Uche Usim and Paulinus Aidoghie, Abuja
Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige has said that the 2023 Igbo presidency project was realisable, though he would not want to dwell so much on it since the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, is yet to complete the first half of his second tenure.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Sun in his Abuja residence, Ngige said among others that it was premature to begin politicking for 2023, adding that his comments and choice of a presidential candidate will be unveiled after May 29, 2021.
Ngige, who was former Anambra State Governor from May 29, 2003 to April 16, 2006 also represented Anambra Central senatorial district from 2011 to 2015 before joining the Buhari administration as Labour Minister.
Congratulations as you turn 68. Let’s travel back in time and trace your political journey for people to know your trajectory. What was your experience as a Governor? How did it all begin?
Yes, on Saturday 8th, I turned 68. And that is a long journey. First and foremost, when I look back, I remember my life as a child, then as a boy and to manhood. I was born in Enugu and in Enugu, we lived in a place called Coal Camp where I was born. I attended Saint Patrick’s, Ogbette. From there, I went to Uwani and I had to go to Saint Mary’s School, Uwani. I remember that when we were transferred to Uwani, I couldn’t get a place in Saint Mary’s. So, I used to trek from Uwani to Holy Ghost. That was where they got admission for me. I had a teacher whom my parents asked me to live with so that I can have some sense. In those days, you live with a teacher, he would make sure you do arithmetic after school; he would also teach you English and the rest of them. So, that was my life and I went to secondary school, Saint John’s Secondary School, Alor, in my hometown, Alor. Two reasons: My elder brother was already there and it is in my hometown. So, my father felt that it was more economical for him to maintain two of us in one school, send us back at the same time, do visiting day once for two persons. When I passed through that school and another school, Stellamaris, Port Harcourt, my father preferred Alor. So, I went to Alor. I did my secondary school there. In my secondary school days, I was a little bit on the small side. I was a small man from birth. But that didn’t stop me from fighting the big boys when they came to bully me and that also did not stop me from facing challenges like I wasn’t very good in mathematics earlier till I got to class four. I was told that for me to do the sciences, I have to do mathematics. And I have to do well in mathematics before I can be allowed to do physics, chemistry and the rest. So, I took up the challenge. In fact, I became one of the top persons by the end of our class four in our mathematics and in physics. Because of the way I really developed and became one of the top three in the class, I was made the school captain, senior prefect so to say and of course, I graduated from the secondary school in very flying colours too. In those days, grade 13 was distinction, so I made a distinction and found myself looking for university spaces. I had earlier on passed to go to Nsukka in 1972, but in that 1972, we had what I can call a calamity in the whole school. Even though I was topping the class and some of us were very good, the West African Examination Council cancelled all our results and the entire school and said that the invigilator, the supervisor from Enugu, ruled that some people were caught cheating at the back of the hall. It affected everybody. I didn’t lose hope. I am a stoic. I have been a stoic person from time. Like I said, I confront challenges and luckily for me, most of the challenges I have confronted, I can say about 98 percent were surmounted.
So, I went back. I retook my school certificate, took my GCE O’Level afresh, passed University of Nigeria, Nsukka, again, and passed University of Lagos and of course, I had to make a choice. Nsukka was the natural choice because it was near home and the standard at Nsukka in medicine was very good. In fact, after Ibadan then, it was Nsukka next in medicine even though by the time we were graduating at Nsukka, we had surpassed Ibadan in terms of the quality of the graduates from the medical school because all the former lecturers that made Ibadan tick, Professor Udegbu, Professor Nwokolo, Professor Nwakor and all of them were in Nsukka at that time. So, that was it. I read a course of medicine for six years. I didn’t lose any year; I passed all my professional exams, the second MBBS, the third MBBS, fourth MBBS, and the fifth MBBS which is the final. So, I qualified as a medical doctor and in the same spirit of confronting challenges, they said the spaces in Enugu were few and at the UNTH, that they can only take us outside to the then Anambra State Health Ministry. So, I had to go to Onitsha, which was the best of the general hospitals that the Anambra State government then had. They had at Onitsha, they had at Awka, they had at Abakaliki, partly in Enugu and they had another one in Owerri. So, I went to Onitsha and did my housemanship in 1979, even to 1980 in May and then I went to Lagos for my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). I served at the National Assembly clinic in Victoria Island (1004). After my NYSC, I was employed at the Federal Ministry of Health which took us at the time because the National Assembly Service Commission was not taking. But later, they moved us to the National Assembly Service Commission and from there again, we came back to health by 1984 after the coup. So, I started my journey first as a medical officer two, level nine, step five. That was what doctors were starting from at that time and later, I was promoted to the rank of medical officer one and from medical officer one, I became a Senior Medical Officer (SMO). Then we had SMO one and two. I went for a course in Pakistan and when I came back, they moved me to health headquarters. But when I was a medical officer and an SMO, I served in many government clinics. I served at the former National Assembly Clinic in Tafawa Balewa Square, I served also in National Assembly Clinic in 1004, and I served in Federal Government Special Guest House Clinic which the government reserved for visiting heads of states, ministers and VIPs of government. It was from there that after my course in Peshawar, Pakistan, I got a certificate, a diploma in Hospital Administration and Health System Management. From there, I did another small course in the same system in Tulen, in the United States. So, I became a headquarter staff of the Federal Ministry of Health after that. I was in the cadre called Consultant four. After that, I moved. We were running a great level scale. So, when we did the Medical Service Scale (MSS), I got into the cadre of MSS four and then five from there. When you run that scale, you are equated with the people in the normal service. So, I rose to become a Deputy Director, Hospital Services and Training after becoming an assistant director for four years till 1998. I had to quit. I left.
