Dr. Chris Ngige, minister of Labour& Productivity and a prominent figure from the eastern part of the country, is a quintessential patriot and by ideological leaning, an advocate of one indivisible Nigeria. In this interview with IyobosaUwugiaren, he took a critical look at the performance of the President MuhammaduBuhari-led government in the past two years, the stakes and challenges and why the South-east geo-political zone seems to have been marginalised in the scheme of things. He also addressed salient other national issues of interest. Excerpts:
You were one of those leaders of APC, who went around the country, convincing Nigerians to vote for Gen. MuhammedBuhari. Two years after, do you regret what you did?
I donâ€™t at all regret my role in enthroning this government. In fact, if the opportunity presents itself again, with what I have seen now, I will do exactly the same thing. So, if 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. If not for this government, the government of MuhammaduBuhari, government of change, Nigeria would have been worse than Venezuela. The crisis you have in Venezuela, the demonstrations in Venezuela, was as a result of the collapse of the whole economic firmament of that country.
Venezuela, like Nigeria, did not plan for the raining day. The leader was fighting America and showing off. He started establishing filling stations inside America and the Caribbean and giving petrol free. You come into Washington, into New York and Maryland, where I was staying, youâ€™d see filling stations of Venezuela origins. They sell petrol free on certain days and they felt that they had arrived. So, when we went round the country, we saw what was looming but we didnâ€™t know it was this bad.
But then, when that particular government of Goodluck Jonathan exited, what we would face was like a catastrophe. When we were going round, oil was selling then at about $70 per barrel. It had moved from $110 to $105 to $100 a barrel, and so, we thought it was not just that deep; and that we would eventually edge up again to flatten at $100 average. So, we told the Nigeria people that the major problem that we will fight is security, terrorism, which was the hallmark of the security situation in the Northeast then.
The Niger Delta wasnâ€™t cleared and was just there. Then we have the issue of the internal security, which is what every government promises and what have you â€“ security â€“ which will be done by the police, civil defence and the rest of them. But the armed aggression was in the northeast and as we came in, a place like Borno State, out of the local government there, 14 of them were no longer part of Nigeria territory. The terrorist, Boko Haram had planted their flags. You go to Adamawa State, they had also taken it over. I can say, one third of the entire local government there. If you go to Yobe State, it was the same thing. If I look back, Iâ€™m happy because the President, being a former military general knew what it takes to do that kind of warfare.
First and foremost, the Armed Forces: the Air Force were re-equipped with better arms to face the terrorists and today, the terrorists have been decapitated, they are just lying down there; they are not doing much harm. They donâ€™t have any Nigerian territory. That calls for cheers. We have been able to secure the release of at least half of the Chibok secondary school girls that were kidnapped. 82 girls got back recently in addition to the 21 that we have before. So, these are important symptoms and sign that we have done well in fighting those terrorists.
The government has done well. If you go to the issue of internal security, I can also tell you of the same thing; a lot of states in Nigeria now are doing well and better in terms of internal security. Know that the state governments have also synergised with the federal government to achieve such a feat, because the state governors, if you go, you will see some of them re-equipping the police â€“ giving them staff welfare to boost their morale. The only area we did not anticipate to have problem in terms of security is the Niger Delta, why because of some wrong perception, maybe, some steps taken that were not very well calculated.
We now have an upsurge in militancy resulting in vandalism and disruption of oil pipeline infrastructure, especially the ones that have to do with oil pipelines, the ones that have to do with production and exploration of crude oil, which is the life wire and mainstay of the Nigerian economy. So, in terms of security this is our report card. There is also the issue of corruption. At the time we were campaigning, the President said he would fight corruption; he didnâ€™t say that he would wipe corruption because corruption, as me and you know, is deep rooted down here. But what he said was he would diminish corruption and fight it frontally. That, he has done, at least today.
If people are talking, they will know that this is the first time that government will get recoveries from corrupt people that were taking money away from the national treasury and the money so recovered will now be used to partly fund the national budget and to benefit the welfare of Nigerians. A lot of assets have also been forfeited to the federal government and these assets will also be used to the benefit of the people. A lot of government agencies that are trying to build offices and buildings are today benefiting from such forfeiture.
