Protesting members of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) at the private residence of the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, got more than they bargained for on Wednesday when they were attacked by suspected thugs with sticks and stones, and a few had bruises to show for the encounter.
The NLC members were seen fleeing from the alleged thugs, some appearing to be in uniforms.
The members were protesting the alleged exclusion of Labour leader and former NUPENG Secretary-General, Mr. Frank Kokori, from the membership of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) board.
But Ngige, who has been having a running battle with Labour after he inaugurated the Board without Kokori three weeks ago, denied procuring the thugs that attacked the protesters.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said the thugs were brought in to deal with protesters.
Ngige, in a statement by his media aide, Nwachukwu Obidiwe, stated: ““I … wish to state that, contrary to reports being mischievously circulated in the media, the minister and his family who are in trauma did not invite thugs.
“He had no knowledge of it, or had a hand in the alleged manhandling of any worker.”
But Wabba, in his own comments, said: “The act today is barbaric; where maximum force has been used on workers. And live bullets have been used on them.
“They were carrying weapons and 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 also going on a larger scale of action. Instead of protecting us, he is against us. Therefore, we have nothing to do with him and under the circumstance, except the president intervenes, workers are going to down tool.
“That is why we are inciting our central working committee. It has never been so bad where the ministry of Labour will bring thugs to attack workers. That has never been heard.
“It is on record and everybody has seen. Clearly, that is our position and now we are here to demonstrate in his office also that we are not happy and 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.”
According to Ngige’s aide, “The private residence of the Minister of Labour was, early this morning (4 a.m.), invaded by the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, and his members,” the statement read.
“These members, among whom are tanker drivers, some with ferocious looks, also barricaded the gate to the residence of the 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.
“Comrade Waba later left and returned with re-enforcement.
“The presence of these strange faces and mounting war songs sent heavy panic on the family members, especially children and female aides who thought the sudden early morning assemblage were of the underworld.
“Some of these unknown faces and the two tanker lorries blocking the entrance to the house are still there as I send this press statement”.