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Ngige, Kokori And NSITF Board

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To most Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the labour sector, the major saddle for the organised labour at the moment, ought to be the actualisation of the new minimum wage to bring the nation’s dipped working condition to the upbeat.  However, the oozing tale of sleaze from the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund(NSITF) an agency whose role is cardinal to the wellbeing of the Nigerian workers through the implementation of the Employee Compensation(ECA) Act 2010 appear to have taken ascendancy.

And the reason orbits primarily on an unfortunate negligence and connivance of a section of the labour leadership to the untoward development in the agency. While the organised Labour daily plays workers’ welfare as a trump, the unfolding tragedy where the statutory labour and private sector board representatives failed woefully as a bulwark against corruption is an embarrassing irony on their avowed commitment to the nation’s workforce.

The NSITF is stinking but that appears not to be the business of a section of the organised labour, especially the Ayuba Wabba led Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC) who in cahoots with the nominated chairman of the new NSITF board, Frank Kokori are engaged in desperate acts for its inauguration. Hence, the decision of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige to counter this coup against the Nigerian workers has pitted him in battle with them.  The minister with the nod of the President had insisted the board of the agency would be inaugurated after a nine man administrative panel of enquiry set up to probe its records from 2011 submitted its findings.

Giving his reasons for staying action on NSITF while inaugurating other boards earlier this month, Ngige said, “the NSITF is one board that has breached all aspects of the financial regulations to the extent that it has no Audited Report since 2013-five good years. The EFCC has investigated the place and discovered massive looting; has charged the chairman and some members of the former board to court, including some officials of the management that aided in the massive haemorrhaging of the agency to the tunes of billions. About N30billion is reported to have been carted away and in one instance, about N5billion was taken away without vouchers in one day!”

He continued, “so government has set up a nine-man Administrative Panel of Enquiry comprising forensic expert and others to unearth what happened; how  the internal audit mechanism in the place broke down irretrievably and unable  to check  this heinous and massive fraud . We want to know how the non-Executive Directors representing the NLC and Nigeria Employers Consultative Assembly (NECA) transmuted into Executive Directors and Executive Chairman.”

The report of the panel is expected in two weeks since it has taken four out its six weeks’ life.  But the minister didn’t end without sounding a note of warning that the new board which would come on stream when government has done the necessary gazette on the report of the panel must consist of men of integrity and impeccable character.  You may then ask the reason for desperation by Kokori and the NLC.  Why the hurry and the skirmishes? Though opinions are divided, it looks like the fear of the unknown is a strong tendency. With the fingers of the representatives of labour in the defunct board, deep in the pie, who knows where the trail of the probe will run to.

The “Kokori is our man” mantra in a section of the labour movement could have other meanings as his nomination could not in any way be more important than unearthing the pillaging of workers’ contributions running into billions of naira- the pillaging was so vast and diverse  that Pay As You Earn( PAYEE) Tax deductions,  Pension Contributions, Housing Fund Contributions  as well as outstanding staff allowances such as housing, education, clothing and promotion were not sent to the appropriated bodies as they were all gutted by corruption by 2013. 

And that Kokori himself is not comfortable with the non-inauguration of the board notwithstanding reasons the government has given, heightens the suspicion.  Is this “our man” chorus, a type of a spanner in the works, covering of tracks? Can’t say certainly but deeper developments in the internal politics of the organized labour in relation to the NSITF, the flagship agency of the tripartite labour circle, smack of unpatriotism and selfish power play.  There are whispers that the Ayuba led NLC said it has no faith in the Administrative Panel set up by the Minister when the requisite Directors of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Auditor General of the Federation , the Budget Office of the Federation , National Salaries Income and Wages Commission and three Directors from the Federal Ministry of labour all sit on the panel.

Unknown to most Nigerians, the NLC believes that with Kokori their man as chairman, and with its two statutory nominees, in addition to another two from NECA , it can do and undo in the board as well as dictate the tunes in the NSITF. This NLC’s ambitious calculation is regardless of an internal dissonance from their breakaway brothers in the newly formed federation, the United Labour Congress (ULC) which has been petitioning that its 18 affiliate unions are a sure guarantee for nominations into all the labour related parastatals such as the NSITF, National Directorate of Employment (NDE) National Productivity Centre (NPC) where the Labour Acts mentioned the NLC.

I will come back to the NLC’s selfish game but let us at this juncture acknowledge that the man in the eye of the storm and who has demonstrated abundant capacity to weather storms, Ngige, appears to be neither enamoured of the internal dissension and factional contention in the labour federations nor losing sleep over the desperation and mud-raking attending the push to get the board of NSITF prematurely inaugurated.  But there is a voice of reason, a prized consolation to all workers in spite.

The United Labour Congress (UCL) through its General Secretary, Didi Adodo, in clear appreciation of the situation in the NSITF and the urgency of an in-depth cleansing, said in a recent interview.  “The plundering that has taken place in the NSITF is enough for any right-thinking organisation and comrade to support a major probe that will not only unearth what has taken place but also bring the perpetrators to justice.” Adodo was supported by the Deputy President of UCL, Comrade Achese who demanded that the roles played by the representatives of the Labour and the private sector in the alleged NSITF fraud be fully probed, insisting that if found culpable, Nigerian workers should rise against the former board members for betraying them.

Interestingly, two members of the former board representing the NLC, Comrade Aderemi Adegboyaga and Chief R.U Uche, immediate past President of NECA are among the six persons including the former Chairman of the board, Ngozi Olojeme, a PDP chieftain and Campaign Finance Director to Former President Goodluck Jonathan as well as some management staff already arraigned by the EFCC for removing funds from the NSITF by E-Mandate from the First Bank, and changing same to about 48,485,127 dollars.

– Anule is a social critic based in Abuja.

Now the question: Is this part of the reasons the NLC would have none of further probe of the NSITF? Does it explain away the desperation to inaugurate a new board where “our man” will help cover the tracks?  Why did labour in the first instance look the other way while its representatives in the defunct board participated in the unconscionable looting of the NSITF? And did any part of the loots facilitate ascension to office, by way of sponsorship, of some current labour leaders in the last NLC election?

The matter is yet to come to a head as the ULC has gone further to ask the minister to extend the investigation to the Trust Fund Pension Ltd- a pension Fund Administration in which NSITF has 40 per cent majority equity with NLC, TUC, NECA, Skye Bank and Niger Insurance.  Though the company is an NSITF initiative, the NLC/TUC and NECA with 15 per cent and 10 per cent shares respectively, are currently engaged in a bitter struggle over the appointment of Trust Fund Directors with the Managing Director and the Executive Directors of the NSITF. The Ayuba-led NLC and their sympathisers want their non-Executive Directors on the Board of the NSITF be inaugurated urgently so that they can flow from the NSITF into the Trust Fund Pensions, thereby increasing their numerical strength of directors on the board.

Whichever way their permutation goes, the Minister of Labour is sure footed, being a very experienced administrator and law maker. Inside sources said the former Anambra governor  is bent on accomplishing the assurance he gave to the President that the NSITF would be cleaned, made financially viable and be returned to its original mandate.

Anule is a social critic based in Abuja.

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