The minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige yesterday inaugurated the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) board amidst protest by Nigerian workers.
The workers took to the streets of Abuja to protest the “unwarranted attack” on them during a peaceful demonstration at the residence of Ngige.
The incident took place at the Asokoro home of the minister in Abuja last Wednesday when the workers stormed the place to register their displeasure over his delay in inaugurating the board of the NSITF.
Addressing the aggrieved workers, NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said that yesterday’s protest was not against the NSITF board but the attack on the unions by thugs suspected to be hired by Ngige.
Wabba described the attack as an undemocratic action by a minister who superintends over the labour sector. He lamented that it was the same minister who hired thugs against the defenceless workers.
He said: “We are here today to register our displeasure with the minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, for hiring suspected thugs to attack us on Wednesday during a peaceful protest/picketing at his residence.
“The minister’s attitude was against international best practices as well as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and even the Nigeria Constitution that guarantee the rights of workers to protest and picketing. Instead of Mr. Ngige to dialogue with us, he resorted to hiring thugs to attack us. We are not here today because of the NSITF board that has been inaugurated. But our concern right now is the attack on our members. We are saying that Ngige is not fit for a public office and President Muhammadu Buhari should do the needful before such a man destroys his government,” he warned.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) president, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, urged Buhari to conduct a psychiatric test before appointing anyone to serve as a cabinet member.
He said that the call became necessary following the ongoing face-off between the workers and Ngige who ordinarily should understand the workings of labour.
“ASUU as a union condemns this attack on workers by a man who should protect and defend them. To say the least, we have no confidence in him. We are also calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to conduct a psychiatric test on each of his cabinet members to ascertain their mental stability; this would save the country from such embarrassment,” he said.
The president of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Comrade Marwan Mustapha Adamu, called for an urgent investigation into the matter with a view to bringing the hired thugs to book.
Some of the workers were hospitalised due to various degrees of injuries inflicted on them by the thugs.
Comrade Marwan said that the national protest/picketing was to show to Nigerians and the world that labour would always stand for its rights.
He said the organised labour had resolved to embarrass the minister anytime he is seen within and outside the country.
The workers, who assembled at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, carried placards with inscriptions such as ”Ngige must go, He is not qualify to be a doctor but a native doctor, Ngige is a face of the violent cabal in Buhari’s government, how far can a public officer go before he is sacked? Sack blood-thirsty Ngige now” among others.
The unions and the labour ministry had backed different candidates for the chairmanship of the board of NSITF.
On Sunday, the presidency said that the decision of Ngige on the matter had the approval of Buhari.
Consequently, the government redeployed labour’s candidate, Chief Frank Kokori to the Labour Institute in Ilorin, Kwara State. Kokori was earlier appointed by the president to head the NSITF board but the minister opposed it while NLC supported the move.
The protest which began at 9 am yesterday commenced from the Labour House in Abuja.
Ngige Inaugurates NSITF Board
Meanwhile, Ngige yesterday defied the protest staged by leadership of NLC against the brutalisation of its members to inaugurate the board of the NSITF.
The ceremony was held at the presidential villa, Abuja, amidst tight security. It afforded Ngige the opportunity to explain why he settled for Austin Enejamo-Isire, a chartered accountant as board chairman of the employees’ compensation agency.
Ngige said that Enejamo-Isire’s appointment was ratified by the federal government to launch further probe into the financial impropriety that trailed the agency, especially to unmask those fingered by an administrative panel of enquiry on the mismanagement of N48 billion between 2012 and 2015.
He revealed that 37 luxury houses are under forfeiture while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was on the trail of some past directors of NSITF, some of whom had voluntarily returned monies to the government coffers.
On why he rejected Kokori, a former secretary-general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) for Enejamo-Isire, Ngige said that on one of such occasions under the previous board, the sum of N5billion was withdrawn from the agency’s account without audit trial or voucher.
He said: “Though this board is being inaugurated much later than its contemporaries, the NSITF is however better set to welcome a new board than it was at the time when the other boards of the ministry were inaugurated.
“As you all may be aware, the last board and management of the NSITF left negative trails inimical to the development and progress for both the human and infrastructural components of the agency. The criminal investigations by the EFCC and the subsequent Administrative Panel of Enquiry revealed financial atrocities that would go down the annals of the history of the NSITF as shameful and monstrous.
“At a time, the national dailies and social media were awash with the news of corruption and deep sleaze by some members of the previous board in collusion with some top management staff of the agency who aided and abetted the looting of both government and private sector funds of about N48 billion from the N62 billion contributions between 2012 and 2015 of the NSITF.
“This resulted in about four board members including the last chairman being arraigned and charged to court by the EFCC. Some monies have been paid back to the treasury and about 37 houses are under forfeiture.
“The administrative panel report also indicted some board members and NSITF management officers. The affected officers have been shown the way out, and many more indicted officers by the auditor-general periodic report on the NSITF will soon be made to refund the monies illegally taken from the Fund.
“The auditor-general of the federation (AUGF) had to be requested by us in 2017 when it became clear that there was no audited account for the place for five years to undertake the constitutional periodic check,” he said.
The minister warned the new board against fixing remunerations for themselves like the previous board, adding that they were not expected to interfere in the running of the agency.
Aside from the board chairman, whose appointment was ratified by the presidency on the recommendation of the minister, other members are drawn from the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), the NLC, a representative each from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Others are three executive directors appointed pursuant to Section 7 of the enabling Act, as well as the managing director.
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