“I’m very emotional and I want to cry. (breaks down in tears).
“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…
“…twenty years after democracy, Frank Kokori, is being oppressed by somebody like Nigige…”
The above quotes were the words of Frank Kokori, a firebrand activist and former secretary-general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG).
As he spoke, his hands shook as he strugglez to steady them. His voice was shaky as well.
Even after taking a few seconds to calm himself, one could not only hear his voice shaking but also feel his pain as he continued to speak.
As Mr Kokori, a former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (NUPENG), broke down in tears, he accused the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, of oppressing him.
Mr Kokori, who recalled how he fought for democracy and was detained for years, said Mr Ngige was acting on his own as the president “he knows” would not treat him unjustly.
He said this at the scheduled inauguration of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), shortly after the event was again postponed indefinitely.
The inauguration was scheduled to hold at 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 the presidency named Frank Kokori as chairman-designate, the labour minister omitted his name when listing those to be inaugurated.
The board 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., as guests were seated, the Director of Human Resources in the labour 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.
At this point, members of labour unions began to protest the announcement as they accused the minister of planning to hold a secret inauguration with the intention of replacing Mr Kokori as chairman of the board.
The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Waba, led other labour activists to the gathering.
Kokori laments injustice
In his remark, Mr Kokori recalled how he rejected bribes in the past because he decided to stand for democracy.
According to him, the labour minister is oppressing him because he (Mr Kokori) is known as a man of integrity.
“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, Chief 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 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.
Mr Kokori was one of the activists who protested the anulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election won by business mogul, Moshood Abiola.
Mr Abiola went ahead to declare himself president prompting the military to arrest and detain him on charges of treason.
The annulment of the election, considered Nigeria’s freest ever, and the detention of Mr Abiola led to major protests and strikes by workers’ unions, led in part by Mr Kokori.
His union, NUPENG, launched a nationwide strike in 1994 condemning the annulment and demanding that Mr Abiola be freed and inaugurated.
He was arrested in August of the same year and detained without charges by the Sani Abacha military government. He was put in solitary confinement in Bama Prison.
Mr Kokori was released in 1998 when General Abdulsalam Abubakar, who suceeded Mr Abacha, came into power. Mr Abubakar ordered his release as well as that of other detained political activists and journalists.
He was declared Prisoner of Conscience by the late Nelson Mandela and Pope Saint John Paul II in 1997 and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Amnesty International (AI) declared him prisoner of conscience between August 1994 and June 1998.
Ngige should be sacked – Anti-corruption activist
Olarenwaju Suraj, an anti-corruption activist and public affairs analysts, is of the opinion that Mr Ngige violated the directive of the president and as such, should be removed from office.
“I think it is not just about Kokori, it’s about some of the individuals that are associated with this government including Ngige. A number of them are not only a disaster to the country, they are an embarrassment to the president and the whole anti-corruption agenda of the government.
“It is actually arbitrary for a minister to fail in the inauguration of a board constituted by the presidency and for that reason, it is not in anyway, tolerable that the level of insubordination will be tolerated.
“If it was a serious government, Ngige should have been removed automatically from office by the president for that act of insubordination but it seems to be a government of free-for-all,” he said.
He explained that the only question still begging for answer is the failure of the president and the vice president to take any decisive action against “these characters and elements.”
While describing the NSITF as a sect full of corruption, he said the minister also, must have been benefitting from it.
“It is also confirming the fact that the president is not actually in full control of some of his ministers.
“The secretary to the government should immediately constitute the board and the minister should actually be sacked from office,” he said.
He added that the minister cannot do any secret inauguration outside those appointed by the presidency except there is a reversal of such announcement.
“He doesn’t have the power to do that.”
The labour 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,” said Rhoda Iliya, Assistant Director, Press in the labour ministry.
She confirmed the fears of the workers that Mr Kokori had been replaced as the chairman of the board of the NSITF.
She said 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.
She described labour leaders who gathered at the inauguration venue as “thugs.”
“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)