Why did you leave?
I left for two reasons. I don’t like staying too much in a place. You can say that I am a bit restless and I don’t like doing things two times. I don’t overstay my welcome in any business that I am doing. So, by that time, I felt I had enough of the civil service. I wasn’t also practicing medicine then. I had left the clinics and I was just having joint venture practice with some other medical doctors who were my colleagues. Some of them were my contemporaries, while some of them my seniors. I invested to own clinics with them. We had a clinic in Apapa and we had another one in Ikoyi. But they were silent clinics because I was in government. I wasn’t supposed to be brandishing it even though the administrative guide of the civil service permitted doctors to do private practice. I was doing that and I was living in Victoria Island then. So, quietly, I built up my résumé. I was doing politics by the side, it wasn’t partisan politics. I was doing socio-cultural politics. I was President of Aka Ikenga, the think-tank group for the Igbo made up professionals and entrepreneurs of Igbo stock in Lagos. I was the president for six to seven years. I was the president of Aka Ikenga from 1991 to 1996, 1997. I left in 1997. I did two terms plus one extra year because they couldn’t elect a new President. I had to stay for an extra one year. So, that was my journey. And during that time I was president of Aka Ikenga, I was a member of Ohaeneze, Ime Obi because any president of Aka Ikenga was given a seat. And in Ime Obi, I was in the strategy committee and I was the secretary of the strategy committee.
Can we talk about the journey of becoming a governor?
I had joined politics by 1998. I was a strong admirer of Chief Alex Ekwueme and I liked his politics and I liked his brain. A brilliant man, he was a man of many parts. So, we had met him at Aka Ikenga. Chief Iwuanyanwu also, we met at Aka Ikenga. So, over time, we built friendship across. I was a young man, but I had friendship with these older people. They mentored me in a way. Chief Iwuayanwu had more time than Alex Ekwueme for us in Aka Ikenga. We partnered with him. But Ekwueme was also coming, even Ebitu Ukiwe and Ndubuisi Kanu. All of them! We partnered with them. Immediately after the death of Abacha, Ekwueme called some of us and told us that he was going into politics and G34, which he was instrumental to getting. They started from G13 to 18 and from G18, they recruited some people from the North and made it G34. Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi, Senator Onyemaobi, Echerue and others were in that G34. So, he called us and I was among those he called even though I was not an original member of the G34. But because of my status as President of Aka Ikenga, he had a lot of respect and affinity to me. So, when he told us that we were going to go into politics, I was in the service. But I had already started contemplating that I have had enough, I wanted to go. I was then shuttling between Abuja and Lagos because I was in charge of Outdoor Medical Services, Federal Staff Clinic in the states and Abuja. So, I had moved the Federal Staff Clinics into Abuja and I was also shuttling to Enugu to move the UNTH. I had almost completed that assignment by then. Even Bayero in Kano. I and the late Dr Awe, we were also shuttling between them. So, at one time in my visits to Abuja, another friend of mine, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, we discussed and Chuba said, Chris, nwokem, I think you and I can contest. I told Chuba that I needed just some few months that I was already in. That was how I started. I came up one day, there was a departmental meeting, I wasn’t around, and I went on leave; when I came back, they said ah! nobody knew your whereabout. I said I was on leave. They said your director said he didn’t know about your whereabout. I said my Director and the Permanent Secretary? I said no. They signed my leave papers. But I found out that they also were getting tired of me. So, I went and wrote my resignation letter and told them I am going. I gave them one month notice. They said no, no, no, no. How can it be? I said no. I am going. I want to go outside and change to another one. So, that was how I went to Ekwueme and we started our People’s National Front (PNF). That was the body we used in entering politics to form the PDP. There was the G34 group led by Ekwueme and Solomon Lar; there was PNF, our own. The politicians from the East queued there. Then, there was the PF, the one of the Yar’Adua group. And there was the G34 and so many other smaller groups. That was how we started meeting in Jerry Gana’s house and that gave birth to PDP. The new politicians among us were very, very few. Prof A.B.C Nwosu was already there, but Ekwueme was also fond of taking him and I to meetings. In fact, there was also Okey Udeh, my friend who was also in politics. So, we normally struggled to carry Ekwueme’s bag to go into the meeting because it was a licence for you to go into the elder’s meeting. I was there at the formation of PDP and we were the people that brought PDP down to the East. And in the East, when we came back, Okwesilieze Nwodo and Jim Nwobodo manned the formation in Enugu. We, A.B.C Nwosu, myself, Chuba Okadigbo and Chief Okonkwo Ofodile, manned the formation in Anambra. Echeruo and Chief Nwoga and some young people, manned the formation in Imo. That was how we distributed ourselves and we went for the local government election which determined which party that would be registered and which would not be registered by INEC. This was in December 1998 and we swept all the seats in Anambra; 21 local governments, we lost only one to AD. We got our party registered, same in Imo and same in Enugu. That was the putting of roots into PDP. After that, I decided that I would contest to go to the Senate. The Senate primary also came in 1999, I was not successful. Michael Ajaegbo was an old politician. He knew the game more than us even though some of us started much earlier than him. He just bided his time and when the primaries came, notwithstanding the fact that I was the one who registered most of the members and gave them party cards and everything, Ajaegbo defeated me and Annie Okonkwo to take the seat. After that defeat at the primaries, my people in the Ministry of Health learned that I did not succeed. So, they started asking me to come back, that my resignation letter had not been processed. So, my director, Dr Sani and others were calling me that I should come back. I told them no, that I had bid farewell to civil service and that I have moved on a new route. That prompted me to contest immediately we went for our convention. I contested for the post of the Assistant National Secretary of PDP. I was elected at the Eagle Square. I served from there with Gemade and Nwodo was elected as National Secretary and some other officers. So, within the two years which was our tenure at that time till 2002, it was a job I enjoyed very well because that was my first time of mixing with politicians, professional politicians in quote. I learnt a lot from them. But in learning from them, I took only the good things I saw in them and dropped the other ones.
