Labour and Employment Minister, Dr Chris Ngige, vowed on Thursday never to allow a former labour leader, Mr Frank Kokori, to head the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund.
Kokori is the preferred choice of the Nigeria Labour Congress for the job, a development that has been a source of friction between Ngige and the NLC leadership lately.
The minister, who was at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, stated that no matter the resort to “blackmail” by the NLC, he would not approve of Kokori because he (Kokori) was not a “proper” and “neutral” person to hold the office.
The minister stated that by the provision of Section 4(a) of the NSITF Act, the sole power to nominate a “neutral, fit and proper person for the approval of the President for the chairmanship of the board” lay with him (Ngige).
Owing to the dispute over Kokori, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a chartered accountant, Mr Austin Enajemo-Isire, last month to replace Kokori, whom Ngige said was already an interested party, being a former labour leader.
However, the inauguration of the board has been stalled due to protests by the NLC, led by the President, Mr Ayuba Wabba.
Only on Wednesday, some protesters led by Wabba, clashed with suspected thugs at the residence of the minister in Asokoro, Abuja.
Speaking with State House correspondents, the minister denied that he sent thugs after the protesters, claiming that a fight broke out among the latter due to a disagreement over the payment formula for the assignment the NLC gave them.
He alleged that the protesters were “contracted” by the NLC’ leadership only for them to disagree over the money they were promised.
The minister complained that media reports on the incident on Thursday (yesterday) were not fair to him.
He accused Wabba of promoting “hooliganism” in the name of unionism, threatening to sue Wabba and the NLC for attempted arson.
Ngige gave his own account of the incident in detail, saying, “Well, I just read the dailies today and I saw that story. It is a very unfortunate misleading story. The scenario that emerged yesterday (Wednesday) was that I was woken up at 5am by my wife, who reported to me that the security men were having problems with some strange fellows at the gate of the house. And that some people were also on the walls of my home; that they arrived there by 4:30am.
“When the security people accosted them, they discovered that it was the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress himself that came physically with two tankers, one laden with petroleum, the second was half empty. One was put at the gate of my house and the second at the gate of my neighbour’s house.
“When I heard the story, it was very strange. When I looked from upstairs, I saw that the tankers were actually blocking the entrance to my house. I came down and asked for the chief detail, who told me the whole story. And it emerged that they even had a scuffle with the President of the NLC when they were struggling for the key to the tanker.
“So, I went back and made some calls to the Commissioner of Police FCT Command, Director, SSS, and also the Federal Road Safety Corps to see if they could move the vehicles.
“Picketing does not mean that you go to people’s private residences because you don’t know who occupies there. For example, in my home, my wife, my children and the children of my domestic staff and security personnel were trapped.
“My neighbour, his wife and children couldn’t go out. It is obstruction; it is against the law of the country. Then putting a tanker with petrol is arson, the place can be set on fire; the entire street could have engulfed in fire. I don’t know what to say.
“That is not trade unionism, that is hooliganism. I have been preaching that you cannot exchange hooliganism for trade unionism. Trade unionism means you dialogue, you discuss, you talk.”
On the allegation of using thugs, Ngige stated, “So, I was surprised to read about thugs and people hospitalised, people beaten. I have tried to do some investigations and enquiries and from my preliminary enquiry and the reports I got, it looks like the NLC people disagreed with the people they brought to my house. I understand that they were contracted to work till 10am, which is (Federal Executive) Council time, the aim being to obstruct me from going to council.”
On what he would do to seek redress, Ngige replied, “My neighbour said he is going to take legal action. I will also take legal action; illegal actions are actionable, nobody is above the law.
“Their grouse is the inauguration of the NSITF board. We had fixed the date for April 18th and they invaded the place with thugs and disrupted the function. We had postponed the function and said we were going to fix another date for inauguration but since then, they have been maligning my character and integrity because I am the Labour Minister.”
Meanwhile, the NLC on Thursday called on workers all over the world to subject the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, and his family members to ridicule wherever they see them, especially at airports all over the world.
Addressing the media after the meeting of the National Working Committee of the NLC in Abuja, President of the union, Ayuba Wabba, said the step was taken as a response to what he described as Ngige’s deployment of thugs to attack the NLC members who staged a protest against him on Wednesday.
Wabba said the protest was staged for failure of Ngige to inaugurate a board of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund with Frank Kokori as the chairman. He said the decision to picket Ngige’s house was not too ambitious, insisting that as a public officer, Ngige is accountable to the people.
He said, “NLC has sent messages to all workers in the 163 countries who are members of the International Trade Union Congress to embarrass the minister and members of his family anywhere they are seen, especially at airports where workers operates.
“Ngige is a public officer, holding public office. Until he leaves office, even his house is a public place. Even Presidents of the world have been picketed in their houses. In any case, we did not access his house. We were only on the street.
“He has abandoned his office and has been operating from his house. The house has been his second office for some times now and he has been avoiding any place where he will come in contact with us.”