The confrontation between Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over the leadership of the Board of National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) intrigued and bewildered Nigerians while it lasted. The conflict dated back to 2017 when the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo appointed a former labour activist, Frank Kokori, as the board’s chairman. But Ngige rejected the appointment, saying it was not in compliance with Section 4(a) of the NSITF Act, which he said prohibited the appointment of any person with interest in labour matters to chair the board.
Ngige then recommended Enejamo-Isire to the President to replace Kokori, which President Buhari approved last year. Since then, Kokori and NLC have insisted that Ngige swear in Kokori, former president of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) as chairman of NSITF board. On Wednesday last week, May 8, NLC President Ayuba Wabba led a protest to Ngige’s Asokoro, Abuja residence to press their demand for Kokori’s inauguration. They picketed Ngige’s house, and reports said suspected thugs hired by the minister attacked the protesters and inflicted injuries on them.
Wabba called the act “barbaric, where maximum force has been used on workers. And live bullets have been used on them. Whereas workers went with bare hands, the (thugs) were carrying weapons and arms. We have four people in the hospital apart from those that were injured by bullets.” Ngige denied the allegations, saying NLC members arrived at his residence at 4:30 a.m. He wondered how organized labour took its protest to his private home and caused psychological trauma to him, his family and his neighbours. Ngige said when cops accosted the labour unionists, they discovered that it was the NLC president himself that came with two tankers, one laden with petrol and the other one half-full. He said he immediately contacted the FCT Commissioner of Police and the Director of SSS as well the FRSC to see if the tankers could be removed.
While the altercation and media war raged on, the Presidency finally waded into the matter last Sunday, May 12. President’s spokesman Femi Adesina said NSITF is a hundred per cent Federal Government-owned insurance parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Labour’s supervision, and that it is designed for insuring workers in the public and private sectors. NSITF, Adesina said, is empowered by law to implement the Employee Compensation Act (ECA) 2010 with a mandate to insure workers and pay them compensation for accidents, deaths and injuries at work.
He said, “NSITF was riddled with corruption between 2012 – 2015, which resulted in a colossal loss and mismanagement of about N48 billion out of the total N62 billion contributions during the said period. These were contributions by the employers – viz government and the private sector for payment of compensation to workers and even to employers for loss of man-hours by their workers. This fraud has been investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the last Chairman and some members of the former board and some officials of NSITF are presently being prosecuted.
“All actions taken by the Minister of Labour and Employment towards the resuscitation and repositioning of this ailing agency, including the Administrative Panel of Inquiry into the affairs of NSITF and the suspension of the inauguration of the board in 2018 were part of the special work plan approved for the Minister by Mr. President.” The statement said Mr. Enejamo-Isire, a Chartered Accountant and Fellow, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) had been approved as the board chairman “in consonance with Sec. 4(a) of the NSITF Act CAP N88 of 2004 was also approved by Mr. President since 23rd July, 2018 on the recommendation of the Minister.”
If only this clarification from the presidency had come much earlier! Now that the board has been inaugurated, we urge all sides to sheath their swords and allow NSITF to carry out its very important mandate.