Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Chris Ngige. has linked the perceived marginalisation of the South-east geopolitical zone by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to the refusal by the zone to properly invest in the 2015 presidential election.
The minister, who spoke with THISDAY in an exclusive interview in Abuja, said all his efforts to persuade the Igbo to wisely invest in Buhariâ€™s presidential bid in 2015 failed because of lack of co-operation by many South-east leaders, who threw their weigh behind former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ngigeâ€™s statement, unsurprising reinforces the presidentâ€™s statement at the outset of the administration that more focus would paid on geopolitical zones that supported him than those that did not.
â€œThis is not a question I should answer because Iâ€™m a politician. But before these things happened, before the government of Jonathan failed, I went to all the Igbo fora to tell them that the Jonathan government will fall.
â€œI went to our Eze Ndi-Igbo in Enugu twice. They could not even reply to a letter written by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, seeking for a meeting with them,â€ Ngige stated, while responding to a question on how he feels about the marginalisation of the South-east zone by the Buhari administration.
The minister, who accused some Igbo leaders of playing a cat-and-mouse game with Buhari during the electioneering period, said he went to Lagos and convened an Igbo stakeholders forum in William Nwodoâ€™s house in Ikoyi, Lagos in 2014, where he analysed the voting pattern in Nigeria and told them that even if they did not want to support Buhari, they should give him 25 per cent of their votes.
The minister added: â€œThey refused to listen to me, and to make matter worse, there was no voting in most of the areas in the South-east; they just allocated 5 per cent to APC.
â€œIt was that bad, it is too late to cry when the head is off. Politics is business in a way, you invest in business and you reap profit.
â€œYes, that is what it is. But all I want to tell you is that we played bad politics; we made a bad investment because they invested in the Jonathan presidency. They invested in Jonathan more than the South-south, where he hails from.
â€œI am not saying that is enough to marginalise them or not allow them come in but we are there. I will continue to speak for them and when there is anything to be distributed, we will make sure that the South-east gets its own portion. But they will not get excess portion.â€
Drawing an analogy from a wise, successful farmer, Ngige, a former governor of Anambra State, said: â€œEven in a family where the head of the family goes to the farm to harvest his yams those who accompany the farmer to the farm get more share.
â€œWhen they bring back the yams some of them will be damaged, and the pieces are put out in one section. Then the whole yams are put into the barn and some will be sent to the market for sale. And some will be sent to the family centrally for distribution among the family units.
â€œThose ones that are in pieces, the extras, will be shared among those that went to the farm.
â€œWe did not benefit from the extras with people who went to the farm. We didnâ€™t go to the farm in the south-east.â€
He noted, however that leaders in the zone are reassessing their political strategy so that in 2019, the zone does not repeat the same mistake.
Asked what the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will be campaigning on as the country gradually slips into another election year, Ngige stated: â€œOh my God, so you are in the group of those who are pessimistic, who have refused to see the wonders of this government?
â€œWell, Iâ€™m from the South-east, so when we get there we will show them that first and foremost we have fought corruption to a standstill and that people can no longer steal at will, much less keeping such monies at home.
â€œThe movement was from the bank to the house, but now that homes have been raided, maybe they will go to the farm to keep them. But people cannot steal money because there is no hiding place anymore. They cannot steal primitively like it was done before. The poor people of Nigerian are happy about this,â€ he said.
The APC chieftain said he has no regret for his role in helping to bring Buhari to power, saying if the opportunity presents itself again he will do exactly the same thing.
According to him, â€œIf anything, I feel happy every day when I wake up, and as I pray to my God, I asked him to enable me to take important decisions with him guarding me.
â€œIf not for this government, the government of Muhammadu Buhari, government of change, Nigeria would have been worse than Venezuela.
â€œThe crisis you have in Venezuela today, the demonstrations in Venezuela, are as a result of the collapse of the whole economic firmament of that country. Venezuela, like Nigeria, did not plan for the rainy day.â€
Ngige scored the Buhari-led government high in the fight against corruption and terror.