By Andy Chukwu
The Organized Labour on Thursday declared total war against Dr. Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment, over the attack by suspected thugs on union members that protested in the minister’s private residence in Abuja on Wednesday.
Ayuba Wabba, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), isaid the the Congress has resolved and directed workers to attack Ngige and any member of his family anywhere they were sighted.
Wabba said that instruction had been given to workers at airports to attack Ngige and members of his family when sighted, adding that the Minister had been reported to national and international Labour organizations.
Wabba said that Labour was mobilized for a national protest that will take place in Abuja on Monday next week.
“We are coming prepared for him. The fundamental right of people to protest and assemble is sacrosanct. The Minister tried to undermine the rights of workers. His son attacked the workers. “Anywhere and everywhere himself or members of his family is seen by workers, even at the airport where we have our workers, he should be attacked.
“We have formally reported to security agencies and given them the Police and the DSS,” Wabba said.
But Nigige, in response has declared that he will not be blackmailed by the NLC’s insistence that ex-labour leader, Frank Kokori, be allowed to head the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) Board.
He has therefore said there will be no further distractions on the NSITF board as a new date was going to be fixed immediately for inauguration.
Ngige accused Wabba of equating himself to President Muhammadu Buhari because he answers president of NLC, and sees the NLC as the secondary arm of government.
The Minister said 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 is not neutral.
President 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, Ngige described the report as misleading and unfortunate, insisting that NLC led by, Wabba, were hooligans who he was going to sue for arson.
Ngige alleged that Wabba led people 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 traumatizing the occupants of both houses which included children, 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.
“Well, I just read the dailies today and I saw that story. It is a very fortunate misleading story because the scenario that emerged yesterday (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 SSS 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 is obstruction, it is against the law of the country. Then putting a tanker with petrol is arson, the place can be caught on fire, the entire street could have engulf on fire. I don’t know what 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 is traumatised, the people in my house are traumatised, my domestic staff with families are 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 is going to take 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 18th 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.
“The Labour people led by Wabba feels that they are 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, 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 was 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,” he said.
Asked if Kokori was not 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.”
Ngige said he has nothing personal against Kokori but was just obeying the law.
“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, blackmail me into a submission. I am not a man who will submit to blackmail and you will floor him, no!”he said.
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.