In my opinion as a citizen, I can say that the recent picketing of the residence of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, under the watchful eyes of the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), smacks of an act of impunity that cast a negative shadow on the otherwise positive steadfastness of the apex labour union.
The picketing of the House of the Minister was ostensibly aimed at pressing him, in the NLC logic, from his residence, to do their bidding against a government decision on the appointment of the Chairman of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
Picketing of the entrance to the premises of organisations to draw attention to grievances labour might have against their employers is recognized by the rules of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is unheard of, and probably a new low, for the NLC to picket the family residence of the Minister.
The Minister was widely quoted saying, “Putting a tanker with petrol…that is arson. The entire street could have been engulfed with fire,” he recalled lamentably.
Probably the real purpose of the picketing of his house, was to intimidate the Minister, his wife, children and any visitors he might have that day were not only exposed to undue fear, but were probably put under “false imprisonment,” which is a breach of their freedom of movement.
The psychological injury and palpitation those who were held captive in the Ngige residence suffered from courtesy of the siege by the NLC, is a direct impact of the erosion of responsible and disciplined unionism exhibited by the NLC that day.
The Minister himself described his traumatic experience thus: “In my own home, my wife, some of my children, my cooks and my stewards were all trapped. My neighbour also couldn’t go to work. That is obstruction. It is against the law of the land,” he recalled.
The Minister who was a former governor of Anambra state explained his traumatic sad experience on that day further, “I was speechless. I am very distraught, my family is traumatized. All of the people in my compound are traumatized. Some of the cooks and policemen who have families, aides who have families in that compound are traumatized.”
The disorderly and riotous atmosphere created by the action of the NLC on that heinous occasion, shows evidence of impunity in the character of the NLC that became obvious to the Nigerian public that hitherto almost blindly respond to appeal for solidarity from Nigerians whenever the labour body had issues that seem to serve the public interest.
For once, the action of the NLC was widely criticized, condemned and rejected by various groups that should normally show unalloyed loyalty, solidarity and even strong support to the National Labour Congress in its previous agitations and resistance to popular government policies or unjust treatment of workers by their employers anywhere in the country.
In a press statement it issued in Warri, Delta State, a Non-Governmental Organisation, the Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy (VATLAD), did not mince words in out rightly condemning the NLC for what its cadres did at the residence of the Minister. It particularly criticized the violence that led to injuries, and described the picketing as unlawful and contrary to the provisions of the Trade Dispute Act of Nigeria. It also constituted a gross violation of the Minister’s right to privacy.
The National President of VATLAD, Comrade Igbini Emmanuel, who signed the press statement, noted that “Section 37 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended, guarantees the right to privacy and family life of Dr. Chris Ngige and indeed all Nigerians including the leaders of the NLC. This right must at all times be respected except if otherwise directed by a competent Court of law.”
The Non-governmental Organisation noted that the NLC should have limited its picketing to the offices of the Minister and that of any other government establishment they felt has something to do with the inauguration of Comrade Frank Kokori as Chairman of the Governing Board of the NSITF.
The display of disorderly labour activism at the abode of Labour and Employment Minister Ngige by the NLC that day, which disturbed the serenity and peace of the neighborhood, marks a watershed in the way millions of Nigerians perceive the NLC as a responsible body. It was a product of poor judgment and totally ill-conceived.
In a rare expression of consternation, a statement issued by Mr. Femi Adesina, the Senior Special Advisor to the President on Media and Publicity, the Presidency “noted with deep concern and regrets, the events that culminated in a skirmish at the private residence of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, and condemns it, in its entirety.” The statement appealed for calm as efforts were ongoing to reconcile the Minister “who has doggedly been fighting the cause of Nigerian workers” and the NLC.
It was the informed position of the Minister of Labour and Employment that prevailed as the Minister inaugurated the Board of NSITF on April 13, 2019, at the Banquet Hall of the State House. The Chairman of the Board is Chief Austin Enajemo-Isire.
Presidential Advisor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina said in a statement on the issue, “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.”
He explained further,”The appointment of the Chairman of this Board, Mr. Austin Enajemo-Isire, 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 Honourable Minister. Also approved by Mr. President were the Managing Director and three Executive Directors who had assumed duties since 18 April 2017.”
In exercising his prerogative of making such important appointments, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the appointment of Comrade Frank Kokori as the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Michael Imoudu Institute for Labour Studies.
By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta
Dambatta, a former director in the Federal Ministry of Finance, writes from A