Like telling lies. Telling lies is a part of politics in Nigeria.
You are a politician, are you not telling lies?
No. I am not known for that. I don’t even equivocate. You will know where I stand on a matter. I say it and I stand by it; unless you bring a superior argument to convince me. And when I change, everybody also will know. That is my life, I learnt it from my father, and I have not changed about it, politics notwithstanding. In fact, what politics has done is that it has tempered and mellowed me down that I am not too forceful in saying what I want. So, sometimes, I can keep quiet which is unlike my nature. I don’t like to keep quiet in a debate or anything where people should make their views known. I am outspoken. I am a debater. In fact, I was leading the debating society when I was in the second school. I was the chief debater. So, many people even thought I would be a lawyer today. But I am not a lawyer. So, that is what politics has done to me. But for outright lying, I don’t do it. But that doesn’t mean I cannot tell you executive lie. There is one the President calls executive lie.
How does that play out?
If I am coming late for a meeting, I can tell you I am five minutes away while I am one hour away.
At the peak of your political career as a governor, you were abducted. What lessons did you learn from it because for every adversary, there is a lesson?
Of course! Well, the maxim is very correct. Everything that happens to a man in his own life, if you are a believer in God, if you are a good man who worships God, you will know that whatever, even if it is suffering that is inflicted on you, you will know that it is for your own good. I believe in that maxim. So, when July 10 came, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting it. I did not have any premonition. I also had picked some intelligence reports. But it was not clear. I had seen the body language from my supposedly close political friends, including my Deputy Governor, but I was unable to detect what it was. The nearest to decoding it was that I had what you can call a trail that from the time I was nominated and even going into the main election, throughout the campaign, I could figure and see some discomfort and unhappiness from some of my close allies as if to say oh, we made a mistake anointing this man. I could see it, but I couldn’t decode why. Why did I not decode it? I did not decode it because I didn’t want to be Governor in the first instance. It had been that my Senate ambition which I told you I lost the nomination in 1999. So, I was all along working towards going to be a Senator, even in the party, among officers, I would tell them at the working committee and the executive that the only thing they can do for me is to assist me with nomination in Senate and everybody was like unanimous that he has worked very hard for the party because I worked hard. I like working. I worked hard in the South East, I will go to the North East on a peace mission, I will go to the South West, everywhere! South-South! I am a ready volunteer to go and do a job. I was also not going for pecuniary reasons unlike some people. I would go, do the work, and put in my report. I am one of the few secretaries that put up a report when I come back. So, that was my worry. I couldn’t decode. But I noticed that even up to the inauguration day, there was some discomfort amongst my political associates, the inner group. So, it was until the night of the abduction, so to say, that I started getting some phone calls from people who were speaking to me in parables. They didn’t tell me why they were calling me. One person called me and said to me, Governor, your excellency, I said yes, he said I am calling you to know whether you know where your House of Assembly members were. I said how can I know where my House of Assembly members are? They have gone to their homes and I am in my own home. He said hmmmmm and ended the call. Then I got another phone call from my friend, Honourable Chudi Ofodile. He asked me how am I; I said I am fine, I am in Awka. And he said okay, that he was just calling to find out how I am and that I should watch my House of Assembly members. But if it is House of Assembly members, I said to myself, if they want to impeach me, they will serve notice of impeachment. So, I wasn’t bothered. I said when they serve me notice of impeachment, it will give me time to regroup and know what I am doing. The last call was from my friend, Chris Uba. That was early in the morning and he wanted to know where I was. And I said I was in Awka. He said he was going to Lagos to go and do one or two things and I wished him a safe journey. But around 8:30, the State Chairman of the party, Ifeatu Obi-Okoye, came to see me in the hotel where I was staying. I was lodged in Choice Hotel, Awka because the lodge was being renovated and wasn’t in good condition. I was told that the state chairman was looking for me and when he came, two things happened. The first thing he started with, maybe not to suspect anything, he said to me that he came to talk to me, that he was interested in being a Commissioner, so he was coming to lobby. And I asked him, chair, which portfolio are you interested in because having worked with me to become governor, any portfolio you talk about, you deserve it except Attorney-General because he is a lawyer. I told him except Attorney-General.
Because he wasn’t a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and I told him plainly that I needed a Senior Advocate to be my Attorney-General, that I want to change the standard of things in Anambra State and I wanted to enthrone excellence so that my Attorney-General will be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, my Commissioner for Finance will be a Chartered Accountant. That apart from these, any other thing you want, you can get, you can take. So, he thanked me very profusely and it was in the course of thanking me that he told me that he has just left our common friend and our political leader in our caucus because we’ve formed a caucus. I was the leader with Chris Uba. They made us co-chairman. Of course, I defer to him because the structure we had then was built around both of us, but he was closer to the presidency than myself. I was only the party man in the structure being a national officer. So, that was how that structure was. So, he said he had just left him. I said, in Enugu? He said no, in his Guest House in Awka here. I said, is he in Awka? He said yes. So, my antenna went up, that something is not working properly, something is amiss. Somebody has told me that he is going to Lagos and he is here. So, there is something. But I have my own way of doing things. Sometimes, I leave problems. I’ll1 say that those problems are self-resolving and that God will find a way of putting His hands in it, especially when the problem, I look at it and is beyond me in solving. That was what happened. So, I was in the office at 10. I usually get to the office at 9:30, but that day, because of those visitors and other stuff, I came in there at 10. And by 11am, the whole drama started. I saw my ADC was pushed out, something like there was ruffling and scuffling at the ante room in front of my office door.
