Labour leaders and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, might engage in another show down as the presidency sets to inaugurate the Austin Enejamo-Isire toady in Abuja.
The presidency had said the Minister of labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige had the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari in all the actions the minister had taken concerning the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, including the controversial appointment of Mr Austin Enejamo-Isire to “replace” Chief Frank Kokori as the chair of the board of the NSITF.
The Presidency added that a former labour leader, Kokori, on the other hand, had also been appointed by Buhari on the recommendation of Ngige to “chair the board of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies, a diploma-awarding labour institution.”
There had been controversy over the inauguration of the NSITF board after Ngige postponed the board’s inauguration on the day it was scheduled to hold on April 18, 2019.
Organized labour leaders, led by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, had kicked against the postponement and removal of Kokori as the chairman of the board.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had named the board in October 2017 as the Acting President, with Kokori as the chairman.
But the Presidency in a statement on Sunday by Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, said, “All actions taken by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment toward the resuscitation and repositioning of this ailing agency (NSITF), including the Administrative Panel of Inquiry into the affairs of the 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 appointment of the chairman of this board, which is in consonance with Section 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. Mr Austin Enejamo-Isire, a chartered accountant; Fellow, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and a renowned insurance expert; senior member, Chartered Institute of Insurance of Nigeria; Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria; and Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria was approved by Mr President for this position.”
He added, “Members of this board are to be formally inaugurated at 9am on Monday, May 13, 2019, by the Hon Minister of Labour and Employment at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, Abuja.
“Comrade Frank Kokori, our respected veteran labour leader, has Mr President’s immense respect and has also been appointed on the recommendation of the Hon. Minister of Labour and Employment to chair the board of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies, a diploma-awarding labour institution.”
But reacting to the FG’s statement, Kokori, who is a former General Secretary of NUPENG, said he would not accept the position offered by the government.
He said, “I will not accept it because I am not desperate. If I was offered that many years ago, that would be okay with my experience. I don’t have to go and teach in the classroom. I am just protecting the interest of Nigerian workers. When I retired 20 years ago, I should have gladly accepted the position of an instructor.”
Asked if he was comfortable with labour’s picketing of Ngige’s house and the attack on the NLC members during the protest, Kokori said labour was only living up to expectations as the defender of the oppressed.
He said, “I am an activist and I am still a labour leader and labour felt that I am being oppressed and decided to defend me in the absence of Federal Government’s response (to NSITF crisis). That is what they have done. Labour is there to defend the people.”
“Labour felt they should respond to injustice and victimization; that is what they are doing. Ironically, I am the person (being oppressed) and I am a labour activist. I support what they are doing.”
Also reacting to the development, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba, on Sunday said the Organised Labour would support Frank Kokori in whatever decision he took on appointment offered by the Federal Government.
Wabba said although the President had the power to appoint, the statement came too late.
He said, “Kokori should not be treated badly. We will stand by whatever decision he takes and we will stand by him. What I am saying is that government must accept that Kokori was appointed on merit. We are also supporting Kokori because he is one of us and we should not allow a situation where he would be treated like an orphan. Whatever position he takes, Organized Labour and NUPENG will support him. We will not abandon him.
“I have read the statement from the Presidency and we are happy that there is a response but the response is coming very late. This issue has been on the table for two and a half years. The boards of all Federal Government institutions were constituted almost at the same time. There was a presidential committee that said on the authority of the President, all FG institutions must be constituted, more than 500 in number.
He added, “We have seen the turn of event and Nigerian workers are not happy. This is not because things did not go the way we wanted but we thought that this should have come long before now. We don’t know what has changed the notion but the President has the power; that is not saying that labour will not communicate its position.
“Kokori is too straightforward to play ball. He was screened more than one and a half years ago. Government should have said that Kokori was appointed but there is reason now to swap him. The protest on Monday (today) will still go ahead. It is about the use of thugs on workers during the protest and to inaugurate the board.”
In its response, the President of Trade Union Congress, Bobboi Kaigama, said the Federal Government, with its power over appointment of political office holders, should have come out boldly instead of allowing the issue to degenerate into crisis.
He said, “As a party man, government appointed Kokori and decided to take it to someone else. TUC has no power over political appointment of anybody. Government created the body in the first place. It should have just come up with a bold position instead of allowing the issue to degenerate to the extent of name calling, fracas and so on.”