explosion, a building collapsed somewhere in Lagos, killing one person; while over the weekend another three-storey building under construction in Lagos also caved in. This has, in fact, become a regular occurrence, despite several laws including that embedded in compulsory insurances to either compensate third party victims in the case of permanent disability or compensate their family members in the event of death. Recall that before now, a major tanker fire incident also took place on Otedola Bridge in Lagos, where lives and vehicles were lost. Out of the 54 vehicles involved, only seven had Comprehensive Insurance covers while 22 others had Third Party covers.

The unfortunate thing, however, was that those with Third Party covers did not qualify for any form of compensation since the fuel tanker involved in the carnage was never insured. The failure by many Nigerians to insure their lives and investments has remained a major let down in governance.

It comes out worse for the fact that even with laws in place to ensure individuals and business owners take insurance covers, enforcement has remained a major problem, thereby retarding the country’s ability to bounce back from human and economic losses. It portrays our true nature as reflected in the fact that even with its population and natural resources combined insurance penetration in Nigeria falls within the lowest radar in the continent’s barometer, lagging behind Ghana and others. From education, health, sudden death, fire outbreak to recovery from investment losses, Nigeria’s insurance sector is good and prepared to make things work, but it is rather unfortunate that it has failed to be applied maximally due to a number of factors. Losses to insurable risks have been allowed to grow over time.

Except for a few Nigerians and foreigners living and doing business in the country, many do not see the need for what most of them term lack of disposable income, and, in some cases, due to cultural and religious beliefs. This perception has only succeeded in making life more difficult for those who hold it. Also holding on to the belief that insurance companies do not pay claims is an old school ideology, weather beaten and overtaken by current positive realities. Yearly, underwriters pay billions of naira in claims to policyholders that suffer losses. This can easily be verified.

Moreover, the reforms put in place by the regulatory body, the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM), has long deflated this opinion as a lot of insurance companies now make claims payment their brand identifiers. To consolidate on this, three insurance firms were recently axed by the Nigerian Insurers Association (NIA) as they were suspended over their inability to meet their primary obligations of claims payment.

The penalty, which is typically going to affect their business prospect, no matter what, is coming alongside NAICOM’s long standing disciplinary measure through a complaint bureau, which is a department established in line with the provision of Section 8 (a) of the National Insurance Commission Act 1997 and charged with the responsibility of handling complaints submitted by members of the public against an insurer, reinsurer, insurance broker or loss adjuster. Despite the law against building collapse, for instance, the incidents have been occurring with owners of such structures going scot-free without being penalised.

The campaign for public buildings and buildings under construction to be insured under the Compulsory Insurance policy has been on for a very long time, yet, Nigerians, including professionals, have continued to flout the law. For clarity, the Occupiers’ Liability policy, for instance, is taken against liability of the members of the public for loss or property damage, death or bodily injury occasioned by fire, collapse, storm, earthquake, storm, flood or any allied peril.

The cover is required to be purchased by owners or occupiers of every public building. Under the Nigeria Insurance Act 2003, a building is public when the owner does not use it fully (i.e. 100%) for residency purposes. Apart from Lagos State, which has made efforts in this regard, no concrete report has been given of any other state that is making the law actually compulsory in their domains. Amid these disasters that keep building up with the government doing little or nothing to compensate victims, Nigerians have also failed to key into it seriously.

We all acknowledge the level of poor enforcement of certain laws in the country but this is time for sober reflection and a call to action. The nation cannot afford to waste its citizens and its assets given the robust insurance arrangements provided by the Insurance Act 2003.

Enough of this waste; take insurance to cover your risks and be assured of better tomorrow in case the unexpected happens. Besides speeding up enforcement, New Telegraph also advises that insurance companies promptly pay verified claims and not make the process unnecessarily difficult for policyholders.

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