NSITF Crisis: Ngige unleashes thugs on labour leaders, workers, Journalists
For daring to protest to his residence and block his gate, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen Chris Ngige true to his pronouncement that he cannot be intimidated by labour, allegedly unleashed thugs on labour leaders, workers and journalists who besieged his residence on Wednesday to protest his refusal to inaugurate the board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).
However, Ngige, who had on Tuesday dismissed the threat by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to confront him as a feeble attempt, said he did not invite thugs, have no knowledge of it, or have a hand in the alleged manhandling of the protesting workers.
Led by the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the workers have who have vowed to confront the minister and picket the Ministry of Labour, its departments and agencies under it over the crisis in NSITF , had besieged the Minister’s residence in Asokoro, Abuja, blocked the entrance to the residence with two tankers to prevent the minister from coming out of the house.
As early as 5 am, the No 19, Justice Muhammed Nasir street, Asokoro residence of the minister was blocked, and all efforts to get the labour leaders to take off the tankers failed as the workers insisted that they would continue to picket anything that has to do with minister.
However, Tribune Online gathered that the minister had to sneak out of the residence through another point at the back of the big compound, unknown to the protesting workers.
Trouble, however, started about an hour after that when a group suspected to be thugs alighted from a white Toyota Hiace bus, all dressed in black attire with the inscription on some of their shirt “Police Swat” and forcefully moved to the entrance to the minister residence.
Some of the suspected thugs later came out from another side of the street and join their members at the entrance with stones, sticks, bottles and other weapons used on the workers.
At this point, the police, DSS and NSCDC personnels, who have been there maintaining the peaceful protest, watched helplessly while the thugs beat up the armless workers.
The group openly destroyed vehicles belonging to the NLC, AIT reporter and injured scores of workers, and a Journalist with Premium Times who was doing her legitimate duties.
Speaking on the development, Comrade Ayuba Wabba who escaped being lynched by the group said about nine workers were injured out of which two were in critical condition.
He disclosed that the Central Working Committee (CWC) and the National Administrative Council (NAC), two organs of the Congress have been summoned for an emergency meeting for Thursday (today) to deliberate on the matter.
He, however, called on President Muhammadu Buhari, to urgently intervene in the ongoing disharmony between the labour and the Minister over the chairmanship of the board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), which inauguration has been by the minister.
Wabba said: “What happened today is barbaric, where maximum force has been used upon workers and live bullets used on them.
“Whereas workers went with bare hands, the thugs were carrying weapons and arms. And as I talk to you, we have nine people in the hospital apart from those that were injured by bullets.”
Wabba vowed that NLC was going to invite more workers to continue the protest, saying, “we are going to invite our largest organ by tomorrow.”
He added: “We are also going to decide on a larger scale of action. He has no reason to be called Ministry of Labour, he is a lord of his own and therefore instead of protecting us, he is against us.
“Therefore, we have nothing to do with him and under the circumstance, except Mr President intervene, workers are certainly going to down-tune. That is why we are calling our central working committee.
“It has never been so bad where the minister of Labour will bring thugs to attack workers. That has never been heard. It is on record and everybody has seen it.
“That is our position and now we are here to demonstrate in his office also to show that we are not happy. Therefore, Mr President must act on this immediately. Workers voted and supported him. Ngige cannot in any circumstance assume the power of the President. That cannot be the case.”
Also speaking, the President of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG), Comrade William Apkoreha, said that two of his members were missing following the attacks by thugs at the Minister’s residence.
“We were embarking on a peaceful protest. Two of my members are presently missing and I cannot fold my arms. We will maintain sanity until 12 midnight. If we did not hear from them, then every oil and gas worker in the country will enter the street to look for their members.” He said.
When Tribune visited the National Hospital, Abuja, Nine of the injured workers were seen attending to by the hospital staff.
Meanwhile, the FCT Commissioner of Police was also at the hospital to see the victims and promise to bring the perpetrators to book.
In a statement signed by the Special Assistant, Media to the minister, Nwachukwu Obidiwe, Sen. Ngige said his residence was invaded as early as 4 a.m. by the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Waba and his members.
The minister said: “The private residence of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige was early this morning (4 a.m.) invaded by the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Waba and his members.
“These members among whom are tanker drivers, some with ferocious looks also barricaded the gate to the resident of the Hon. Minister with two long trucks. They chanted war songs and prevented the Hon. Minister, his wife, children and other aides from either leaving or gaining access to the compound.
“I, therefore, wish to state that contrary to reports being mischievously circulated in the media by the NLC President, the Minister, family members who are still in great trauma and his staff members did not invited thugs, have no knowledge of it, or have a hand in the alleged manhandling of any worker.”