Kokori: Labour issues Ngige May 1 ultimatum on NSITF Board

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (R); Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige (2nd R); Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (R); Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige (2nd R); Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha (3trd L); and President of Trade Union Congress, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, during the 2018 May Day celebration in Abuja on Tuesday

THE organized Labour on Sunday frowned at the alleged derogatory description of Labour leaders that attended the botched inauguration of the Board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige.

The organized labour has also warned against the dropping of the name of President Muhammadu Buhari in the substitution of Chief Frank Kokori as Chairman of the board and called for the inauguration of the board before May Day.

There has been frosty relationship between the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Minister of Labour, Senator Ngige over the alleged delay in inaugurating the NSITF board as labour has accused the Minister of imploring delay tactics while he remains the ‘sole administrator’ of the Fund.

Recall that Senator Ngige had in a statement on April 17, announced that the board of NSITF was to be inaugurated on 18th April but the inauguration could not hold as the organized labour mobilized in their numbers to protest the replacement of Chief Kokori as the Funds Board Chairman.

But the Ministry of Labour and Employment in a statement claimed that the inauguration was postponed due to the invasion of the venue (Conference Hall, Ministry of Labour at the Federal Secretariat) by labour leaders and suspected hired thugs.

However, the NLC has decried the statement by the ministry calling labour leaders that attended the botched inauguration thugs.

A statement by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba accused the Minister of using ‘gutter’ language on the Labour leaders.

According to him, “The attention of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has been drawn to a Press Statement signed by Rhoda Iliya, Assistant Director, Press, on behalf of Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, in which the President of the Congress was alleged to have imported “violent thugs”, to disrupt the inauguration of the board of NSITF, which was to have taken place on April 18, 2019.

“The statement, which was filled with many unbelievable barefaced lies and uncouth language, alleged, among other things, that the inauguration had to be postponed “…to avoid the degeneration of the situation where thugs were already manhandling some officers of the ministry and policemen attached to the office of the minister”.

“Continuing, the Minister’s statement asserted that “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 [sic] 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”.

“We are left dumbfounded at the depth Minister Ngige is prepared to go in lying to the nation and the world to cover his doomed plan to hoodwink Nigerians on his elaborate intrigue spanning three years to prevent the inauguration of the Board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

“The antics of Minister Ngige and his propensity for unabated obfuscation will not distract us from doing our duty in defending and protecting the rights and interests of our members, as these remain the basic raison d’etre for our existence as a Labour Movement.”

The statement further explained, “To set the record straight, on 18th April, 2019, the Congress President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, alongside Comrade William Akporeha, President of NUPENG, led other leaders of the Labour Movement to the venue of the inauguration ceremony and waited patiently for well over two hours for the commencement of the event.

“There were dozens of journalists from various national media houses in the hall to cover the event. The DSS also had its operatives on the 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.

“Secondly, the fact that the NLC have statutorily two members in the NSITF Board, which, by law, it is obligated to nominate means that the NLC President and all the other workers who turned up for the long overdue inauguration had every business to be there.

“We are therefore shocked with the deployment of derogatory and confrontational words by Minister Ngige. As social partners, we naturally expect the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and any of its ministers or staff, to relate with organised labour guided by utmost dignity. Any Minister of Labour who thinks organised labour is subordinate to him or her or the Ministry is clearly living in illusion.

“Ngige’s outburst and resort to gutter language is certainly an expression of his desperation to turn the NSITF into his personal estate; an effort which he sees the NLC or organised labour truncating. This drama has been on since the constitution of the Board of the NSITF under the Chairmanship of Chief Frank Ovie Kokori.”

Noting that the Labour leadership had insisted that a transparent person in the type of Chief Kokori should head the board of the Fund, and had written to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha for the inauguration of the board as well as the directive from the SGF, the minister had remained adamant.

It said, “Because the NLC has substantial stake in both the Trustfund Pensions and NSITF, on December, 15, 2017, we wrote to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), entitled; “Non-Swearing in of Board of NSITF and other Matters”.

The Congress’ letter drew attention of the SGF to the continuous non-inauguration of the NSITF Board three months after the Federal Government had appointed the Chairman of the Board.

“The letter, which was signed by the Congress President went on to among other things state that: “the law establishing the NSITF stipulates that the President (and Commander-in-Chief) will appoint the executive management of the fund in consultative with the NLC and the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA).

“The Minister of Labour and Employment disregarded this directive with respect to NSITF Board, claiming that he wanted to clean up corruption in the place. However, we saw through this as nothing but a plot to perpetuate his sole ‘administratorship’ as supervising minister of the agency. This is because the EFCC had conducted investigations and already began persecution of alleged culprits in the mismanagement of the funds of the agency.”

It further accused Dr Ngige of lying on Channel Television Live Programme that Labour made a recommendation for someone to be chairman of the Board.

“This is falsehood of the highest order! Chief Frank Kokori got his nomination to Chair the Board of NSITF as a chieftain of the ruling party in Delta State and on his own right as a distinguished and forthright elder statesman. Understandably, we believe that Minister Ngige is against Kokori as Chairman of NSITF Board because of his well-known trademark personality as a transparent, fearless but virtuous person.”

Labour in the statement said that the way out was the Minister to stop dropping the name of Mr President notwithstanding, adding, “we expect Minister Ngige to inaugurate the Board of NSITF under the chairmanship of Chief Frank Ovie Kokori before the 2019 May Day.”