By the late AIG Ige and the man who came with him. There was another three star, a DSP, who came with him, fully armed. Ige was in mufti. And I had seen Ige two days before in Enugu because I was coming back from Abuja two days before. I met him in Chris Uba’s house because I detoured to go and see Chris Uba and have some discussion with him. So, I saw Ige there and we exchanged pleasantries. He was drinking palm wine, I took a sip, although I am not a big drinker, I took a sip and we continued. So, when I saw him, I couldn’t understand why the push in that front door. So, when he came in, he sat down. Usually, when police officers see us, even the CP anywhere, they would salute you because you are sovereign. They are not saluting you because you are Chris Ngige or you are Mr A. They are saluting the office. So, Ige didn’t salute me. First and foremost, he wasn’t in uniform and he didn’t also chest out. That was the first sign. He sat down on a sofa seat and I was writing something and I said welcome. I got up to go and sit on the seat near him, a single seater. He was on a double seater like our friend there (referring to one of the interviewers). And then, I asked him this one that he is dressed in mufti, how is he, is all well? Has he started his retirement leave? I knew he was about to retire and it was a question of months. I didn’t know which month. He said no, no, no, no, that he is on duty here. I said ok, do I offer you anything? He said no, no, no, no. But of course, he was smelling of alcohol at that early morning. I said to myself that something was obviously wrong with this guy. I went back to my table. Then he told me Oga, you have to come down from that table. I said, why? He said because I have instruction that you should discontinue work.
God bless you. I asked, from who? Which instruction? From who? From high up. I said, which one is high up? You mean high up or high down? He said I don’t know, I should stop querying him. I said look, bloody police officer telling me that I should stop querying him. I said there is a lot on. So, when I picked my phone, he said no, no, no, no, drop your phone, drop your phone, that you are not to answer any call. It was an outside call. So, when the call came on my intercom, I picked my intercom. He said no, I should drop. I said no this is intercom, it is my secretary calling me. My secretary, I inherited her, but she is my cousin. She was working there. And when I picked the intercom, my cousin said the Director, SSS wanted to speak to me. I said fine. So, the Director SSS, Okojie, asked me that he heard that some people are in my office, that his SSS, my Chief Detail… I had two Chief Details. One was given to me by Okojie and one was sent from Enugu Command by Chris Uba. So, there was a tussle by the chief details. Of course, after discussing with Okojie, he said that he cannot take a Chief Detail from another person, that it is his job to provide me a Chief Detail and that unless I have any other person in his command that I chose, that this other boy, Anthony was going to be my Chief Detail. So, both of them were there.
Why did you allow both of them?
It is because the other one refused to go. And I mentioned it to Chris Uba who brought him. Chris Uba said that it was Abuja that posted that one. I left it so that I can sort it out with the DG. That is the only thing you could do in such a situation because Okojie was hell bent that Abuja had asked him to post somebody to me. And he has done the right thing. Okojie worked with me as director, so, I didn’t want to start a squabble with him, neither did I want a squabble with Chris Uba. I decided that when next I visit Abuja, I would go and see the DG, SSS. So, that was what happened. It was Tony, the one given to me by Okojie that called Okojie to say that AIG barged into my office and pushed them all aside and disarmed my police ADC. Of course, the SSS, because of that scuffle, cleared and went out to study what the situation was. So, their first point was to call their director. The man said ok, let us see. Is he a real AIG? I said yes. I said it is the one I know. Is he Mr Ige? I said yes, but he is not in uniform. He said ok, that he will contact his office. That was it. As we were there, the clerk of the Anambra State House of Assembly came in, opened the door and started coming in. He was my Latin teacher in the secondary school, Mr Aloysius Ikuka. We called him Gonzaga when we were in school. So, his face was very downcast. Immediately the AIG saw him, he said ah, ah, clerk, so you are here, bring the letter. So, they brought the letter. I looked it, then they brought out another letter of resignation that I have accepted the House of Assembly resolution accepting my resignation. Because when you give it, the House will do a resolution of acceptance and then bring it back to you, for me to sign and acknowledge. I refused to acknowledge. And I told him that this resignation letter is not from me. I told Ige and the clerk. So, there was an argument, an altercation. Then the clerk left. Ige said I must sign and I said I won’t sign. I won’t sign the acknowledgement. He said in my own interest, I have to sign. I said, which interest? I said the highest interest you have is that your pistol, bring it out nah, let’s see. I was waiting. If he brought out his pistol, I would struggle with the pistol with him and I would take it from him.
That was the plan?
Oh sure! Like I said, I don’t like bullies and I don’t like being trampled upon. I hate it from childhood. So, I don’t know whether he had his pistol. But it was the other man at the door that had an AK 47. Luckily, he wasn’t there at that time. He was there during the telephone issue. He was the one that said if you touch that telephone again, I will shoot. He kept the AK 47. He was in that position to shoot. He would just go out and come in, go out and come in for those four hours to five hours. He was putting his gun on like a sniper.
Did you ever panic during that period?
I didn’t panic.
What gave you that confidence?
