Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The disagreement between the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, Wednesday snowballed into a major confrontation with the labour movement mobilising workers and tanker drivers to block entrance of the private resident of Ngige in Asokoro, Abuja.
Following the protest at the Minister’s residence Wednesday which resulted in a fracas leaving some persons wounded, the NLC has convened an emergency meeting of its Central Working Committee to deliberate on the matter.
Speaking in a telephone interview with THISDAY Wednesday, the General Secretary of NLC, Mr. Peter Essom, said that the Labour Congress was summoning “an emergency meeting for tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss the latest development” regarding its demand for the inauguration of the the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund and recognition of Frank Kokori as its chairman.
While giving an account of what happened, the miinister’s Media aide said Comrade Wabba later left and returned with re-enforcement .
In a statement issued Wednesday by the Special Assistant to the Minister on Media Nwachukwu Obidiwe, he said the private residence of the Minister was invaded in the early morning (4 a.m.) by the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, and his members .
He said the workers among whom were tanker drivers, some with ferocious looks, also barricaded the gate to the resident of the Minister with two long trucks.
“They chanted war songs and prevented the Minister, his wife, children and other aides from either leaving or gaining access to the compound,” he said.
The minister’s aide said the presence of these strange faces and their chanting of war songs by the invading NLC members sent heavy panic on the family members, especially children and female aides who thought the sudden early morning assemblage were of the underworld.
“Some of these unknown faces and the two tanker lorries blocking the entrance to the house are still there as I send this press statement .
“I therefore wish to state that contrary to reports being mischievously circulated in the media by the NLC President, the Minister, family members who are still in great trauma and his staff members did not invite thugs, have no knowledge of it, or have a hand in the alleged manhandling of any worker,” he said.
The protest however came to abrupt end when some young men came to the scene and chased the NLC members away.
This caused pandemonium as the NLC-led protesters tried initially to resist the fiece-looking youths and this resulted in some persons sustaining injuries.
THISDAY learnt that the NLC president had to intervene to pull back the protesting members.
Also THISDAY gathered that the two tankers in front of the minister’s gate were removed from the minister’s gate at about 4 p.m.
The Minister had earlier told THISDAY on telephone that his house at Asokoro in Abuja had been under siege by a group of people, including tanker drivers.
Ngige who spoke to THISDAY at 8 a.m from his house said that as early as 4 a.m some persons, including two tankers arrived his residence led by the NLC president, Ayuba Wabba and blocked his gate.
Ngige said:” Wabba led tanker drivers this morning to block my private residence by 4a.m.,” he said.
When THISDAY got to the house, NLC members could be seen in front the Minister’s gate chanting solidarity songs and demanding his resignation.
Also two heavy duty tankers were parked in front of the gate.Both the minister and the NLC leadership have been engaged in a running battle over the non inauguration of the board of e Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) with veteran labour activist, Frank Kokori as its chairman. While the ministry said that federal government had approved the replacement of Kokori, with another person to ensure neutrality, NLC president and other affiliate unions insisted that it must be Kokori or nothing.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Wabba had threatened that NLC will picket all Ngige’s interests beginning from Wednesday.
Wabba was not at the minister’s house with the protesters when THISDAY got there.
When THISDAY sought to speak with the protesting NLC members, one of them said they were waiting for Wabba and others to join them.
Later the General Secretary, Peter Essom, arrived the scene and addressed the protesters, urging them to continue with the protest and tha reinforcement led by Wabba. Was coming.
He said that the protest is being carried out because of the refusal of the Minister to inaugurate the NSITF board and to allow Kokori to chair it.
According to him, in the history of the NSITF the representative of labour has always chaired it, adding the case of Kokori will not be different.