By Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Irked by claims by the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration was anti-Igbo, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, yesterday in Enugu dismissed the claim, insisting that the president was not promoting politics of exclusionism against Ndigbo.
Ngige equally disagreed with those asking the President to change his economic team as a result of their alleged inability to steer the country out of economic recession.
According to the minister, those propelling the calls for change of economic team are job seekers who were not favoured in ministerial appointment.
Ngige spoke with journalists at the Annual Convention and 2016 Graduation Ceremony of Skill Acquisition Students of Bina Foundation, funded by Sir Chris Atuegwu and his wife, Lady Ifeoma Atuegwu.
The former governor of Anambra State said contrary to the statement purportedly made by Ohanaeze that Ndigbo were being excluded, President Buhari’s antecedents show that he loves Ndigbo.
He warned Ndigbo to stop engaging in politics of alienation, but instead, to embrace other parts of the country with open hands.
“I am sure the statement did not emanate from Ohanaeze. It is the personal opinion of the Secretary General, Dr Joe Nwaorgu, my personal friend. Ohanaeze has a means of expressing its views in a press statement by the President General and such a statement must emanate from Imeobi (inner caucus).
“When you go to Buhari’s antecedents, you see his love for Igbos. His Brigade Commander was an Igboman. After the war, he did not kill Prisoners of War. He brought back his classmates, J.C. Ojukwu and the other man from Ojoto in Anambra State. He is a good man. He keeps to himself. He is disciplined in office.
“He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He is a man who does any work efficiently. He has Igbo friends. It is wrong to say that Igbos didn’t vote for him in 2015. There was no voting across Igboland. It was vote allocation.
“I don’t want to join issues with him (Nwaorgu). I have held various positions in Ohanaeze before him. I championed Aka Ikenga. His Igboness is not stronger than mine. It is still very early. We should stop crying over spilt milk.
“We got 20 pounds after the war. We should leverage on our prosperity, industrial spirit, ingenuity and propensity for work to forge ahead. We need political fitness and diplomacy and we will not be left behind.
“Former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, has done a lot in successive constitutional conferences on the zoning structure and regional cooperation. I have always espoused that at Aka Ikenga. We do it and the rest shall be added unto us,” Ngige said.
He noted that there was an understanding that the presidency would go round and Ndigbo could get their turn by embracing other parts of the country with open hands and not politics of alienation.
On the calls for a new economic team to steer the country out of recession, Ngige said the calls were propelled by job seekers and echoed by their friends in the media.
The minister argued that this country entered recession a long time ago before the Buhari government came on board but nobody noticed it because of the huge foreign reserves accumulated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which has now shrunk to $21billion as a result of the crash in oil prices.
“Under the previous administration, the oil price was about $115 per barrel and the country exhausted its 2.2 million barrels daily quota of crude oil export. But when this government came, the price of oil dropped to as low as $30 per barrel. It later came to $50 per barrel, but because of activities of those blowing up oil pipelines in Niger Delta, we could not export our daily quota of 2.2 million barrels. We are now exporting about 1.2 million barrels.
“Nigeria is a mono-cultural economy. Oil provides about 95 percent of our revenue. So, you can see that under this administration, our revenue reduced drastically because of the slump in oil prices and activities of those blowing up pipeline. So, you find a situation where the supply of money cannot meet the demand. This is elementary economics. When the supply cannot meet the demand, there is disequilibrium. You can see the slide. So, nobody should blame the economic team. If you bring new people, they will still see the same circumstances.
“On the other hand, if you look at members of the economic team, Udo Udoma, the Minister of Budget is eminently qualified. Being a former Special adviser to a Minister of Petroleum, he knows about the crude oil business that basically provides all our earnings as a country. He was Senate Committee Chairman on Appropriation.
“The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun is a banker but she has a degree in economics. What else are they looking for? Of course, the Vice President heads the economic team. He is a lawyer, but he heads it by virtue of office he occupies as Vice President.
“As Vice President under President Goodluck Jonathan, Namadi Sambo headed the economic team. He is not an economist. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar headed economic team. He is not an economist. It is those who lost out in the ministerial appointment who are propelling this call to change the economic team and their friends in the media are echoing it” Ngige said.
The Minister however advised Nigerians to see the ongoing recession as opportunity to curb wastages arising from importation of food and other items that have local alternatives.
Ngige disclosed that he now eats local rice and wondered why Nigeria should be squandering billions of naira in importation of foreign rice from Indonesia.
On the proposed plan by federal government to borrow $30 billion, Ngige explained that “we are now in recession in Nigeria and unnatural happenings beget unnatural solutions.”
“China is embracing us economically. We need cheap loans. Investors from China are coming with projects, offering Nigeria projects that they can do with counterpart funding. We bring 20 percent, they bring 80 percent. Through this way, we will come out of recession” Ngige said.