Well, like I told you, certain things I cannot change, I leave it to God. But I wasn’t going to kowtow to the intimidation by the man. So, I said, is that why you are here? I then mustered courage. I was very angry anyway. And I asked him, is that why you are here? Is that why you have been here for four and half hours to parade a forged paper? I said please leave me. He said no, no, no, no, you are no longer governor. I said I accept I am no longer governor. I started packing my things.
Files that I came with. They normally bring my bag of files. If I finish treating files at home, they pack them in a bag. There was also a second bag for those I hadn’t treated. I had given them the ones I treated. Those ones were the ones I hadn’t treated. So, I packed them. He said no, no, no, no, that I shouldn’t touch anything. I said no, these are my files, I came with them, I am going. I pressed my bell for my secretary to come. Of course, they have raided the place and locked up all staff in every office. So, my secretary couldn’t come. So, I carried my bag and was shouting and going out. He said come back, no, no, no, no. I said no, I am not coming back. Then he ran after me and said he had instruction to take me to my village. I said how? He said that was the instruction from Abuja. I said which Abuja. I said who in Abuja gave you the instruction? He said Sir, this is what I… I said no, I am not going to my village. He said where do you want to go? I said I want to go to Lagos, I want to go and meet my family in Lagos. So, he said ok, anywhere you want to go to, we take you there. I said fine. So, I brought my driver. Of course, they had taken my staff car, folded the flag and covered everything. I entered my 406, my private car. I normally put it in the convoy because I didn’t have a full convoy of cars. So, I was using some of my personal cars. I entered it. Then, when I entered, he put that one that had a long gun in front of the 406. I was at the back of the 406 with that my bag, I looked, all my staff, they were locked up, they were peeping from windows like…
God bless you. Like monkeys in their cage! Dog in the cage! So, we started going. As we drove out, two big lorry loads of anti-riot police followed us. We were in front, they were following us. Unknown to me, my immediate elder sister was also following and following and trailing us. When we got to a place in Awka called Kwata Junction, a thought occurred to me that I could go to my hotel. I told the driver, I said turn; let’s go to the hotel so I can bring my bags. The man didn’t know the way to wherever we were going. I heard that the man came from Ebonyi.
For the operation?
For the operation. He came from Ebonyi Command. So, he wasn’t conversant with Anambra. I drove to my hotel. I came into the hotel, I wanted to go up to my room at the suite there in the hotel. The man said no, he has to give me policemen to go with me. I stood there and he went to arrange for policemen from that lorry load that were following us. When he brought the policemen, a thought occurred to me. I looked around, I saw my sister peeping at one end, then I said to the man that I would need my PA to do the packing. I had to wait for the PA that he is not in. He said no, that I have to go up. I said no, I am not going. That was the DSP man. We started a new round of argument. I was in the courtyard of the hotel. So, I asked for a chair, they gave me a chair and I sat on the courtyard. The arguments were raging, my sister was challenging them and my SA Media, Fred Chukwulobe, was peeping at us. And when they saw that I had the courage, I had everything; they then rushed to the radio, Anambra Radio and put up an announcement. They were already announcing on the radio that I had resigned and that the Anambra State House of Assembly had accepted my resignation. Fred came and put a counter because he saw me fighting them and heard me saying that I didn’t resign, that I am still a governor. That is what I was telling them in that courtyard that I don’t know what you people are talking about. So, they were challenging me, four policemen with their DSP. I didn’t fear them. We were in public glare. They had their guns, but they were afraid to even bring out their guns. We had the altercation for close to 20 minutes in the courtyard. Then one Chief, a traditional ruler of Mbauku, came around and passed. He was an APGA man. He was very angry that I am a PDP governor. They said that APGA won the state and we took it by force. So, he didn’t look our way. In fact, he was my friend in Ekwueme’s campaign. He was one of those we went to Jos with. He is an Ekwueme man to the core. When he went and came back, he heard the altercation. He came and asked me what was going on. I said these people said I have resigned, but I didn’t resign. He said what? I said that is what is going on. He said but we heard it on the radio that you have resigned. I said no, I didn’t, don’t mind them, it is fake news. That was how the man came back to me and said, would love to speak to Dr Alex Ekueweme? I said, the VP? I said yes. So, when he came to give me the phone, they attacked him. Luckily, the man usually carries a pistol. It was approved for him by President Shagari at that time. So, when they cocked their gun, he brought out his pistol. They thought he was a force man; he was an army officer or something like that. They calmed down and went to report to their AIG that there is trouble here, that I brought some armed people to the place. So, Igwe Mbauku finished that call, gave me and said who can he reach out for me because Ekwueme just said ah, is that what is happening? Who can be responsible? I said well, I don’t know, but it looks like it is this Obasanjo and his people. So, we got to the climax and started climbing down. The chief asked me for another number he can get for me. I remembered our number in PDP secretariat, the secretary’s office. By that time, we had a change of guard in officers. Vincent Ogbulafor was now the National Secretary after Nwodo and Audu Ogbeh, another friend of mine, very good friend and good man, was now the National Chairman. When he asked me the number, that number was in my head: 0952316406. So, I gave it off hand. And he got the number at one dial and gave me the phone. I spoke to the Secretary and I said, can I speak to Vin Ogbulafor? He took the phone and said yes, who is this? Who is this? I said it is me, Ngige, Governor Ngige. He said please; whoever is on this line, stop joking. We are not joking here, we are mourning in this office. We are looking for Ngige and you are now telling us that you are Ngige. I called him the nickname I used to call him, the Prince of the Niger. He said heyyyyyyyy! He shouted and told other members of the National Working Committee. They were in a meeting actually, brainstorming on what best to do. Everybody ran to the phone, Dikibo; everybody. They were running to the phone to speak to me that I am alive. Eddie Iroh of Radio Nigeria (FRCN), who was there to interview them on the loss of their governor; whose whereabouts that nobody knew since about 11am was also there. And they told him that I was the one on the line. Eddie Iroh put his machines on and connected with their studio to national and then, after talking to me, he said, can you talk to Nigerians? And I said yes. So, I started talking that I am alive, but I am still a captive here, that I am being held, but I hope to be free soon, that I did not resign, I am still the governor of Anambra State, that resignation is involuntary, that I am not buying such. That was the thing that did the magic. From there, we called the Vice President’s office, we got Atiku, another good friend of mine. Atiku called the IGP and said he has spoken to me and that the governor is still alive and he is there and he said he didn’t resign. How do you even take somebody’s work when the person is still alive and has not resigned? In fact, I was on the other line and he was talking to the IG on another line. So, when he finished, he came back to me on the line and said please, go back to your office. I have directed them to take you back to your office. That was it. After an hour, the AIG came with the CP. In fact, they were there, the two CPs. I think the CP Enugu had joined them and his DCs and others. They said they want to take me back to the office, I said no, I am not going again, it is late. It was already 5:30 to 6:00pm. So, that is it. And they dispersed.
