Uche Usim and Paulinus Aidoghie, Abuja
Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige has said it is premature to begin politicking for 2023 but assured that his choice of a presidential candidate will be unveiled after May 29, 2021.
This is the concluding part of the interview with Daily Sun in his Abuja residence. The first part was published on Thursday.
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 should come back to contest governorship in 2021. 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. In the All Progressives Congress (APC), I participated in all the merger meetings between the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) in Bafarawa’s house before the presidential election that held later in 2011 between the ACN and CPC when it broke away from the ANPP and was to present President Muhammadu Buhari. The experiment failed and we continued the discussions again in 2012 / 2013, culminating in the formation of a merger committee for the ACN, the ANPP, the CPC and a faction of APGA led by Gov Rochas Okorocha of Imo State.
I served in all the committees including the constitution drafting committee and the caucus that adopted it led by Chief Segun Osoba. My co-members were Chief John Oyegun, later first National Chairman, Otunba Philip Adebayo, now minister and Abubakar Malami SAN, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), and a host of others. We did not include rotation and zoning of the president, but a clause in our preamble also pointed to it indirectly where we said on the preamble the need to promote natural and peaceful coexistence, respect and understanding, equal opportunity, mutual and peaceful coexistence because we said the 1999 Constitution as amended had in 14/3 said there should be no discrimination and there should be federal character principle.
Presidency of Igbo extraction and zoning was by chance that PDP and providence provided and presented it in the writing of the first PDP constitution in 1998 when the committee was set up in prof Jerry Gana’s house. Prof A.B.C. Nwosu represented our Ekwueme group and the PNF from the South East I think with late Sen Echeruo. That first constitution did not make a direct statement of ceding presidency to the North when discussing the president or governor of a state, but the preamble contained a clause which confirms the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices among the diverse peoples of the country. Under this principle, Dr. Ekwueme vacated the protem chairmanship position of the party for Chief Solomon Lar from the North because the caucus meeting agreed on a power shift. Abacha and Babangida were from the North, hence the South was told to go and search for a southern material for president, that was how Ekwueme and Obasanjo emerged.
Do you think the presidency of Igbo extraction 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 May next year 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 Oshoba. 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 Southeast 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 well 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 are 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 Southeast 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 Southeast, 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 Almajiria 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 Southeast and South-south. Some of us didn’t go to that area as such, but you can see banditry even now in the Northwest; banditry is there. You can see Boko Haram in the Northeast. It is there. All these are symptoms of malcontents and people who have not been taking 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 elites, including you.
Are we elites?
Yes, you are elites. 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 those 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 fulfill 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?
Well, Faleke is on break (general laughter). He is on break.