The controversy trailing the proposed Inauguration of the board of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, has assumed an alarming proportion with the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba and the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige at each other’s jugular over the refusal of the latter to inaugurate the board with Chief Frank Kokori as chairman.
It would be recalled that Ngige, had arranged to inaugurate the board of the parastatal three weeks ago, but the name of Frank Kokori whom the presidency allegedly announced to chair the board was not included in the list of those to be inaugurated.
The leadership of the NLC led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba raised the alarm over what the labour leader considered as glaring oppression against Kokori, an erstwhile National Secretary of NUPENG in the days of Abacha administration.
Kokori was reported to have been announced by the presidency as chairman of the board membership when it was constituted by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who was then acting for the President.
Ngige reportedly replaced Kokori with one Austin Isire, an insurance expert, as chairman of the board, while he announced Kokori as the new board chairman of the Michael Imoudu National Labour Institute, Ilorin, Kwara State.
Wabba was reported to have mobilized to the ministry where the proposed Inauguration was to be held, and as a result, the exercise was postponed indefinitely.
Since then it has been war of words between the NLC President and the Minister, with Wabba threatening to call out Labour for mass protest should Ngige go ahead with the inauguration without Frank Kokori as chairman of the board.
Wabba issued this threat when he addressed a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, accusing the Minister of trying to perpetuate himself as a sole administrator of the NSITF board, adding that Labour would not accept it.
He said: “It is clear that the minister of labour and employment is adamant on perpetually appropriating the NSITF in a sole proprietorship.
“Nigerian workers reject the manifest intent of Chris Ngige to continue to run the NSITF as a sole administrator.”
Mr. Wabba denied alleged prompting of the appointment of Kokori as chairman of the NSITF board, adding that “Frank Kokori’s appointment by President Buhari was without any prompting by the NLC.”
Reacting to the allegation of the NLC president, Mr. Ngige vowed to remain on the path of law on the matter, stressing that NLC leadership us free to take any action including picketing the ministry.
The minister’s position which was contained in a statement by his special assistant on media, Mr. Ubidiwe Chukwuku, described the NLC president’s press conference as a feeble attempt to wriggle out of shame and illegality.
He said: “President of the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC) Comrade Ayuba Wabba’s press conference is a feeble attempt to wriggle out of shame and illegality, vowing to remain unshaken on the part of the law.
“The NLC can go ahead and picket the Ministry of labour and Employment and allied interests a million times, but I want to assure them that Ngige will remain on the side of the law,”
The Minister further explained that the extant law setting up the NSITF empowers him to nominate a neutral, fit and proper person to the President for appointment as chairman of the board, adding that the Minister has done just that by nominating Mr. Isire for the President’s appointment as the board chairman.
He further alleged that as a former Labour leader, Kokori cannot be said to be neutral, adding that the nomination of Kokori was made possible by the NLC President.
“Kokori, a labour leader, was nominated by Ayuba Waba and his journey men to continue their vicious stranglehold on the NSITF and her sister parastatal, Trust Fund Pension where whoever is the chairman of the NISTF automatically becomes chairman”, the minister alleged.