You were in the hotel that night?
I had to sleep in the hotel. Yes, because the Anambra people came and chased away those people.
And you were not afraid that they could come back and abduct you from that hotel?
No, no, no, no. I am a courageous man like my father. The only thing I did was that I called for my own gun, I had a pump action gun. I called for my gun. We don’t take prisoners, but I won’t die without a fight.
How did you meet Chief Chris Uba?
I met him through a common friend, Arthur Eze. He was Arthur’s boy.
What contribution did he make towards your emergence as governor?
Big contribution. I told you that we had a caucus. He was the man who had the connection to the presidency, to the villa because Andy, his brother, was working with Chief Obasanjo.
Don’t you think you gave him so much free hand to operate to the point of getting you a chief detail?
No, no, no. By my nature, I do not like hurting people who have helped me in one way or the other. I don’t like it. It is not my nature. Yes, I could have been excessively over-trusting. You can say that. I will agree. But I wasn’t vast in governance and the security structure of a government official.
There are some people who also felt that suddenly after Uba made you, you turned an ingrate, that before you became governor, you were ready to do anything that he asked you to do. Is that true?
No! It is not true. Those people don’t know me and those people don’t also know that I was the officer in the party. I was the one who organised the congresses in Anambra State for delegates. So, I had already during the congresses, primed the whole of Anambra Central Senatorial District to be my delegates because I was going to run for Senate. I told you that. So, whoever was conducting congresses in Anambra, I was the anchorman because I was the national officer from Anambra. I was also the anchorman for Governor Mbadinuju because I was working with him. I was the anchorman that helped him with the congresses in the Southern senatorial zones. So, those two senatorial zones were in my pocket before any primaries because it is the same delegates that you use. Even in the North, I also helped some people who were interested in the House of Reps and to make sure that their people are elected as delegates. So, it is not trying to say that Uba was 100 percent contributor to my emergence. No. I did the political angle, the ground work. I had it. Just like a general going to war, I wasn’t blowing my trumpet; I wasn’t singing it from rooftop. But if you come to the field, you will know that I am the general there because those delegates, it is me they know.
So, the next day after the abduction you went to work and what next?
Sure! I went to work. And by the time I got to the office, Anambra people were in the office, they had seized the office. They thought that my Deputy Governor was already there. So, they went and were looking for him, but they didn’t see him. I came before him and as I sat down, a delegation from the PDP secretariat led by Chief Bode George, A.K. Dikibo, Ozichukwu Ozichukwu and I think one other officer, were already there to meet with me. They were on a peace mission. My deputy, who had announced himself Governor because of the so-called resignation, tried to drive into the place. Of course, they seized his vehicle and tried to lynch him. In fact, the vehicle had to run. He had a very good driver because the driver sped with reverse. They sped for their lives.
What lessons did you learn from there?
Well, I don’t know what I picked from there. What I picked from there is that there is no act to find a man’s mind from the construction on the face. Like I told you, I did not have some inklings to give me signs or premonition that something is going wrong there that day. I had seen my deputy governor a day before.
Were you scared of being killed throughout the ordeal?
Do you know what I have told you before? I told you that I like challenges. I also told you that I am courageous like my father. My father confronted the British colonial masters in Enugu when he was working in the Public Works Department. He was Chief Carpenter, from Foreman to Supervisor Carpenter. But he confronted the British because of the maltreatment they were giving to some Nigerian workers; daily paid workers and things like that. So, compounded by the fact that I never wanted to be governor. You know, if you had put it that it is governor or nothing or if I lose this governor, my life is finished; then you start misbehaving. So, many things I did even when I was in the office. Like during the third term of Obasanjo, I was approached by two former national chairmen of PDP that if I support this project, my governorship would be intact, that even the court matter and things like that, that I should leave it, that they know what to do, that my travail in the courts and the support they are giving to Obi was because of my intransigence. I said well, I don’t know how it can change now. It is unfortunate. One of them was begging me. I won’t mention his name. He stayed with me in my lodge in Awka till 2am. I didn’t budge. I went to Abakaliki and then said that I am objecting to third term.
What is your present relationship with Chief Chris Uba?
It is cordial. I have forgiven. I am a Christian.
Was he really the one behind the abduction or former President Obasanjo?
Well, you can ask both of them. They are still alive
You are a staunch member of the APC, but the PDP controls the South East and there is this clamour by various groups that you will come back to become governor. Do you want to toe that line? And how is the APC going to have a strong footing in the South East?
