Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has asked the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to inaugurate the Board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) under the chairmanship of Chief Frank Ovie Kokori before the 2019 May Day.
NLC debunked the allegation by the ministry that it imported violent thugs to disrupt the inauguration of the board of NSITF on April 18.
In a statement issued Sunday by its president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the labour union berated the minister, adding that calling the topmost hierarchy of NLC thugs and hooligans is irresponsible.
Wabba said that the labour movement had shown enough patience and understanding with regard to the long delay in the inauguration of NSITF board by the ministry.
He said, “as a responsible working-class organisation that values the tenets of social dialogue and tripartism, we had pursued this issue tenaciously for the last three years with relevant authorities without externalising it, despite all our frustrations”.
Wabba said: “Going forward, the dropping of the name of Mr President notwithstanding, we expect Minister Ngige to inaugurate the Board of NSITF under the chairmanship of Chief Frank Ovie Kokori before the 2019 May Day”.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment had accused the NLC leadership of invading the venue of the board inauguration with thugs thereby causing a postponement of the exercise.
The ministry’s statement had said: “the violent gate crashing and the illegal forceful seizure of the conference room of the Honourable Minister by thugs numbering hundreds and persons who clearly had no business with the inauguration of the board is totally unacceptable. Government therefore take serious exceptions to the dishonourable actions of the NLC leadership and Chief Frank Kokori as well as his cohorts and warn that the Ministry will not tolerate a repeat of hooliganism clearly unknown to ethos of civilised unionism”.
However, while explaining its position on the stalled inauguration of the NSITF board, Wabba said he and the President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG), Comrade William Akporeha, led other leaders of the Labour Movement to the venue of the inauguration ceremony.
Wabba explained that NLC had statutorily two members in the NSITF Board, which, by law, it is obligated to nominate.
He said that they waited patiently for well over two hours for the commencement of the event in the presence of dozens of journalists from various national media houses who came to cover the event.
He also said that DSS operatives were on ground as well as the police.
“The fact that there was not even a single reported incident of breakdown of law and order, or the arrest of any person for unruly behaviour is a categorical attestation to the peaceful and calm manner in which all those who came for the occasion conducted themselves,” Wabba said.
He described the statement issued by the ministry accusing NLC of bringing thugs to disrupt the scheduled inauguration as “unbelievable barefaced lies and uncouth language”.
On the delay in inaugurating the board of the NSITF and reported removal of veteran labour leader, Frank Kokori, as its chairman, Wabba said NLC had protested the delay of the inauguration of the NSITF Board after its constitution by the Federal Government which he is preventing NLC and NECA from participating in the governance processes in the place, as well as “creating problems in the operations of the Trustfund Pensions, a PFA, which NLC and NECA along with NSITF have shares in”.
He said Labour wrote a protest letter urging the Secretary to Federal Government (SGF) to intervene by directing the immediate inauguration of the NSITF.
It also urged the SGF to halt the move by the NSITF establishment to appoint new directors of NSITF to Trustfund Pensions until a fully constituted board is effectively in place.
On the minister’s position that NLC has recommended someone to replace Kokori on the board of the NSITF, Wabba said nothing of such happened.
Wabba accused Ngige of frustrating its efforts to get the NSITF board inaugurated in order to further consolidate his grip on the Fund.
According to Wabba, the minister had constituted a 9-member administrative panel of enquiry into NSITF finances, and forced the organisation to release N18 million to do a probe that the EFCC had already done, as part of his antics to continue running its affairs as a sole administrator.
“Disillusioned by the minister’s intrigue and designs to prolong his stranglehold on the NSITF, we again wrote; this time directly to Mr President on 20th March 2018, and asserted that “the decision of the Minister a couple of weeks back to constitute an administrative panel to investigate the period (2015-to-date), which he has been the sole approving authority is for us just a trick to delay the inauguration of the Kokori-led Board.
“We also do not have any faith in an-house administrative panel chaired by the Director of Finance of the Labour Ministry, as in the absence of a Board, the Minister had maintained sole oversight and approving authority over the agency”.
NLC president further alleged that the minister is “in the habit of forcing the approval of hundreds of millions of Naira for dubious induction trainings, procurement and monetisation of jeeps for himself and the Minister of State in the Ministry, among other spurious expenditure”.