ARMED thugs suspected to have been hired by Chris Ngige, minister of labour and employment, attacked members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Wednesday morning at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, leaving several injured.
The union members had gathered at the location to protest the delay in inaugurating the board of the National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
According to the NLC, Ngige is interested in running the agency as a sole administrator for selfish reasons. The minister has also been accused of ethnic bigotry and recruiting 85 per cent “of his village people in the ministry”.
‘Live bullets used, four hospitalised, others wounded’
The NLC chairman, Ayuba Wabba, while addressing reporters after the incident, said live bullets were used by the hoodlums who disrupted the demonstration, and that the union’s Central Working Committee has been scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide on a “larger scale of action”, possibly including a strike action.
“There are workers here that live bullets have been used on them, whereas workers went with their bare hands,” he said. “They were carrying weapons. They were carrying arms. And as I talk to you, we have four people in the hospital apart from those that were injured by bullets. You can see all of them are here.
“And clearly we are going to invite our largest organ by tomorrow. We are going to also decide a larger scale of action. He has no reason to be called minister of labour. He has no reason,” the chairman added, to a chorus of ‘yes!’
“Instead of supporting us, he is against us. And therefore we have nothing to do with him, and under this circumstance, except the president intervenes, workers are certainly going to down tool,” he stressed.
“It has never been so bad, where minister of labour will bring thugs to attack workers and attack our leadership. That has never been heard. And it is on record, everybody has seen [it]. So clearly that is our position, and that is why we are here also in his office to demonstrate that we are not happy.
“And Mr President must act on this immediately, because workers voted for him, workers supported him. Ngige cannot under any circumstances assume the powers of Mr President. That cannot be the case.”
The protest, led by Peter Esan, the NLC’s general secretary, had started at the labour minister’s residence in Asokoro.
When The ICIR contacted Rhoda Iliya, the labour ministry’s deputy press secretary, she said she is not aware that the demonstration was disrupted by thugs.
“I know there was a protest in front of the Federal Secretariat,” she said, “but the issue of thugs, I am not aware of that. I was in the office when I was told there was a protest downstairs and before we could get there they dispersed.”
Frank Kokori, former general secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (NUPENG), had been named by the presidency in October 2017 as chairman-designate of the NSITF board.
But the labour minister struck out his name from those to be inaugurated as board members, alleging that Kokori “was nominated by Ayuba Wabba and his journeymen to continue their vicious stranglehold on the NSITF”.
'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via email@example.com or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.