- Corruption, politics behind delay in board inauguration – Stakeholders
By UCHE CHRIS
What seemed a like a storm in tea cup a few weeks ago after the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, shelved the inauguration of the Board of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, snowballed into a major open and violent confrontation between the gladiators last week with several injuries. The minister had stopped the proposed inauguration on April 26, 2019 as workers allegedly besieged the venue to protest the exclusion of Mr. Frank Kokori, who was earlier designated as the chairman.
The crisis has been festering for over three years since the Dr. Chris Ngige assumed office in 2015 but blew open in the course of reconstituting the board of the NSITF. Ngige has been the sole administrator of the Fund since he dissolved Mrs. Ngozi Olejeme led board appointed by former President Jonathan on his assumption of office as minister. Olejeme and the former managing director of the agency, Mr. Umar Abubakar have been standing trial over alleged N13 billion fraud at the Federal High court Abuja.
However, the workers of the Fund are alleging that the looting of the Fund has continued unabated to the tune over N30 billion in the past three years and insist on accountability. The workers argued that only an independent board will be able to sanitise the rut in the agency and expose perpetrators.
With the present violent confrontation that was displayed last week the end of the matter may not be in sight as the NLC is threatening retaliatory action on the minister who was alleged to have unleashed thugs to brutalise workers who came to picket his house since he was no longer seen in the office. But the minister said that the workers had blocked his house with fuel tankers and threatened to set it on fire.
According the workers, the proposed chairman was dropped for no justifiable reasons at the last moment by the minister after the President had approval the nomination. Kokori was nominated by Vice president Yemi Osinbajo then as acting president, when President Buhari was away on medical tourism. Ngige, however, insists that he was chosen without his consent and knowledge and that Buhari has approved the substitution.
Mr Ayuba Wabba, NLC president, defended their action stressing that the minister’s action was an act of impunity.
“Kokori has not been informed that there is a new chairman of the board. The minister had earlier informed him that Mr President had appointed him as the chairman of the board and he had undergone all necessary security screening. But, three years since, they have refused to inaugurate the board due to one reason or the other and we can see today that they do not want somebody that is transparent to manage workers’ money for no just reason,” he said.
“Enough of one person administrator to manage our money and our resources because public office is public trust; let us not allow a situation where people will continue to feast on our resource and claim that they are actually fighting corruption.
“Corruption means that we can also interrogate the sole administrator that has been managing our money; that is why we are here to protest the injustice where people have been feasting on our money for three years and they do not want the board to be inaugurated,” he said.
“We want transparency and good governance. It is our money, we cannot sweep issues under the carpet; it is workers money and their social security, and we need to protect that money. We will be on standby until the minister does the needful,” he said.
Mr Ajibola Ibrahim, the Director, Human Resources in the Ministry of Labour and Employment said the minister was unavoidably absent because some members to be inaugurated were not on ground, thereby leading to rescheduling of the inauguration to a later date.
Mr Williams Apkoreha, President, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), said that the union would resist any attempt by the minister to secretly inaugurate the board. He said the union would mobilise Nigerian workers to resist the inauguration of the board if the minister failed to openly inaugurate the board that Mr President had approved.
A statement by the Assistant Director, Press in the Ministry, Rhoda Iliya said the postponement was to avoid the degeneration of the situation, where thugs were already manhandling some officers of the Ministry and policemen attached to the office of the Minister.
The statement further said the replacement of Comrade Frank Kokori with Mr. Austine Enajemo-Isere and his transfer to the Board of Micheal Imodu National Institute of Labour Studies (MINLS) Ilorin, a diploma awarding institution in Labour Relations as Chairman, followed due process and has the necessary presidential approval.
“The approval for this exercise was given by the appropriate approving authority which is the President and duly communicated to the Ministry of Labour and Employment. This is also in line with the Act establishing the NSITF which confers such powers on the President on the recommendation of the Hon. Minister.”
“The violent gatecrashing and the illegal forceful seizure of the conference room of the Honorable Minister this morning by thugs numbering hundreds and persons who clearly had no business with the inauguration of the board is totally unacceptable. Government therefore takes serious exception to the dishonourable actions of the NLC leadership and Comrade. Frank Kokori as well as his cohorts and warn that the Ministry will not tolerate a repeat of hooliganism clearly unknown to ethos of civilized unionism.”
Comrade Kokori is expected to report at his new chairmanship posting by Mr. President at the Micheal Imodu National Institute of Labour Studies, Ilorin , Kwara state where his experience is more relevant as the President has also appointed Mr. Austin Enejamo-Isere, an insurance executive and seasoned banker , chartered Accountant, fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria, senior member of Chartered Institute of Insurance(CIIN) as well as Chartered Institute of Taxation to bring his wealth of experience as the Chairman of the NSITF.
The statement finally warned that Government will not tolerate a situation where Labour Leaders challenge or vitiate the constitutional powers of the President over appointments
It was gathered that the workers’ action which began at about 4 am according to the spokesperson of the minister; however more activists joined the picketing at 7.30am, but security personnel from the Police, DSS, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, prevented them from gaining access to the minister’s residence. Trouble was said to have started an hour later after some people suspected to be thugs stormed the Minister’s residence in a white Toyota Hiace bus, dressed in black attire with an inscription on some of their shirts “Police Swat”.
Some of the others later came from another side of the street and joined them armed with stones, sticks, bottles and another weapon with which they descended on the picketers. At this point, the Police, DSS and NSCDC personnel watched helplessly while the thugs beat up the picketers. The suspected thugs damaged vehicles belonging to NLC, in the melee. Recall that NLC had given the Minister of Labour ultimatum to inaugurate the NSITF board with the veteran unionist, Chief Kokori as chairman before Workers Day, May 1.
However, the Minister in a statement through Special Assistant, Media, Nwachukwu Obidiwe, denied any attack by suspected thugs. According to the statement “The private residence of the Hon. Minister of labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige was early this morning (4 a.m.) invaded by the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba and his members.
These members among who are tanker drivers, some with ferocious looks, also barricaded the gate to the resident of the Hon. Minister with two long trucks. They chanted war songs and prevented the Hon. Minister, his wife, children and other aides from either leaving or gaining access to the compound.
The Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) was established vide Decree No. 73 of 1993 to succeed the defunct National Provident Fund (NPF), which had been in operation since 1961. Prior to the enactment of the Pension Reform Act in 2004, NSITF provided a Defined Benefit Scheme through Social Insurance method for employees in the Organized Private Sector. The Scheme covered contingencies of Old Age, Invalidity, Survivor and Emigration (for contributing members relocating permanently outside Nigeria).
The success of the defunct NSITF Scheme measured vide the huge pension assets transferred to Trustfund Pensions Plc – (the Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) set up by NSITF to cater for contributors to the defunct Scheme) pertinently positioned the Fund for the responsibility of implementing the Employees’ Compensation Act (ECA), 2010. In particular, Part 1 Section 2, sub-section (2) of the ECA, 2010 mandates NSITF Management Board to implement the Act as well as the fund created under Section 56 of the Act.