The inauguration of the board of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) has been postponed indefinitely.
The inauguration was scheduled to hold by 10:30 a.m. on Thursday at the minister’s conference room at the Ministry of Labour.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported the controversy surrounding the inauguration. Although Frank Kokori was named as the chairman-designate by the presidency, the labour minister omitted his name when listing those to be inaugurated.
The board membership was constituted by Yemi Osinbajo in October 2017 in his capacity as acting president. Ministers are empowered to inaugurate boards of agencies in their ministries.
Mr Kokori, a former labour leader during the Sani Abacha military dictatorship, told PREMIUM TIMES he would, however, attend the inauguration.
At about 11:40 a.m, when guests were seated, the Director of Human Resources in the ministry, Ajibola Ibrahim, came in to announce that the inauguration has been postponed indefinitely.
“The minister has sent me to inform you that the inauguration has been postponed indefinitely. He asked me to apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.
“He said I should tell you that a new date will be announced later,” he said.
Mr Ibrahim also said many of the members were “not present,” hence the postponement.
A few seconds of chaos followed as members of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and other workers present protested the announcement.
They said the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, was planning a secret inauguration.
“Who are those members that could not make it? Because we are aware that all our members are already seated. Every member is here.
“People travelled from far and near and we thought that if he is around, he should come and address us. That is what he should do. This board has not been inaugurated for three years,” the NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, said.
Mr Ibrahim could not respond to this question. He only said the minister “is having an official engagement at the villa.”
Addressing workers and journalists, Mr Wabba said the union will be on standby and if the venue is changed, they will also be there.
“We learnt that they wanted to change the venue but we will be there. It is our money. It is (the) workers’ money. It’s not the government’s money. So, we have a right to demand accountability, to demand transparency and demand that the right thing be done.
“The law says even in some lesser appointments, NLC shall be consulted. We have waited patiently for three and a half years, he has been the sole administrator.
“We can’t have a situation where people continue to feast on our money and they claim they are fighting corruption. That is not true. Corruption means that we should also interrogate the past one year.
“Kokori cannot be taken for granted. He is the champion of democracy. His union is very strategic in the economy of Nigeria,” the NLC president said.
Mr Wabba also said the union will call for an audit for the period that the minister has been there as the sole administrator of the NSITF board. He said the workers are not aware of a new chairman being appointed.
“For close to three years, they refused to inaugurate the board for one reason or the other. Now, we can see that one of those reasons is because they don’t want somebody transparent to manage workers’ money.
“If there is nothing to hide, it should be done in the open. First, they said the approval was made by the then acting president, they needed to revalidate from the president, which he did.
“Second, they said there has been corruption in the place and he needed to clean it up. We said no problem. He later said he wanted to implement the report. After that, he said two weeks and so on…”
The NUPENG president, Williams Akporeha, said the group will resist any effort by the minister to secretly inaugurate the board.
“We will also mobilise Nigerian workers to resist it. If he doesn’t come openly to come and inaugurate this board as appointed by the president, Nigerian workers shall rise and we shall resist it.”
Mr Kokori, who broke down in tears during his remark, accused Mr Ngige of oppressing him because he (Mr Kokori) is regarded as a man of integrity and transparency.
“My workers, I am proud of you. I’ve done my best for my country when nobody raised their voice against the military, I came out with the unions to fight for freedom and democracy of my country.
“I spent four years in one of the worst prisons in the world, in Bama Prisons, in solitary confinement. In 1997, I was declared a prisoner of war by Saint Pope John Paul. The same year, Nelson Mandela declared me a notable world prisoner of conscience.
“I stood for this country and I fought for democracy and all my years in this country, there were temptations to take the biggest bribes. I stood my ground for democracy.
“Twenty years after democracy, Frank Kokori, is being oppressed by somebody like Nigige. The reason is because Frank Kokori is regarded as a man of integrity, a man of honour and a transparent man. And this is a government which talks of integrity and you allow a man like Ngige to humiliate me for two years after the appointment,” he said.
He further said he has subjected himself to trauma for over two years after being congratulated several times by the minister and assured of inauguration by the president.
“I feel Ngige is on his own. He is dragging the name of the president. Not the president I know,” he added.
As at the time of this report, some members of the labour union were at the ministry while others were at Frazier Suites – where the workers alleged that Mr Ngige was planning to hold the “secret inauguration.”
They vowed to be on standby until the minister shows up or announces a new date for the inauguration.
They also said any inauguration without the presence of Mr Kokori as the chairman, will be null and void and will also lead to mass protest.