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Abiola, Abacha ghosts rise as Labour fights for Kokori

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NLC President, Wabba

• Nine injured as thugs, labour clash at Ngige’s residence
• NLC vows to sustain protest over demand on NSITF board
• I didn’t unleash attackers, says minister
• Chairmanship of NSITF in contention
• History of democracy at war with beneficiaries

Memories of the struggle for Nigeria’s democracy, its nemesis, the late Gen. Sani Abacha and the martyrs who laid down their lives for the actualisation of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola’s June 12, 1993 mandate resonated yesterday as nine labour activists were severely injured while protesting the non-inauguration of the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

Frank Kokori, a former secretary-general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and a major arrowhead of the struggle for the actualisation of democracy in the country, had been nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari to chair the NSITF.

But the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige has repeatedly refused to inaugurate the board, prompting public outcry.

And in a protest that could be likened to the struggle between the history of democracy and its beneficiaries, while picketing the residence of Ngige, members of the NLC were attacked by thugs, leaving nine of them suffering varying degrees of injuries.

The picketing started around 5:00 a.m. when trucks were used to block the minister’s residence located on Justice Sowemimo Street, Asokoro, Abuja.

The NLC and Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) had on Tuesday vowed to carry out the protest, accusing Ngige of refusing to inaugurate the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

The inauguration was postponed two weeks ago, with labour unions decrying the removal of Chief Frank Kokori as chairman. NLC had given Ngige an ultimatum to inaugurate the board with Kokori as chairman. The deadline expired May 1.

“We will make the industrial space very uncomfortable for him as we will picket him anywhere we see him,” NLC President Ayuba Wabba had said, noting that labour would continue to resist the minster’s alleged perpetuation of himself as sole administrator of NSITF, four years after the last board was dissolved.

The thugs pounced on the protesters, forcing them to leave the premises.

Two of the injured protesters were admitted at the intensive care unit of the National Hospital, Abuja.

There are reported moves by the NLC to pass a vote of no confidence in Ngige and demand his removal from office when its Central Working Committee meets today. The recommendation might be passed to other organs of the congress for ratification before it is presented to President Buhari.

Wabba, who led other high-ranking members of the congress and NUPENG, condemned the attack. “The act of today is barbaric, where maximum force has been used on workers, and live bullets used on them. Whereas workers went with bare hands, the thugs were carrying weapons and arms. As I talk to you, we have four people in the hospital apart from those that were injured by bullets,” he said.

Wabba vowed that the NLC would mobilise more workers to continue the protest. According to him, “We are going to invite our largest organ by tomorrow. We are also going to decide to mobilise on a larger scale of action. He has no reason to be called minister of labour. He is a lord unto himself.

“We have nothing to do with him. And under the circumstance, except Mr. President intervenes, workers are certainly going to down tools. That is why we are calling our Central Working Committee.”

He added: “It has never been so bad where the minister of labour would bring thugs to attack workers. That has never been heard. It is on record and everybody has seen it.

“That is our position. We are not happy. Mr. President must act on this immediately. Workers voted and supported him. Ngige cannot, under any circumstance, assume the powers of the president. That cannot be the case.”

NUPENG President William Apkoreha said two of the union’s members were unaccounted for, following the incident. “We were embarking on a peaceful protest. Two of my members are missing. I cannot fold my arms. We will maintain sanity until midnight. If we do not hear a word from them, then all oil and gas workers in the country will enter the street to look for their members,” he said.

The minister however has denied unleashing thugs on the protesters.

A statement by Mr. Nwachukwu Obidiwe, his special assistant on media, reads: “The private residence of the minister of labour was, early this morning, 4:00 a.m., invaded by the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, and his members.

“These members among whom are tanker drivers, some with ferocious looks, also barricaded the gate to the residence of the minister with two long trucks. They chanted war songs and prevented the minister, his wife, children and other aides from either leaving or gaining access to the compound.

“Comrade Wabba later left and returned with re-enforcement. The presence of these strange faces and mounting war songs sent heavy panic on the family members, especially children and female aides, who thought the sudden early morning assemblage was of the underworld. Some of these unknown faces and the two tanker lorries blocking the entrance to the house are still there as I send this press statement.

“I therefore wish to state that contrary to reports being mischievously circulated in the media by the NLC president, the minister and his family who are in trauma did not invite thugs. He has no knowledge of it, or has a hand in the alleged manhandling of any worker.”

Ngige has always insisted he has the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to redeploy Kokori to the Michael Imodu National Institute of Labour Studies, Ilorin, Kwara State, where he (Kokori) would bring his expertise to bear in the training of unionists. Consequently, he named Mr. Austine Enajemo-Isere as new chair of the NSITF board.

Both the Presidency and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, have remained silent on the matter.

Wabba however claimed Vice President Yemi Osinbajo told him during the May Day celebration in Abuja, which Ngige did not attend, that Kokori remained the chair of the NSITF.


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