By Idu Okechukwu, Abuja
The Nigerian Labour Congress has threatened to mobilize labour forces against any federal agency under the supervision of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, over lingering face-off resulting from the failed inauguration of the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
NLC National President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Waba, who issued the threat on Tuesday during a joint press conference with the President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Comrade A. Williams; in Abuja, said the clampdown has become imperative to ensure that the NSITF board was inaugurated as directed by the presidency.
According to Mr. Waba, the Nigerian labour leaders would not allow the labour minister to continue running the agency as a sole proprietorship.
“This is against the provisions of the laws establishing NSITF and all moral codes. We also reject Dr. Ngige’s handling of industrial relations, social dialogue and tripartite consultation on ad hoc basis,” he declared.
He argued that the National Social Insurance Fund Act, N88 of 1993, mandated federal government to warehouse contributions from employers or workers, “therefore, the major stakeholders in the NSITF are workers and employers, who by law, are guaranteed two slots on the board of the NSITF.
“The Federal Ministry of Labour has only one slot on the board of NSITF. Pursuant to part 1 section 4 1a to e and Part 2 section 4 of the NSITF act, which supposed to operate under a board, yet, has been operated for four years under the supervision of a minister,” he stressed.
According to NLC, the decision to engage the minister over the board inauguration imbroglio was taken at the recent NLC national delegates’ conference – the highest decision-making body of Congress.
“This was after all efforts, including quiet persuasions from the NLC, the advice of the national leadership of the political party to which Dr. Ngige belongs, and even a straightforward directive by Mr. President himself, failed to make the Minister of Labour see reasons and do the needful.”
The NLC boss insisted that appointment of former NUPENG National President, Chief Frank Kokori, by the presidency, as the chairman of the board was without as any prompting by the NLC.
NUPENG President, comrade A. Williams, who argued that the injustice meted on Chief Kokori was an injustice to all civil servants in Nigeria, urged the presidency to call the minister to order to avert major industrial showdown.
“We will mobilize all Nigerian workers against the minister, Dr. Chris Ngige. President Buhari should also call him to order. He should not want to see people trample on his wishes,” he said.
The embattled chairman of the yet to be inaugurated NSITF board, Chief Kokori, claimed that the minister’s refusal to inaugurate his board was a desperate bid to ensure continued perpetration of financial crimes in the agency.
In a similar vein, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the labour minister to avoid plunging the nation into labour unrest.
The NUP accused the minister of deliberately trying to factionalise the union by sponsoring his tribal people to create a faction of the pension union. The allegation came after a new pension body known as Federal Parastatal and Private Sector Pensioners Association of Nigeria, last week, approached the Ministry of Labour for registration as a pension union, alleging that the NUP has failed its members.
General Secretary of NUP, Elder Actor Zal, said in a statement that the action of those behind the new body was illegal and against the spirit and letters of the nation’s labour laws. Zal challenged those behind the new body seeking registration to tell the world where those purported to be affiliates of the new body met and decided to form the union; adding that all sectors mentioned as members were already affiliated to the NUP and have not de-affiliated.
The statement reads, “Our attention has once again been drawn to the renewed efforts by the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, to illegally regroup despite the pensioners’ resolve to remain in one indivisible union. To achieve this ignoble objectives, Dr. Chris Ngige, deliberately went shopping for few disgruntled elements within the union from his tribe, organised them and sponsored them with government money, including PHCN superannuation fund, to the tune of N407 million recently collected by the self-appointed interim president of the ministers pensioners association.
“We want to alert the general public that the effort of the Hon. Minister is self-serving and is not in the best interest of the country. Furthermore, what the minister is about to do is not only contrary to the existing labour law; it will also amount to proliferation of industrial unions.
“The minister’s intention of window shopping for ways to divide our union is not only barbaric and crude, but it is also the height of insensitivity of a government appointee.”
Meanwhile, the NLC has also questioned the jurisdiction of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, FCT chapter, to meddle in its dispute with the minister over the NSITF board saga. NLC in a statement signed by its Secretary General, Professor Petter Ezon, said it was pissed off by a media statement credited to the FCT chairman of Ohanaeze, Mr. Odozi Nwodozi, in the defense of the minister over the NSITF board saga.
The organised labour said the issue at stake does not have any tinge of ethnic or religious colouration.
The statements read in part, “We are, therefore, surprised at the recent borrowing of ethnic voices in the defense of the Minister of Labour and Employment. As sad as this new low by the minister and his hired voice are, we must remind the minister that gone are the days when a public officer will commit an offence or steal public money and then, hide under ethnic or religious banner for protection.
“We wish to reiterate our deep respect for Ohaneze as a pan Igbo socio-cultural organization. It is, however, unfortunate that somebody in the lower cadre of Ohaneze leadership could be seduced to misuse his position to achieve the narrow objectives of a politician. We urge the national leadership of Ohaneze to be wary of such characters, who would not only tarnish but also destroy the good image Ohaneze has built for itself over the years.
“We wish to candidly advise the minister to quit using the press to malign the people he should be protecting. The way and manner that Dr. Chris Ngige is going about this NSITF issue clearly shows that he has a lot to hide and there is a lot he is not willing to tell Nigerians. The minister should stop twisting the truth as Nigerians are in the know of what he has been doing with the NSITF.
“We urge the Minister of Labour and Employment to redeem whatever is left of his image by inaugurating the NSITF board under the chairmanship of Chief Frank Kokori, without further delay. Finally, for the benefit of Nigerians, who are unaware of the intrigues of the Minister of Labour to keep the NSITF under his sole proprietorship, we challenge him and other stakeholders to an electronic media debate on this matter so that the truth could be exposed”.
By Idu Okechukwu, Abuja