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NLC to protest on Monday against attack on members

Labour Minister marked for humiliation at airports

THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has disclosed plans to embark on a protest on Monday, May 13, in reaction to the violent treatment of its members who picketed the official residence of the minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, on Wednesday.

During a press briefing held at the Labour House, Abuja, after a meeting of its Central Working Committee (CWC), president of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said the planned protest “is going to be seriously massive” and the trade union is prepared for the labour minister.

The CWC insisted that the protest held by union members was lawful and described its violent disruption by thugs as undemocratic, repressive, and anti-workers. The committee called for a full investigation and prosecution of the thugs and their sponsor.

The disruption, Wabba noted, led to the damage of vehicles used to convey the protesters, and nine members of the Congress were admitted for treatment at various hospitals.

The NLC said its members at various airports, and those in all 163 member-countries of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), have been directed to disgrace the minister anytime he travels by air.

“The CWC resolved that they were ready to be killed by the thugs hired by Ngige, but this time around we should also tell him that he does not have the monopoly of violence. It is because we thought that in a civilised system, workers should be seen to respect the rule of law and respect the rule of engagement,” the Congress president said.

The NLC also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to make sure Ngige, whom they referred to as “a square peg in a round hole”, is one of the federal ministers who are not re-appointed into the cabinet.

Reacting to questions, Wabba stressed that Kokori was appointed on personal merits and the only problem is the labour minister wants to remain the fund’s sole administrator.

He said the protest will still be held even if the minister apologises for his conduct before Monday as a way to symbolically assert the workers’ right to peaceful assembly and to demonstrate.

In response to a question from The ICIR, the NLC president insisted the minister and his direct siblings, “anybody who answers his name”, will be disgraced at airports because he has tried to undermine the interest of workers, and the Congress learnt his son was also involved in attacking workers.

“Anywhere and everywhere that himself is seen by workers, they should raise the placard to remind him that he has not enjoyed the goodwill of workers,” he said.

He added that the law enforcement agencies, to whom complaints have been lodged, claimed that the security agents sighted at the scene of the Wednesday protest and who did nothing to protect the workers were not deployed to be there, “so possibly they could be his security guards”.

He said the Abuja police commissioner personally visited the attacked protesters admitted at the hospital.

Here’s the full statement of the labour leader:

An emergency meeting of the Central Working Committee, comprising presidents and general secretaries of all unions, met at Labour House, Abuja. The meeting reviewed the circumstances surrounding the refusal of the minister of labour, Dr Chris Ngige, to inaugurate the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, a body where NLC has substantial stake and by extension the people of Nigeria, and where also he has continued to run the place as a sole administrator for the past three years. After a directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to inaugurate the board alongside over 500 boards, as it stands today, only this board has not been inaugurated.

A lot of reasons have been adduced, and also a lot of controversies have been associated with such. The meeting reviewed also the decision of the congress this year to continue to engage the minister for failing to inaugurate this very important board of which the ultimatum that was given actually ended on the 1st of May, 2019. Clearly, it was part of the reason he couldn’t attend and celebrate the May day with the teeming workers of Nigeria.

The meeting similarly reviewed the decision of the picketing of the official residence of the minister and his office, noting that it was lawful as it was done along public thoroughfare, and also the labour law allows such picketing because he is a public officer occupying public office. And even the president of countries have tolerated the issue of picketing on such occasions. And therefore as the minister of labour, he knows that there is a clear provision in our law, for picketing, walk-out, and even strike out. For him to have descended so low to, instead of addressing the issue, to now resort to use of thugs to attack workers who are on a peaceful conduct of a protest, is something that is less than desirable. It is not only undemocratic, it is repressive, it is also anti-worker. And that clearly has shown his posture as a minister that has come to be anti- the workers he is supposed to protect.

This is highly condemnable. The Central Working Committee condemned such action by a minister of labour, which has not happened even in the military setting and has never happened in the history of industrial relations in Nigeria. This is clearly a violation of the fundamental rights of workers, and trade unions, and by extension Nigerians, the freedom of association and even to protest where their rights are abridged. The Central Working Committee further observed that in the course of unleashing this mindless violence caused damage to the vehicle of workers, affiliate unions and congress, and also unleashed attacks on workers, and some workers actually sustained various degrees of injury.

As of the last count, nine workers were actually admitted and treated in various hospitals in Abuja. This happened under the very watchful eyes of security agencies, and we have also been able to capture all the thugs that were actually used to attack workers. Those pictures and records have been transmitted to security agencies. Up till now, we are surprised there was no apology or any show of remorse in this very disturbing act.

The CWC accordingly apart from condemning the action in strong terms also resolved to put on notice government to note that the right of workers as I said cannot be abridged. This right is a right that is fundamentally guaranteed by various conventions of the ILO, and in particular the Nigerian Labour Law. CWC expressed shock that whereas there were detachments of security agents there, which is actually the case to protect and ensure that the process is peaceful, it was under their watchful eyes that these defenceless workers were attacked. And clearly we can say that apart from condemnation we demand full investigation and a prosecution of those that are involved.

