• Narrates how he escaped blockade to attend FEC meeting
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
The organized labour, led by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, on Wednesday, picketed the private residence of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in Asokoro, Abuja. The protesters went with two tanker trucks. The protesters allegedly blocked the entrance into the Minister’s residence and the development snowballed into fracas with suspected thugs. In this interview, Ngige says he will drag the NLC to court for alleged arson against him and his family.
You were accused of unleashing thugs on the NLC that came to picket your house. What really happened?
Well, I just read newspapers today (Thursday) and I saw the story. It is a misleading story because the scenario that emerged yesterday (Wednesday) was that I was woken up around 5am by my wife who reported to me that our security guards were having problem with some strange fellows at the gate house. And that some people were also on the walls of the house; that they arrived there by 4:30am.
When the security people accosted them, they discovered that it was the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress himself that came physically with two tankers; one laden with petroleum, the second half empty. One was put at the gate of my house and the second at the gate of my neighbour’s house.
When I heard the story, it was very strange. I looked from upstairs and I saw that the tankers were actually blocking the entrance to my house. I came down and asked for the chief detail who told me the whole story. And it emerged that they even had a scuffle with the President of the NLC when they were struggling for the keys of the tankers. So I went back and made calls to the FCT Commissioner of Police, Director of SSS and the Federal Road Safety Commission to see if they could move the vehicles.
Picketing does not mean that you go to people’s private residence because you don’t know who occupies there. For example in my home, my wife, my children and the children of my domestic staff and security personnel were trapped. My neighbour, his wife and children couldn’t go out. It is obstruction; it is against the law of the country. Then putting a tanker with petrol is arson, the place could have caught fire, the entire street could have been on fire. I don’t know what to say. That is not trade unionism. Trade unionism means you dialogue, you discuss, you talk. That is why we call it social dialogue because you must continue to talk. If you are in government, you continue to talk; if you are labour, you continue to talk with your employer and if you are employers, you continue engaging them.
So, I was surprised to read about thugs and people hospitalised, people beaten. I have tried to do investigations and, from my preliminary enquiry and the reports I got, it looks like the NLC people disagreed with the people they brought to my house. I understand that they were contracted to work till 10am which is FEC time, the aim being to obstruct me from going to Council. I left my house at 8 o’clock, a friend picked me up and I was able to make it to Council.
So, I am very very distraught, my family is traumatised, the people in my house are traumatised, my domestic staff and their families are traumatised; even my neighbour and his wife couldn’t do their business for the day. Those tankers were removed around 6pm.
Are you planning to take any action against the NLC?
My neighbour says he is going to take legal action. I will also take legal action, illegal actions are actionable; nobody is above the law. Their grouse is the inauguration of the NSITF Board. We had fixed the date for April 18 and they invaded the place and disrupted the function. We had to postpone the function and said we were going to fix another date for the inauguration but, since then, they have been maligning my character and integrity because I am the Labour Minister. And they forget that according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention, I am what they refer to as the competent authority. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mr. Secretary to the Government of the Federation will not come and do labour matters. But, it is an obtuse thing we have here.
The labour people, led by Wabba, feel that they are secondary arm of government and he answers President of NLC, so he equates himself with the President of Nigeria. But there is only one sovereign authority of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and, for today, by the grace of God, is President Muhammadu Buhari. The Act setting up the NSITF gave labour two nominees, private sector under NECA two nominees. Labour appropriated the two for NLC and made a nomination and government has also made a nomination. What we are doing now is that we have proposed and the government has approved a fit and neutral person, not a government officer, not a labour coloured man and not a private sector man. That is what obtains in tripartite arrangement and we exhibited it for you all to see under the national minimum wage tripartite committee.
Ms. Amal Pepple is a neutral person that has experience and background as a former permanent secretary, former minister of housing, former head of service of the federation and even a former clerk of the Senate. So she was a round peg in a round hole. We are also going to put a square peg in a square hole. We are going to go ahead and inaugurate the board, we will not have any further distractions on this and we are consulting to fix a date for the inauguration immediately.
Does it mean that Chief Kokori is not a neutral person?
I did not recommend him. I am the minister permitted by law to do that recommendation and I am telling you unequivocally that I did not recommend him, simple.
Do you have anything personal against Kokori?
Nothing! I am following the law. I cannot recommend a labour coloured person. I did not recommend him and I am not foolish to do so. And if I am not foolish to do so, NLC should not armtwist me, blackmail me into submission. I am not a man who will submit to blackmail.
Were you summoned to the Villa because of the matter?
No. Mr. President did not summon me. I came for a meeting and I have finished my meeting and I am going.