The organised labour yesterday called on President Muhammadu Buhari to probe the involvement of Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, in the affairs of the Nigeria Social Investment Trust Fund (NSITF).The demand came as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) begins a protest in Abuja against the minister today.
NLC President Ayuba Wabba, however, told The Guardian last night that the protest would not be against the inauguration of the NSITF board, but the manner in which Ngige superintended the affairs of the labour sector in the past three years and the recent attacks on protesters at the minister’s residence.
Labour members protesting against alleged refusal by Ngige to inaugurate the board of the NSITF had picketed the minister’s premises last week. The action ended in a violent clash between Ngige’s supporters and the demonstrators.
While the inauguration of the new board takes place in Aso Rock, labour and its allies vow they would be on the streets venting their displeasure against the minister.
Wabba said the labour movement was not particular about inaugurating Frank Kokori, a former general secretary of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), as the chair of the board but that a board should be in place to halt the alleged reign of Ngige as sole administrator of NSITF.
“We expect President Buhari to establish a commission of enquiry to look into the award of contracts and employment of 300 persons by the minister, if this administration is serious about fighting corruption. Our members will be at the inauguration tomorrow (today) because it is statutory.”Wabba maintained that whether Kokori is eventually made the board chair of NSITF or not, labour would ensure that the representatives of both the NLC and NECA resist the running of the Fund by proxy.
The presidency meanwhile clarified its position on the non-inauguration of Kokori as chairman of the board yesterday, saying Buhari approved the action.A statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said that all the decisions taken by Ngige, in relation to the NSITF, were part of the plans by Buhari to reposition the agency.
Kokori, who was first named board chairman, was later redeployed to the Michael Imoudu Institute of Labour Studies Ilorin (MINILS). He has not officially reacted to the latest development.
According to Adesina, “All actions taken by Ngige towards the resuscitation and repositioning of this ailing agency, including the administrative panel of inquiry into the affairs of NSITF and the suspension of the inauguration of the board in 2018 were part of the special work plan approved for the minister by Mr. President.”
The presidency said efforts were on to reconcile Ngige and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) whose president, Ayuba Wabba, has vowed to call out workers for a massive protest beginning from today. The statement reads in part: “Following the disagreement between the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment and the leadership of the NLC over the appointment of the chairman of the board of the NSITF, the presidency wishes to clarify as follows:
“ • That the NSITF is a hundred percent, Federal Government of Nigeria-owned insurance parastatal, under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, designed for the role of insuring workers (employees) in the public and private sectors. The organisation is empowered by law to implement the Employee Compensation Act (ECA) 2010 with mandate to insure workers and pay them compensation for accidents, deaths and injuries in the course of work;
“ • That the NSITF was bedevilled and riddled with corruption between 2012 and 2015, which resulted in a colossal loss and mismanagement of about N48 billion out of the total N62 billion contributions during the said period. These were contributions by the employers – viz government and the private sector for payment of compensation to workers and even to employers for loss of man-hours by their workers. The fraud has been investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the last chairman and some members of the former board and some officials of the NSITF are presently being prosecuted by the EFCC;
“• That all actions taken by the minister towards the resuscitation and repositioning of the agency, including the suspension of the inauguration of the board in 2018 were part of the special work plan approved for Ngige by Buhari; and
“ • That the appointment of the chairman of this board, which is in consonance with Section 4(a) of the NSITF Act CAP N88 of 2004, was also approved by Mr. President since 23rd July, 2018 on the recommendation of the minister. Mr. Austin Enejamo-Isire, a Chartered Accountant, Fellow, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and renowned insurance expert, was approved by Mr. President for this position. Also approved by Mr. President were the managing director and three executive directors who had assumed duties since 18 April 2017.
“Others also approved as non-executive directors are two members to represent the NLC, two members to represent the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and one member each to represent the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.” Adesina said members of the board would be formally inaugurated at 9:00 a.m. today, May 13, 2019 by the minister at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, Abuja.
“Kokori , our respected veteran labour leader, has Mr. President’s immense respect and has also been appointed on the recommendation of the minister to chair the board of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), a diploma awarding labour institution,” the statement said.The presidency expressed concern and regret over the events that culminated in a skirmish at the private residence of Ngige and condemned it.