NSITF Board Inauguration: Ministry attacks labour, blames ‘hooliganism’ for shift

Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige
Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige

The Ministry of Labour and Employment has accused the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) of disrupting the inauguration of the new board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

Rhoda Iliya, Assistant Director, Press in the Ministry said this in a statement on Thursday in Abuja.

The inauguration of the new NSITF board was scheduled for Thursday but the event failed to take place because the leadership of the organised labour was opposed to the appointment of Austin Enajemo-Isire as NSITF chairman.

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.

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, announced that the inauguration had been postponed indefinitely.

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.

Addressing workers and journalists, NLC president, Ayuba 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…”

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.

“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.

Ministry speaks

The ministry in a statement late Thursday said the inauguration was postponed because of “security breach” occasioned by the siege at the venue of the inauguration by “suspected thugs”.

“The postponement was 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 ministry,” she said.

She added that the replacement of Mr Kokori and his transfer to the Board of Micheal Imodu National Institute of Labour Studies (MINLS) Ilorin, a diploma awarding institution in Labour Relations as Chairman, followed due process and has the president’s approval.

Ms Iliya said the president gave approval for the exercise which was duly communicated to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, saying this is also in line with the Act establishing the NSITF.

“The violent gatecrashing and the illegal forceful seizure of the conference room of the Minister this morning by thugs was therefore uncalled for.

“Government, therefore, takes serious exception to the dishonourable actions of the NLC leadership and Mr Frank Kokori as well as his cohorts.

“The Ministry will not tolerate a repeat of hooliganism clearly unknown to ethos of civilised unionism,” she added.

She said that Mr Kokori was expected to report at his posting at the MINILS where his experience is more relevant.

She also said that President Buhari had also appointed Mr Enejamo-Isere as the chairman of the NSITF to bring his wealth of experience as a senior member of Chartered Institute of Insurance as well as Chartered Institute of Taxation to bear on his new position.

“Government will not tolerate a situation where labour leaders challenge or vitiate the constitutional powers of the President over appointments,” she said. (NAN)

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