APC will have a strong footing in the South East. In fact, it has started now with this big clamour for presidency of Igbo extraction.
Do you think that project is realisable?
Why not? Why not?
What are the chances?
I don’t want to discuss the chances because I am not discussing the Presidency and who is filling it next now. I feel it is unfair for the incumbent who has not done up to halftime. You know in a football match, it is at halftime that they discuss players for changes and who is not playing well, the arrangements and all that. People should give President Buhari till next year May when he would have been two years in office. That is when our party members should be talking about who would go into this shoe, wear the shoe and it would fit. And our agenda, the ones he has done, how we can maintain it and build on it. This is my view on it. But the idea of whether there should be rotation and zoning and no rotation and zoning, for me, is a simple matter. It is a gentleman’s agreement. The American constitution, you don’t have everything written in it. It is not written in our constitution, but for me, it will make for stability, fairness and everything if it rotates back to the South. I was in PDP, we practiced it, and it makes for stability and everything. So, we didn’t have it in our party constitution. We the framers of the constitution agreed that it is something that we will do. I was one of the wise men that did the APC constitution headed by Chief Segun Osoba. And that is what we agreed on; that we don’t need to insert it. But there are things that are done by gentleman agreement. And when we went for the first convention of the party, we told all the Southerners to step down. It was only Okorocha who refused to step down and we quarrelled with him. People like me quarrelled with him from the South East and I told him that I won’t support him. And I did not. So, that is it. If you talk about merit and competence, you can also enthrone it. Concurrently, if you come to the Southern part, you will see meritorious people, you will see competent persons. So, for me, this is the way I look at it. But everybody has his own opinion on the matter and the side of the divide I will stand and stand firmly will be known after May 29, 2021.
But are you going to accept that clamour to contest in 2021?
What do you think if you were me?
I am not you. I don’t know.
I left office 2006, 14 years ago. It is a long time. And I have done national politics ever since then. I have ran Senate election and won, I have served a tenure in a ministerial position, the President called me back, a big mark of honour and a big stamp of confidence. So, I have to assist him. I have to hold on to him.
How is your experience of being a Senator and Minister like?
They are two different things and I will be very frank with you. When we were in the Senate, by the way to get to the Senate, for me, you should remember the stories I have told you before. That was my lifelong ambition when I was serving at the National Assembly Clinic, then the bug of politics and being a senator, bit me there. I saw Ubah Ahmed and how they manoeuvred; I saw Victor Akan, how they are, speaking very well with big oratorical skills, I saw Jonathan Odebiyi speaking, head of UPN clan; I saw even late Fasanmi made his points very, very well and very articulate and the way he delivers. I saw my kinsman, Onyeabor Obi’s perfect delivery all the time. Echeruo! And I fell in love being a Senator. So, that was why I contested for Senate after being a governor and I gave it my all. It was the toughest, the most gruesome political battle I have ever fought because it sapped everything out of me. I faced very formidable opponents; five in one. I fought five strong opponents personified by only one person. Late Professor Dora Akunyili was the contender for the position with me. But behind her were lined up, very strong forces. Victor Umeh, who was then the National Chairman of APGA, is from the same senatorial district and he is from Aniocha; Peter Obi, the governor then and the paraphernalia and the arsenal and everything of Anambra State Government; Dora Akunyili herself, a very strong personality with a large and wide connection in Nigeria. Her connections were national and even international. She was there fighting. Strong connections inside INEC for her! In fact, one of the INEC officials told me that we will continue doing rerun election in the senatorial district till we wear you out. Of course, Dora Akunyili herself was also saying that she had some ACN members backing her. For me, it was the fight of my life and I saw it. We did election three times and when we finished, we entered the courts and started doing another round of elections inside the courts. The tribunal had to send our case to the Court of Appeal three times, even to the Court of Appeal and back. We were going back and forth. Even the second time, the 180 days caught up with us and we now filed in the tribunal that 180 days had come, that we should terminate this case here.
What has been your greatest challenge as a minister?
My biggest challenge now is the economy of Nigeria. And from the economy of Nigeria, we move into the next problem associated with it which is unemployment. From unemployment and underemployment, you now go into the distribution and disturbance in the milieu, industrial relations people, lack of revenue in the economy, giving rise to agitations all over, both in private and public sector over wages, remunerations at every given time because the remunerations will never be enough anymore and the employed and the employer will always be at daggers drawn whether in the public sector or private sector. And their point of termination is in my place, which is the Ministry of Labour and Employment. But more importantly, as Minister of Labour and Employment, it is disheartening to me that we are unable to assist people and say this agency is recruiting or this company is hiring because in the former time, it is the Ministry of Labour, the employment and wages section that unemployed people will go and register with in earnest so that they can be captured as unemployed and employers will be coming into our system and asking, we want this kind of person. They will give the job description and give the qualification of the person they need. So, you will then do what is called matching. You match prospective employees with the prospective employers. But all that has gone now. In a way, they are frustrating to me.
Let’s talk about the growing insecurity in the country. The menace of herdsmen attacks on farmers in the South East have reached frightening levels. We also have incessant cases of banditry ravaging the North. What is your take on these crises?