There is a non-governmental group, CDD, that created Buharimeters in order to monitor the performance of Buhari-led government. Recently, the group came out with a report, which suggested that Buhariâ€™s performance has been very low in all the promises that he made. Is that not food for thought?
I donâ€™t know why the Buharimeter would score us very low. I donâ€™t know who the people that constitute the buharimeter are. Maybe, it is the opposition people that constituted it. But, I know that when unbiased persons assess this administration, they will even score us more than what we have scored ourselves in terms of internal security. They will even score us A+. I mean Boko Haram had taken over all the part of northeast. They were in Yobe, they were in Borno, they were in Adamawa and a lot of people were rendered homeless.
There was no good life. The economy of the place was gone and infrastructure devastated. The people, who make up the human resources were displaced; millions of people were displaced from their home and they became homeless. But today they are going back. Some of them are going back to resettle themselves and government is also resettling them. The women formed presidential initiative committee, donating things there including the infrastructure that was damaged; assisting the state government, and they said we have not done well.
I donâ€™t know who the Buharimeters are. Internal security is only a holistic affair. The state governments are the chief security officers of their states, apart from being the chief executives. And if you are a chief security officer, if you go to section 14 of the Nigerian constitution, the first primary role of government, is the security of lives and properties and the welfare of the citizens. It is there in Section 14 of the constitution. So, in the state, the issue of security is not the sole responsibility of the federal government. The federal government has the police as it is now. But, the police have been centralised to state commands and in those state commands, state governors play a major role.
Not only is the police involved now in the internal security as it is, the army and the air force are there to assist in maintaining the internal security milieu of the area. I donâ€™t think we have not done well there. We have some bumping areas of turbulence in the Niger Delta and nobody envisages that it will come but we did what we were supposed to do in the initial stages. Come to think of it, there is nowhere in the world where criminals will say to the government: come, letâ€™s fight. Itâ€™s never done.
If you looked at the appointments the federal government has made in the last two years, it tends to favour one part of the country. As a matter of fact, where you are from, the Southeast has complained hugely of marginalisation. Are you not worried that your zone has not been treated fairly by a government you contributed in bringing into power?
We are running a presidential system. A presidential system of government is different from a parliamentary system of government. The two constitutions are never the same. In the presidential system of government, the power is centralised on the president or the governor of a state. And, the authors of the Nigerian Constitution took their extra time to say which positions that must be given to each state of the federation on equality of state and that; positions mentioned are the position of ministers, that there must be one minister to a state.
The constitution went further in Section 143, to say that there must be a reflection of the federal character in most of the things we do. Now, as you have rightly pointed out, that my area in the South-east gave 5% vote to Buhari during presidential election, we still didnâ€™t even measures up to 25% for anybody to say that I won this state, or that this state supported me. The appointments that we were shouting about first, can mostly be regarded as personal to the President. These appointments are Chief of Staff, Special/Personal Assistants, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Heads of Parastatals and agencies.
What confuses people is this idea of saying this is a juicy agency and that is not a juicy agency. So, when people are given positions, instead of looking at the position in terms of the productivity of that position, people will go and equate it with the material benefit that that will accrue from that position. I will give you an example. When Chief MKO Abiola, of blessed memory, zoned the position of SGF to the South-east, during the period he was deemed to be the president-elect, politicians from the South-east said the position of the SFG was the secretary that makes tea. They called it tea maker.
That is what Chief Arthur Nzeribe said at the time. He is still alive. A lot of them called it tea maker. It was only people like Ralph Obiora that said the SGF position was not a tea maker; that the South-east can go for it. In fact, a majority of our people refused. And a lot of them who fought against Chief Abiola becoming president did that on that premise. So, they parted with the position they said it was not a juicy position. Today, a lot of people come to tell me that they sympathised with me, that I am the minister of Labour and Employment; that my capital vote is not more than N10 billion or N15 billion. That the Igbos are neglected. They also complain (about) our brother, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that Foreign Affairs is a nonsense ministry; they told me they were not happy that Chief OgbonnayaOnu, is the Minister of Science and Technology.
