By Chekwube Chukwunyere
Ahead of the February 2023 general election, politicians have started declaring their interest in various offices. The office of the President is not left out in the jostle for power. At the beginning of this month, some politicians went to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, to inform President Muhammadu Buhari of their intention to replace him when his second and final term ends on May 29, 2023.
In the same vein, numerous support groups have sprung up to shore up support for various presidential aspirants, especially in the two dominant political parties, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and, the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So far, the loudest among the support groups are those rooting for Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello.
On the eve of the New Year, the Anambra State chapter of the APC adopted a motion urging the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, to contest for the office of the President. The resolution was made at the party’s annual end-of-the-year get-together at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Field, Alor, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
The party gathering, comprising top stakeholders, members of the state executive and working committees, local government and ward executives, unanimously adopted Ngige as the most credible southeasterner for the presidency.
However, the former Anambra State governor neither accepted nor rejected their request. Rather, he told his party men that he was not unmindful of the challenge thrown at him, being eminently qualified to vie for the position. He appealed to them to give him up to Easter 2022 to respond to their demand, to enable him consult with his family, political associates and other key stakeholders.
Howbeit, there is no gainsaying the fact that Ngige has all it takes to give Nigerians quality, purposeful and resulted-oriented leadership. Although a trained medical doctor, he has become a shining star in the realm of politics and public service. His burgeoning political career is guided by the utilitarian ideology of bringing the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people in the society.
Like former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill, Ngige believes that there is no substitute for hard work. He is a man in constant motion. Unlike some aspirants whose only lifetime ambition is to become President, what stands him out is his courage, determination, generosity, creativity, honesty, self-regulation, compassion and humour.
His leadership potential became manifest way back in his days as a deputy director at the Federal Ministry of Health, when he facilitated the movement of University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) from its temporary site in Enugu to the ultramodern Ituku-Ozalla permanent site. He was equally instrumental to the conversion of Kano Specialist Hospital to a teaching hospital.
As the governor of Anambra State, from May 29, 2003, to March 16, 2006, the record that Ngige set in infrastructure and human capital development in just 34 months has remained unbroken till date. In fact, his administration has become a reference point for successive governments, not only in Anambra State and South-East zone, but Nigeria as a whole.
Ngige’s numerous achievements were captured in a congratulatory message sent to him by the Anambra State government to mark his 69th birthday on August 8 last year. Quoting the message by the Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, “Sen. Ngige was a successful governor when he led the state from 2003 to 2006. He laid the foundation for the rapid development of the state through road and healthcare development and the provision of security, as well as prompt payment of salaries and pensions.
“It is to his credit that he began the process of returning schools to their original owners, starting with 14 schools, including his own alma mater, St. John’s Secondary and Technical School, Alor, Idemili South Local Government Area.
“He began the process of getting voluntary agencies to partner with the state government in the management of hospitals. The partnership has been successful. He did well to bring the General Hospital in Onitsha up from the scratch.”
Adinuba added that Dr. Ngige fought to a standstill the so-called godfathers who Prof. Chinua Achebe most appropriately described as renegades determined to turn Anambra State into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom.
In recognition of Sen. Ngige’s exploits as the “Liberator of Anambra State and contributions to the development of Awka, the capital city,” the traditional ruler of the Ancient Awka Kingdom, Eze Dr. Gibson Nwosu, in December, conferred on him the royal title of “Onyili Mmagba,” meaning, the man who wrestled everybody to the ground, escaped and gave freedom to others. Before he became governor, Awka was a village, but he transformed it into a befitting capital city. His administration dualised Nnamdi Azikiwe Road and put street lights there, repaired the water scheme and got water running in the three quarters of the city.
While a member of the Seventh Senate, Ngige could not hold chair in any standing committee, being an opposition senator. He was appointed Deputy Chairman, Committee on Power, and member of six other standing committees. As Deputy Chairman, Committee on Power, he attracted numerous power projects to the South-East zone and his senatorial district, Anambra Central.
As a member of the Health Committee, he co-sponsored, alongside Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, the bill that produced the Health Act 2013. Other bills with his imprimatur include the National Health Insurance Bill, the Farmers Registration Council Bill, the Federal Housing Authority Act and the Armed Robbery and Firearms Special Provisions Act.
As a consummate politician, he played a pivotal role in the formation of the ruling APC, in conjunction with President Muhammadu Buhari, Tom Ikimi, Chief Bisi Akande, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Olusegun Osoba, Ogbonnaya Onu, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Danjuma Goje and Senator Aliyu Wammako, among others.
Following the victory of APC in the 2015 general election, President Buhari appointed Ngige as the Minister of Labour and Employment. He took government/labour relations to an elevated level by encouraging and promoting a harmonious relationship between the Federal Government and the organised labour as well as proactive resolution of labour disputes
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the umbrella body of all Nigerian workers, captured Ngige’s exploits as Labour Minister in a goodwill message to him on his 68th birthday. The message, signed by NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, read in part, “As the Minister of Labour and Employment, Nigerian workers have had both thrilling, tepid and tensed times with Dr. Chris Ngige. One should expect no less given the fighter that Dr. Ngige is.
Through our checkered relationship and piercing through the veil of our different persuasions, one thing has stood out very clear-Dr Chris Ngige has demonstrated one consistent character, which is the penchant for leaving the door of frank discussions, open negotiations, and genuine reconciliation open.|
These are the traits of a truly great man.”
In international Labour and Diplomacy, he took Nigeria back to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Governing Board (GB) in 2018 after about ten years absence and became the Leader of Africa and Asia Ministers of Labour. In August 2019, he became the President of the Government Group for all the 187 countries in the ILO and propelled and got Nigeria elected for a second term on the Governing Board as a full titular, starting June 2020. His re-appointment in 2019 was described by ILO Director General, Guys Rider as the best appointment made by President Muhammadu Buhari in his second term.
Under the current administration, the interventions of Ngige as a member of the Federal Cabinet have been felt in critical sectors of the country, especially health and education. For instance, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government approved and released a jumbo hazard allowance of N32 billion to doctors and other health workers, an amount commensurate to what the pandemic was doing at that time. Today, the Federal Government and the other health workers have almost concluded the renegotiation of a new hazard allowance to give them something more meaningful than the paltry N5000 they have been earning as hazard allowance since 1991.
Apart from performing his duties as the Labour and Employment Minister, Ngige has proved his mettle as member of several Federal Government Committees, such as the Federal Cabinet Committee for Economic Recovery and the Economic Sustainability Committee, which has the mandate to the tackle the challenges and fallouts of COVID-19 and post-COVID era. He is currently serving as a member of the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS) to work assiduously to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years.
Besides being a man of dignity and honour, a strategist and a critical thinker, Ngige believes that Nigeria can work for all of us. At a time that other political holders flaunt the graduation of their children from universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, he never failed to celebrate the graduation of his children from Nigerian universities. In October last year, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) described him as a role model for demonstrating an uncommon faith in the university system, regardless of the poor rating of Nigerian universities and the efforts of the Federal Government to reposition the university system.
In conclusion, it is clear that Sen. Ngige is the man that can build on the solid foundation laid by President Buhari for the prosperity of Nigeria. Will he obey the clarion call? For now, one can only speculate because Easter is three months away.
• Chukwunyere, a public affairs analyst writes from Abuja.