Well, you know the saying that with long life and as you live on, things will keep on unfolding. If there are lies that are told or truth that are told, if you suppress the truth, it will come up much later. It is like a calabash that you put under water and it will still come up. So, when all these things started, some of us said they were not engineered by government or by President Muhammadu Buhari. And we were called names. In the South East, they started calling us names, but today, we are here, we are seeing the things unfolding clearly, that these are symptoms of the trying times that we are in, symptoms of previous bad governments of many, many years where people had not been sent to school, whether they are called Almajirai or whatever. You see the symptoms again down in the East and on our side, the Niger Delta of communities not developed. Their monies are taken, whether they kept them under derivation principle or whether they gave them as special allocation to NDDC or direct allocation to their local government and things, the monies are not spent for the people. So, this restiveness has manifested. This injustice to the governed by many of the previous governments of Nigeria, not this government, as the things are manifesting today, we are seeing them. But initially when it started, they said no, that the herdsmen came, they want to kill everybody in the South East and South-south. Some of us didn’t go to that area as such, but you can see banditry even now in the North West; banditry is there. You can see Boko Haram in the North East. It is there. All these are symptoms of malcontents and people who have not been taken care of. This is my take on that. Everybody has to do some restitution.
In what sense?
Everybody has wronged the country, especially those of us who are the elite, including you.
Are we part of the elite?
Yes, you are. Don’t you go overseas with our foreign exchange? How many cars do you have? You should have only one. If you go overseas, a person like you will have only one. It is people like me that can have only two. But we acquire more than we need here. So, the whole country, everybody! There is no playing ostrich about it. We have all been unfair to those who didn’t go to school; those who didn’t have the opportunity through no fault of theirs.
What do we now do?
Restitution, all of us.
By doing what?
We will renounce some of these things and start paying tax and start doing all our civic responsibilities for the utilisation of the downtrodden people. Otherwise, these things will continue because the resources are now scarce and small. It is small.
Retirement from politics
When I retire in the next 10 years from politics, I will go into philanthropy and the rest of them, education. I want to build the young ones. I will build a school. In fact, my aim is to build a medical school to help in teaching medical students, bringing out doctors who, while they are there, will also be teaching students some morals – how to respect Hippocratic Oath and don’t be going on strike at anytime in life. I have never gone on strike in my life as a doctor because I swore to an oath.
The scandal in NSITF has got tongues wagging. What really happened? Are you on a vendetta mission as many people think?
Nooooo! I am not on any vendetta mission. If I were on a vendetta mission, they even would not be there up to this time. Do not forget that they came there since April 2017. They worked in 2018 and they worked in 2019. They have spent three years and I have managed them.
Can their tenure not be renewed?
No, no, no, no. The Executive Director and MD, have a four-year tenure. They only have about 10 months to go. So, how can I be on a vendetta mission? But I didn’t want the place to crash.
What of the memo that emanated from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation that ministers should not be sacking chief executives of agencies and parastatals?
People misconstrued that memo. Go and read that memo. I was a civil servant. It is a circular. Two things about a circular: a circular is an inferior legislation. Yeah! Very, very inferior! The hierarchy of legal authority is the constitution. The constitution is the grand norm. Any law you make in the National Assembly and it is in conflict with the constitution, the constitution supervenes. That is number one. Number two, after that constitution, you now have Acts of National Assembly. After Acts of the National Assembly, you have laws of states. If a law of a state is in conflict with Act of National Assembly, it is void. Yes, on the same issue. That is the hierarchy of authority in law. You finish with that, and then you do what is called regulations. Regulations flow out from law. In fact, before regulation, you have executive orders which they weren’t using it much. I used executive order in Anambra State long ago because I had a very good attorney general. I put so many things on executive order. So, after executive orders, you have regulations and after regulations, you now have directives for executive in particular, presidential directives or anything that affects both the executive and the legislature, especially in terms of the economy and they come out as circular or management of the public service. So, you now see where a circular is. If you are talking about what I did being against a circular, a president has given an approval based on Section 171 of the constitution. Section 169, 170, 171, read the contents correctly. The President can appoint and dismiss some group of officers without recourse to anybody. It is only those he appoints co-jointly with the National Assembly that he goes back to the National Assembly to say, remove this man or I want to remove this man. And those are for the people in federal executive government bodies not suitable on 169, 170. 169 is public service of the federation. That is where it is established and it also says there that the president owns it. And also, if you go to Section five of the constitution, the President is the chief executive of the federation. And if you come to 171, he leads the offices. The offices are: the SGF is there, all people who are his personal staff, Head of Service of the Federation, permanent secretaries and heads of extra ministerial departments by whatever name so called, personal assistants, special assistants, advisers; he can remove these people without recourse. Ministers! We are 147, 148, and 149. 147 establish the council of ministers, 148 same as chief adviser, and that is why we have the Federal Executive Council Meetings because the constitution says you must be holding those meetings with ministers and the vice president. The constitution also says we are to be his chief advisers and that he should not take advice from any other person, except those listed in the constitution. Who are those listed in the constitution that he consults for advice? It is the Council of State and the other councils, the various councils. He consults them for advice. The constitution is clear on this. So, even these people you are talking that SGF circular and no SGF circular, 171 overrides everything. So, even the SGF circular is a subservient document to a presidential directive or approval because it is the same president that directs and will issue this circular. But the same president can grant exemptions. But even in this case, like I told the National Assembly, I also passed a memo through the Office of the SGF to fulfil all righteousness apart from the presidential approval.
So, their removal is normal?
They are on suspension. The President has not dismissed them. He has not sacked them. He said, I want to hear from you people. Go and face a panel. There are some breaches and financial regulation infractions. Some of them are crying malfeasance. So, go and prove your innocence there. Some of them are there at the panel. It is only two of them that decided to go to court. Today, I saw their summons, taking me and the President to the court, the National Industrial Court.
How is your friend, James Faleke?
Faleke is on break (general laughter). He is on break.