They ask: what is in Science and technology? But these are the issues and I know that in very civilised climes, in other places, where we imitate this democracy: USA, Canada and the rest of them all, Foreign Affairs Minister, the Secretary of State, are positions that are reserved to be given to seasoned persons. You have been a Senator, not just a Senator; you must have been a Senator but a keen crack member of the Senate Committee of foreign Affairs or Foreign Relations as they call it in America. That is how you can become Secretary of State; that is how they consider it and usually give it to people who have the capacity to become President of America.
So it is a prime position; it is a number one position. If you go to the USA, the Labour Employment Secretary is about No. 4 Cabinet Minister. The last occupier of the office, Raymond Perez, is my friend. He is a Labour minister. You would see it because every economy is measured by its employment index. So, a Labour and Employment Secretary is a key man in any administration anywhere in the world, even in England. The same goes for the Science and Technology Minister.
So, what people are looking is petroleum so that he can give us an oil lifting contract, refinery by-product to sell, or even give us oil blocks. If you are not there, you are not a good minister. They also look for Works, so that you can give us contract in billions. If you are not a Minister for Works you are not there yet.
They also look for agriculture so that he can give us contracts on fertilizer or he can ask us to import fertilizer to the country so that we can manage to divert some or â€˜editâ€™ some. They call it editing. These are not things we have to be looking at. What Iâ€™m saying obviously is that, in a presidential system, all power or allocation rest with the president and it is for the president to give whatever he likes to the people. And at the same time in doing that, he is supposed or bound by the oath he swore to.
To some of your people, the fact that you were made the Minister of Labour and Chief OgbonnayaOnu, Minister of Science and Technology is not a favour, taking into consideration the role you both played in bringing this government to power. But do you think the Ndigbo feel the sense of belonging in this present government?
This is not a question that 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 Jonathan government will fall. I went to our EzeNdigbo in Enugu twice. They could not even reply to a letter written by the then General MuhammaduBuhari seeking for a meeting with them. The leadership continued playing games, cat and mouse. They refused.
I went to Lagos and conveyed an Igbo stakeholdersâ€™ forum in Williams Nwodoâ€™s house in Ikoyi, Lagos in 2014, where I analysed the voting pattern in Nigeria; where I told them even if they donâ€™t want to support MuhammaduBuhari, they should come and give him 25% of the votes. And to make matter worse, there were no voting in most of the areas; they just allocated 5% to APC. It 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. Yes, that is what it is. But all I want to tell you is that we (the Igbos) have done a bad politics; we have done a bad investment because they invested in the Jonathan presidency. They invested in Jonathan more than the South-south, where he hails from. I am not saying it is enough to marginalise them or not allow them come in, but we are there. I will speak for them and when there is anything for distribution, we make sure that the South-east gets its own portion.
But they will not get excess portion because even in our family, when the head of the family goes to the farm to harvest his yam and the harvesting is to be done by those who accompany him to the farm, when they bring back the yam, some of the yam will have damaged, and the pieces are put out in one section, then the whole are put into the barn. Some will be sent to the market for sale. And some will be sent to the family centrally for division among the family units.
Those ones that are in pieces, the extras will be shared among those that went to the farm. They will get the extras. We did not benefit from the extras with people, who went to the farm. We didnâ€™t go to the farm in the South-east. But we are doing our political re-engineering so that in 2019, we will be in the farm carrying hoes, plenty of hoes and coming there and then to do the harvest and whoever is the candidate will harvest properly so that we will not miss out.
Another election year is fast approaching. What will be the basis for APC to campaign in 2019? What would you tell your people that the government and your party have done to deserve their votes again?
Oh my God! So you are in the group of those who are pessimistic, who have refused to see the wonders of this government? Well, Iâ€™m from the South-east, when we get there, we will show them that first and foremost we have fought corruption to a standstill and people cannot steal at will now, not to talk of keeping such monies at home. The movement is from the bank to the house but now that the 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 Nigeria are happy about this.