Accordingly, CWC also resolved to demand an unconditional and unqualified apology from minister of labour, Chris Ngige, and by extension government, both for the primitive behaviour of the minister and its suspicious silence, explaining that whereas even in the case of protesters that were protesting and barricaded a major road leading to the airport, the person of the number two citizen of Nigeria, the vice president, found it necessary to stop, step out of his vehicle, and address the indigenous community, and address their grievances, and also addressed their protest. This is what happens in a civilised society. We are certainly taken aback where a minister that is supposed to uphold our labour laws has descended so low.

We are not surprised, because we were told this is also his antecedent, and he has used thugs at various times even while he was in his own state. And therefore certainly he is a square peg in a round hole; and clearly this has demonstrated why labour issues have not received the attention they deserve. The CWC therefore resolved to hold Dr Chris Ngige and members of his family personally responsible for the violence inflicted on the workers that were injured. And we have also directed all our workers, particularly at the airports, in Nigeria and around the world, that wherever they are seen, they should also receive the same disgrace.

To workers at all our airports, particularly also in the diaspora, where ITUC operates, particularly in the 163 countries where ITUC has members, that all the airports, his name and identity have already been circulated, and [we have directed] that the same disgrace should be extended to him and members of his family. 

The CWC called for the arrest and prosecution of those thugs immediately and also their sponsor which is well-known. The CWC demanded that government should come clear on what is happening, because the silence also does not address the issue. The CWC also resolved to embark on a national protest on Monday, May 13 2019, in Abuja, against the victimisation of its members, by Ngige and his thugs, and has accordingly directed that all its members and civil society allies commence immediate mobilisation. 

The CWC resolved that they were ready to be killed by the thugs hired by Ngige, but this time around we should also tell him that he does not have the monopoly of violence. It is because we thought that in a civilised system, workers should be seen to respect the rule of law and respect the rule of engagement. That is why few workers were engaged to symbolically pass the message of protest against the delay in the inauguration of the board.

A lot of reasons have been adduced and a lot of issues also raised in defence of why the board has not been inaugurated alongside all of other 500 boards that have so far been inaugurated. He has raised the issue of corruption and we want to say clearly, labour is against corruption, labour cannot be corrupt in any case. The investigation carried out by EFCC of the activities of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund in the last five years pointed to the fact that his representative, his permanent secretary, judgement has been obtained, they have looted our funds. And therefore we are not surprised he is trying to shift the blame. And we call on government, if the issue is about corruption, let there be a high judicial panel to find out who is actually corrupt, is it the minister or workers. And therefore we cannot hide under the issue of corruption and say the board should be delayed.

One, corruption under this dispensation? Is it under this board that has yet to be inaugurated? If it is under the previous members, his permanent secretary represented him, and they did everything possible to actually protect the permanent secretary, until the EFCC insisted that prosecution must go on. And he was prosecuted, judgement has been obtained, and we are going to make the judgement available to all members of the press. So who is corrupt in this case? We stand to say none of our members that were inaugurated on the board have been found wanting. I want to say that clearly. If he has any fact, we challenge him on that; and we challenge government.

Finally, the CWC also demanded that the board of the Social Insurance Trust Fund should be inaugurated and also the chairman already approved by the president, Chief Frank Kokori, should be made the chairman, because we realised that the only reason why they want to substitute Kokori is because Kokori cannot compromise. Let me make the point very clear that the money is workers’ money. It is actually contribution by employers for the social protection cover of their employees; and that is why the employers have two members and NLC has two members. That is the only reason. Event the Federal Ministry of Labour has only one representative, and there is one representative from the CBN. So if it is about stake, we have more stake. 

We want to put it before you that he is corrupt and that is why he doesn’t want people that are upright to be there. That is the only reason, and any other reason given certainly cannot be substantiated. On that note, comrades, we are very passionate about this, and that is why the Central Working Committee has met on an emergency basis to respond to this challenge. Certainly, people like Ngige are not fit to hold public office. By our labour laws, he is supposed to be the chief conciliator, and if the chief conciliator should descend so low to be attacking his constituents, his social partners, he is bringing a situation that is unwarranted and is condemnable.

No excuse can be given for that. He is public office holder, and he is holding that office in trust. In many jurisdictions, we have protested to their residents. And in any case, we did not access his house. It was on a public street, and everybody can see that it is our right, and is allowed in law. And also the continuous delay of this very key labour market institutions, because two are still outstanding, one is the National Labour Advisory Council. For four years, this board has also not been inaugurated. No reason has been given.

And therefore this has been his character, this has been his dealing with labour, and that is why we have had the worst administration in terms of managing labour and that is why we have had crisis in almost all the sectors in industrial relations. It is unfortunate, and we demand that Mr President should also exit people like Ngige. He has not demonstrated enough capacity, he has not demonstrated enough will, and he has not conformed to the tradition that all of us are known for, the tradition of making sure that the tripartite is carried along.

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