By Victor Young & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—Veteran Labour leader, Chief Frank Ovie Kokori, yesterday, disagreed with the Presidency over his appointement as Chairman of the board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF.
The Presidency had, weekend, issued a statement saying Kokori was only appointed as Chairman of the board of Michael Imoudu Institute for Labour Studies and not the NSITF.
But reacting, yesterday, Kokori said: “I first heard about the appointment through an online medium. Within two hours, Ngige called to congratulate me. Not long after, Chief Emeka Wogu, the immediate past Minister of Labour and Employment, also called to congratulate me.
‘’Within that week, Ngige invited me to a dinner. I went with my son to the dinner. We discussed the inauguration and other things concerning the fund.
‘’When President Buhari, returned, Ngige called me to say, now that the President has come back, let me get clearance from him because you know that the man that appointed you was acting president. That took about three weeks.
‘’After that, he called to say that the President said he should inaugurate me. It was from then on the cabal in the Presidency took over because they are afraid that I am going to unearth a lot of things that have been going on. I can tell you that they have spent over N2 billion to ensure that I am not inaugurated chairman of the board.
‘’On June 12, 2018, I asked President Buhari why I was not inaugurated, he asked one of his aides, one Seriki, to see to it that I was inaugurated as chairman of the board. But the cabal refused to have me inaugurated.
‘’Look, if at the beginning I was named chairman of the Governing Council of Michael Imoudu National Institute of Labour Studies, MINILS, I would gladly accept. But I was appointed chairman of the NSITF board by the then acting President, Yemi Osinbajo.
‘’But the cabal in the Presidency, including one contractor of NNDC in Delta, another of my friend and a leading figure in the June 12, 1993, struggle(names withheld), are involved in the conspiracy to stop me from being inaugurated.”
Speaking on the issue yesterday, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said the clarification from Femi Adesina was very unfortunate, since it was coming rather too late.
He said: ‘’I think they are being economical with the truth. You can recall that on March 17, through the NTA, it was announced that Kokori has been replaced as NSITF board chairman and named as Chairman of the Michael Imoudu Labour institute Governing Board.
‘’You cannot replace somebody you have not appointed in the first place. This matter was on the table for over two years. We have written several letters for him to be inaugurated, nobody said he was never appointed. If they are afraid of Kokori’s integrity, they should come out clean.
‘’In fact, I am aware that Ngige met Kokori over four times on the issues of inauguration. In July last year, a committee was actually set up to inaugurate the board. It was at that point that Ngige wrote a memo to the President that with Kokori as the chairman, labour would have three persons on the board, which they are not comfortable to with.
‘’Ngige actually sent the name of Kokori to the DSS for screening ahead of the inauguration. But if you said because Kokori is a man of integrity, and cannot be bent, it is alright. We thought that a government that is fighting corruption should have Kokori on board.
‘’It is not also correct that the fund is 100 per cent government. It is false because employers contribute to the fund for the social security of workers. That is why it is a tripartite institution.’’
On why the NLC nominated Chief Kokori, Wabba said: “No, we never nominated Kokori. Let me tell you, I have repeated this severally, our two nominees were the Treasurer and the Trustee.
‘’Kokori was nominated on his personal merit to the Presidential Committee headed by the Vice President, that nominated people into over 500 boards.
“Through that process, Ngige was appointed as Chairman of NDE. It was the same Ngige that told us that Kokori has been appointed into the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund.
‘’He is not our nominee but we thought that having nominated him from the rank and file of labour, we should also find out why they want to delay the inauguration of the Board.
“All the other 500 boards have been inaugurated. All of the appointments were done the same time. In fact, the three executive directors and managing director were appointed through the same process.
“We have said it several times that we were not even aware that he was appointed but having appointed him, they can’t treat him shabbily because he is from labour.”
From The Presidency
Meanwhile, the Presidency issued what it described as clarification on the issue yesterday, saying Mr. Austin Enejamo-Isire was the person actually appointed to head the NSITF Board.
In a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, the Presidency stated that all actions taken by the Minister in resuscitation of the fund as well as the administrative probe panel had President Buhari’s approval.
The statement, entitled “Facts of the matter, by Presidency”, read: “Following the disagreement between the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment and the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, over the appointment of chairman of the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), the Presidency wishes to clarify as follows: “That the NSITF is a hundred per cent, 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 organization 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 bedeviled and riddled with corruption between 2012 and 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 currently being prosecuted by the EFCC.
“All actions taken by the 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 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 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 April 18, 2017.
“Others also approved as Non-Executive Directors are two members to represent the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, two members to represent the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, and one 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 (today) by the 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 Minister of Labour and Employment to chair the board of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), a diploma awarding labour institution.
“Finally, the Presidency has noted with deep concern and regrets, the events that culminated in a skirmish at the private residence of the Minister of Labour and Employment, and condemns it, 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, as 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. “
NUPENG slams Presidency over Kokori
Also, reacting, President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Prince Williams Akporeha, said the claim by the Presidency that Kokori was never appointed was a lie from the pit of hell, alleging that it was orchestrated by Ngige to achieve a predetermined agenda.
He said: ‘’The claims by the Presidency that Kokori was never appointed are lies from the pit of hell. It is part of the conspiracy by the cabal that does not want Kokori because of what he stands for – integrity, honesty, transparency and straightforwardness.
‘’Can Ngige swear that he never congratulated Kokori over his appointment? Can Ngige swear that he never met with Kokori for about four times on the issue of his inauguration? Can Ngige swear that he never sent Kokori’s name to DSS for screening ahead of the inauguration?
‘’Look, the statement by the Presidency that Kokori was never appointed was orchestrated by Ngige for his personal aggrandizement.”