Posted by By EMMANUEL MAYAH on
Sitting in his swivel chair, his palm crushing a ball of paper, Mike Omotosho loves to watch his office door swing open. As Head, Life and Pension, at Golden Insurance Plc, his day is usually made or marred by the number of swings....
Sitting in his swivel chair, his palm crushing a ball of paper, Mike Omotosho loves to watch his office door swing open. As Head, Life and Pension, at Golden Insurance Plc, his day is usually made or marred by the number of swings as prospective and old clients alike walk through the door to talk business.
Understandably, he has a smile and warm handshake for new faces but less than six minutes of sitting before him, the broker had begun to look glum as he explains some guiding principles:
"If you walked in here and told me you were a soldier, I would certainly not give you insurance cover because you could be sent to war any time and we all know that could mean death. If you are a tourist and you say your destination is Iraq or Afghanistan, I’ll tell you to go on your journey and come back first before we can discuss life insurance policy. The same way, if you are someone living with HIV or AIDS, we cannot for obvious reasons give insurance cover to this category of people. I mean, what is the point?"
Omotosho expected the visitor to fill in the gaps on that one. Early this year, the Insurance industry in Nigeria decided to go to the rooftop to make official what had always been said in whispers. In January, the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM), issued a directive to insurance companies to be wary of providing cover to people living with HIV/AIDS. The umbrella body had warned that HIV was a debilitating disease, which every practitioner must strive to shun if they intended to protect their businesses.
The way the NAICOM directive came, anyone would conclude that the insurance industry in Nigeria survived on human blood and should be protected therefore from the ravages of HIV virus. Already, some underwriters are giving the matter that kind of interpretation. Omotosho made his position clearer:
"In financial underwriting, you have to watch out for so many things. For example, if somebody is a clerk and he approaches you for a life insurance of N20 million; knowing his status, you would naturally become suspicious. Maybe the man is planning to commit suicide. In these hard times, he may want to offer himself as a sacrificial lamb just to save his family.
The session with Omotosho opened a window to organized discrimination championed by a corporate union. Until now, such discriminatory policies were carefully hidden in the closet with people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS systematically eased out of jobs, schools, rented accommodations and lately, places of worship.
In what one rights’ activist described as retrogression, the controversial position of the insurance body is seen by many as a setback in the country’s quest to keep abreast of the rest of the world on the HIV/AIDS issue.
Oasis of support
To measure the rigidity of the NAICOM position, Saturday Sun visited another insurance house. At Oasis Insurance Plc, Ikorodu Road Lagos, Muyiwa Mustapha justified the directive saying: "Insurance does not cover deliberate acts, only accidents or unforeseen events. The fate of people living with AIDS is already known; that is why there is no insurance cover for them in Nigeria."
Suggesting that life or health cover for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) is a sure way to insolvency, Mustapha agreed with the position of Omotosho who said that the insurance cover would be repudiated if it is discovered that the policy-holder concealed his/her HIV status at the point of entry. He agreed that PLWHAs have a better deal in some African countries but argued that in Kenya for example, the cover could be for a period not more than five years or in the alternative, is granted to include all health conditions, except HIV/AIDS.
Reacting to the positions of the two underwriters, Ebojie Arebam-Okojie, of Human and Environmental Liberties Project (HELP), told Saturday Sun that the NAICOM directive was capable of taking Nigeria back to the 20th century. He said: "This is a new manifestation of stigma and discrimination. I say this because the insolvency fears is something some Third World countries have since overcome. It is a matter of being creative with your solution mechanism to be able to move ahead with the rest of the world.
I can mention a number of models begging to be adopted. If they have worked in countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, why not Nigeria? In these places, the Insurance industries have managed to re-invent themselves, not as adversaries, but key partners in addressing the HIV/AIDS question."
The creative approach that Arebam-Okojie spoke about is already being enjoyed by PLWHAs in South Africa. Capital Alliance, an Insurance company, was the first to produce South Africa’s first insurance product that allows employers to take out insurance against the risk of their employees contracting HIV/AIDS. LifeAid by Capital Alliance provides employees who contract the virus with a monthly cash benefit for life, increasing each year in line with inflation. It requires monthly contribution from the employer.
You’ll be insured if…
Confronted with these realities, Omotosho stuck to his gun saying, South Africa’s robust economy allows it to experiment with new insurance schemes. "What you may not know is that insurance industry is still at its infancy in Nigeria. Africa as a whole contributes just one percent to the world premium income. Out of that, South Africa has 87 per cent. Both Kenya and Zimbabwe are ahead of Nigeria."
Finally adopting what was to him an open mind, Omotosho presented three conditions under which PLWHAs could obtain cover in Nigeria: "Insurance is about numbers. If we have them (PLWHAS) in large number, say 1,000 of them, we can give them cover because not all will die at the same time. We may even make good money out of it. The second condition is that there must be a ceiling for the sum assured or benefit payable at death.
"Where negative people can take cover for say N100 million, a positive person would not get more than N5 million; of course the premium cannot be the same. The third is that such category of policy-holders cannot have more than a five-year cover. We underwrite diabetes patients and they can live for 20-30 years."
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