There appears to be no sign of a let up in the face off between a former labour leader, Comrade Frank Kokori and Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige over the non-inauguration of board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
Kokori was appointed as board chairman of NSITF in 2017 by the federal government but was not sworn-in by the labour minister as required by law.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo named the board in October, 2017 in his capacity as acting president, with Kokori as the chairman.
The former labour leader however said the minister’s refusal to inaugurate him as the board’s chair bordered on certain illegal activities which he (Ngige) perpetrated in the agency.
Specifically, he laid a slew of fraudulent activities against Ngige.
This is coming as the Presidency said it the former labour leader was not its nominee for the board’s chair, even as it said the NSITF board would be inaugurated today by the minister.
Recently, Ngige claimed that by the Act establishing the NSITF, the power to recommend a board chairman for the president resided solely in him as the minister.
However, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) insisted Kokori must be sworn-in as NSITF board chairman.
To press home its demand, the labour leaders stormed the Abuja residence of the minister last Wednesday to ‘embarrass him’ but were beaten up by suspected thugs.
But in an exclusive telephone interview with our correspondent before the Presidency’s clarification, Kokori said the primary reason the minister was adamant in swearing him in as the substantive board chair, was due to some alleged heist of unspeakable proportions that Ngige committed as the “sole-administrator of NSITF.”
Kokori accused the minister of collecting bribes from his cronies and recruited hundreds of people at the NSITF without a constituted board in place.
“Ngige, without the NSITF board, is now the sole administrator. He employed people at his will, may be 300 today, the next day 400 from his cronies and friends. People paid money to him; he (Ngige) made a lot of money from people.”
Kokori, who described himself as a Nigerian patriot with integrity and honour, equally accused Ngige of inducing staff at NSITF to present expensive SUVs to him.
“Ngige does a lot of terrible things as minister. He wanted to secretly inaugurate the board. That was when the NLC and all the oil unions combined to stop that inauguration. He is a bad man; Ngige is evil.”
The veteran labour leader who said he used his entire youthful life fighting injustice and oppression under the military juntas in Nigeria, which earned him lots of deprivation, insisted Ngige deliberately refused to swear him in because “he (Ngige) feared that I might undo all the horrible and illegal activities he carried out as minister of labour at NSITF.”
Lending credence to Kokori’s allegations, a source at the NLC confided in our correspondent that the minister was allegedly trying to compromise the system, a development labour brought to the presidency’s attention.
The source said: “In a letter with reference number: NLC/NS/PO/A.1, dated 15 December, 2017, addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), entitled: “Non-Swearing-in of Board of NSITF and other Matters,” the NLC drew the attention of the SGF to the continuous non-inauguration of the NSITF board three months after the government had appointed the chairman of the board.
According to the NLC source, “There are underhand dealings in NSITF, in which Ngige is alleged to be involved in.
“In a petition to President Buhari, dated March 20, 2018, the NLC President Ayuba Wabba, listed some of the allegations to include those bordering on hasty recruitment of hundreds of people at the insistence of the honourable minister; pressure for approval of N200 million for induction training of these new recruitments; procurement/monetisation of jeeps for office of the honourable minister and minister of state.”
Ngige slams NLC
However, in his response, Ngige said all the allegations were false.
Speaking through his Special Adviser on Media Ngige Nwachukwu, the minister told our correspondent that the fury from the NLC and Kokori towards him was primarily due to his “breaking of the NLC’s stranglehold on the NSITF,” which he described as a “cash cow” that the former wants to continually milk dry.
He said: “The NLC had a stranglehold on NSITF because the parastatal was their cash cow. In fact, the monumental fraud at NSITF involving the sum of N62 billion; part of the stolen money was used to fund the election of Ayuba Wabba, NLC president. That is why they want to foist Frank Kokori on NSITF board so that they can continue to milk the place dry.
“But all that has stopped. EFCC alone cannot adequately investigate the fraud at NSITF. That was why Dr. Ngige set up a committee to probe the corruption that was perpetrated by the previous chair of the parastatal and others.”
Ngige described Kokori as a “thug” who hauled stones at the minister’s residence.
He, however, admitted that employments were made by the federal government from across the country to curb the “frivolous spending by NSITF on consultants drawing huge fees from the agency.
“Professionals like accountants and lawyers were recruited and trained so as to curb the frivolous spending of billions of naira on consultants by NSITF. Wabba is just a nurse and does not really understand the workings of the NSITF.
“President Buhari gave the labour minister a mandate to reposition NSITF for optimum productivity, and that is what he has done,” Ngige said.
Presidency drops Kokori
Meanwhile, the Presidency has disowned Kokori as chairman-nominee of the NSITF board, and his place upheld Mr Austin Enejamo-Isire .
The board, it said, would be inaugurated today.
In a statement issued Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media, Femi Adesina, said the position of the labour minister that a new person had been appointed to chair the board had the backing of the president.
The statement read in parts: “Following the disagreement between the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment and the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) over the appointment of the Chairman of the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), the Presidency wishes to clarify as follows:
“A. That the NSITF is a hundred percent; Federal Government of Nigeria owned insurance parastatal, under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, designed for the role of insuring workers (employees) in the public and private sectors.
“The organisation is empowered by law to implement the Employee Compensation Act (ECA) 2010 with mandate to insure workers and pay them compensation for accidents, deaths and injuries in the course of work.
“The NSITF was bedevilled and 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 the NSITF are presently being prosecuted by the EFCC.
“All actions taken by the honourable 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 honourable minister by Mr. President.
“The appointment of the chairman of this board, which is 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 hon. minister.
“Mr Austin Enejamo-Isire, a chartered accountant, Fellow, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and renowned Insurance expert, senior member, Chartered Institute of Insurance of Nigeria (CIIN), Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) and Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) was approved by Mr President for this position.
“Also approved by Mr. President were the managing director and three executive directors who had assumed duties since 18 April 2017.’’
The statement further said others also approved as non-executive directors were two members to represent the NLC and two members to represent the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA).
The approval, Adesina said, also included a member each to represent the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
“Members of this board are to be formally inaugurated at 9 a.m. on Monday, May 13, 2019 by the hon. minister of labour and employment at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, Abuja,” it further stated.
On Kokori, he said the veteran labour leader had also been appointed on the recommendation of the minister to chair the board of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), a diploma awarding labour institution.
It said: “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 (MINILS), a diploma awarding labour institution.’’
The Presidency expressed dismay over the events culminating in a skirmish at the private residence of the minister and condemned same in its entirety.
“However, in the spirit of reconciliation, the Presidency appeals for calm from the NLC and the ministry of labour and employment officials.
“There are ongoing efforts to reconcile the NLC leadership with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, led by their minister who has doggedly been fighting the cause of Nigerian workers whenever their issue is discussed by government, the latest being the enactment of the new National Minimum Wage Act 2019,” the statement further said.