Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, has said he will not be blacked by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), insistence that ex-labour leader, Frank Kokori, be allowed to head the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
He has therefore said there will be no further distractions on the NSITF board as a new date is going to be fixed immediately for inauguration.
Ngige accused the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, of equating himself to President Muhammadu Buhari because he answers president of NLC, and sees the NLC as the secondary arm of government.
According to him, the provisions of Section 4(a) of the NSITF Act is very clear on the sole responsibility of the Minister of Labour and Employment to nominate a neutral, fit and proper person for the approval of the president for the chairmanship of the board.
He added that Kokori was not nominated because he was not neutral.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last month replaced Kokori with Austin Enajemo-Isire, a chartered accountant, professional insurance executive, and banker.
Speaking on the allegation that he sent thugs to attack workers at his house in Asokoro, the minister described the report as misleading and unfortunate, insisting that NLC led by Wabba, were people who he was going to sue for arson.
Ngige alleged that Wabba led people to his to his private residence at 4:30am on Wednesday morning and blocked both the entrance to his house and that of his neigbour with two tankers laden with petrol.
He said the workers did not only succeed in traumatising the occupants of both houses which included children. But they also succeeded in preventing his neigbour and his wife from doing their business for the day as they were prevented from leaving their home.
Ngige said: “Well, I just read the dailies today and I saw that story. It is a very fortunate and misleading story because the scenario that emerged on 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 neigbour’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, Director DSS and also the Federal Road Safety to see if they could move the vehicles.
“Picketing does not mean that you go to people’s private residence 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 neigbour, his wife and children couldn’t go out. It was obstruction; it was against the law of the country. Then putting a tanker with petrol is arson; the place can catch fire; the entire street could have been engulfed on fire. I don’t know what else 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. That is why we call it social dialogue because you must continue to talk if you are government; you continue to talk; if you are labour you continue to talk with your employer and if you are employers you continue engaging them.
“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 council time, the aim being to obstruct me from going to council. I left my house at 8 o’clock; a friend picked me up and I was able to make it to council.
“So, I am very, very distraught; my family was traumatised; the people in my house were traumatised; my domestic staff with their families were traumatised. Even my neigbour and his wife couldn’t do their business for the day. Those tankers were removed around 6pm.”
Asked if he was planning to take any action, the minister said: “My neigbour said he was going to take a 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 18 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. And they forget that according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention, I am what they refer to as the competent authority. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Secretary to the Government of the Federation will not come and do Labour matters. But, it is an obtuse thing we have here.
“Labour people led by Wabba feel that they are a secondary arm of government and he answers president of NLC; so he equates himself with the president of Nigeria. But there is only one sovereign authority of Federal Republic of Nigeria and for today by the grace of God, that is President Muhammadu Buhari.
“The act setting up the NSITF gave Labour two nominees, private sector under NECA two nominees. Labour appropriated the two for NLC and made a nomination and government has also made a nomination. What we are doing now is that we have proposed and the government has approved a fit and neutral person, not a government officer, not a labour-coloured man and not a private sector man. That is what obtains in tripartitism and we exhibited it for you all to see under the national minimum wage tripartite committee.
“Ms. Amal Pepple is a neutral person that has experience and background as a former permanent secretary, former Minister of Housing, former Head of Service of the federation and even a former clerk of the Senate. So, she is a round peg in a round hole. We are also going to put a square peg in a square hole. We are going to go ahead and inaugurate the board; we will not have any further distractions on this and we are consulting to fix a date for the inauguration immediately.”
Asked if Kokori was not a neutral person, Ngige responded: “I did not recommend him. I am the minister permitted by law to do that recommendation and I am telling you unequivocally that I did not recommend him, simple.”
Asked if he had anything personal against Kokori, he said: “Nothing. I am following the law. I cannot recommend a labour- coloured person; I did not recommend him and I am not foolish to do so. And if I am not foolish to do so, NLC should not arm twist me and blackmail me into a submission. I am not a man who will submit to blackmail and you will floor him, no!”
Asked if he was summoned to the Villa because of the matter, Ngige said: “No. Mr. President did not summon me. I came for a meeting and I have finished my meeting and I am going.”