James Ojo and Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Activities at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, were grounded for hours, yesterday, as members of the organised Labour continued their protest against Dr. Chris Ngige, minister of labour and employment, even as Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) admonished President Muhammadu Buhari to conduct a psychiatric test on his cabinet members to ascertain their mental stability.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)-led by its president, Ayuba Wabba, had taken to the streets to protest “unwarranted attack” on workers who went to picket Dr. Ngige’s Asokoro residence last week.
The minister was accused of misleading the president on reasons for the delayed inauguration of the board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
Addressing the rally, Wabba said the protest was not against the NSITF board but the attack on workers by thugs suspected to have been hired by the minister of labour and employment.
“The minister’s attitude was against international best practices as well as the ILO conventions and even Nigeria Constitution that guarantee the right of workers to protest and picking.
“Instead of Mr. Ngige to dialogue with us, he resorted to hiring thugs to attack us. We are not here today because the NSITF board has been inaugurated. But our concerned right now is the attack on our members. We are saying that Ngige is not fit for a public office and president Buhari should do the needful before such a man destroy his government.”
Prof. Ogunyemi said the call to conduct psychiatric examination became necessary due to the ongoing fracas between workers and the minister who ordinarily should understand the working of labour.
“ASUU, as a union, condemn this attack on workers by a man who should protect and defence them. To say the least, we lost confidence in him.
“We are also calling on President Buhari to conduct a psychiatric test on each of his cabinet members to ascertain their mental stability to save the country an embarrassment as this.”
President of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Marwan Mustapha Adamu called for an urgent investigation with a view to bringing to book the hired thugs who attacked and caused various degrees of injuries on workers.
Marwan said the national protest/picketing was to show to Nigerians and the world that Labour would always stand for her right.
He said the organised labour has resolved to embarrass the minister anytime he is seen both within and outside the country.
The workers came with placards with difference inscriptions including “Ngige must go”, “He is not qualified to be a doctor but a native doctor,” “Ngige, face of violence cabal in Buhari government”, “How long can a public officer go before he is sack.”
Notwithstanding the opposition, Ngige inaugurated the Board of NSITF, at the State House Conference Centre, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The board is headed by Austin Enajemo-Isire, a Chartered Accountant, professional Insurance Executive and Banker.
The NLC was represented at the inauguration ceremony by Waheed Adeyanju and Ibrahim Khaleel. Secretary of the committee is Mrs. Ijeoma Okoronkwo.
Names of other board members include Mr. Olawale, Osuolale Timothy (NECA), Dr. Mohammed Yinusa, Dr. Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, Mrs. Dutse Aminu (CBN).
Others are Mr. Jasper Azutalam, Executive Director, Finance, Mr Tijani Suleiman, Executive Admin, Mrs Kemi Nelson, Executive Director, Operations and Mr. Ade Bayo Somefun, Managing Director & Chief Executive.
President Buhari had backed the minister regarding the replacement of ex-labour leader, Frank Kokori, as head of the NSITF with Enajemo-Isire.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in a statement described the move as part of the special work plan approved for the minister by President Buhari.
Kokori has been appointed head of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), a diploma awarding labour institution.
Wabba, had been engaged in a war of words with Ngige over the displacement of Kokori.
The dispute degenerated to disruption of an earlier scheduled inauguration ceremony at the minister’s office and the picketing of his residence.
In his remarks, Ngige recalled the fraud uncovered under the past NSITF Board and being investigated by anti-graft agencies, hence the need to appoint a new set of board members.
He charged the new appointees to leave the day-to-day running of NSITF to the Executive Directors, and not award contracts or review upwards their remunerations and allowances by themselves.
He stated that nonetheless, the Board should always be made aware of whatever the Tenders Board of the NSITF was doing, in order to enhance checks and balances in the system.
The minister commended the current management of the NSITF led by Adebayo Somefun, for improving the fortunes of the Fund and implementing its statutory mandate, but enjoined it to work in harmony with the new Board to continually improve staff welfare and other indices needed to make the Fund function optimally.
“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 development and progress for both the human and infrastructural components of the Agency.
“The criminal investigations by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the subsequent Administrative Panel of Enquiry investigations revealed financial atrocities that would go down the annals of history of the NSITF as shameful and monstrous. At a time, the national dailies and social media were agog with the news of corruption and deep sleaze by some members of the previous Board in collusion with some top Management Staffof 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 – 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 Government Treasury and about 37 Houses are now under forfeiture. The Administrative Panel report also indicted some Board members and NSITF Management Officers. The affected Officers have now been shown the way out, and many more indicted Officers by the Auditor General’s 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, past to undertake the Constitutional periodic check.
Ngige enjoined the members to ensure proper conduct of the affairs of the Agency to “restore the confidence of the Nigerian Public in the administration of the fund collected for the execution of the Employees’ Compensation Act (ECA), 2010 which is now the major mandate of the Fund, especially in view of the fact that it is the funds contributed by the Public and Private Sectors to execute this mandate. These contributions are strictly speaking Employers’ Fund which they contributed to purchase an Insurance package for their Employees. In both would-be beneficiaries, i.e. the Employees and employers should be concerned about the monies used in running the operations of the Fund.”
He urged them to be mindful of the fact that their function and operations were regulated by various Federal Government circulars. “You are to execute the general policy formulation for the implementation of the ECA by the Management team of the NSITF. Be mindful of the general principle which states that nominal board members are not to be involved in the day – to – day running of the Fund,” he urged.
In terms of remuneration, Ngige said the Board remuneration has been clearly spelt out as to what to be paid for Board Meetings and for travels both within and outside the country while salaries and emoluments of staff members fixed by the Board but subject to the ratification by the supervising ministry and subsequent confirmation of the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission.