Labour and Employment Minister and former Governor of Anambra State Chris Ngige, a man previously celebrated for constructing good roads in the state during his tenure, should be pitied, rather than lionised. He has become the chief enemy of his own people. Ngige stirred controversy last week when he said the elite in the South-East should be held responsible for the restlessness of youth in the region. He said the elite have fostered harmful propaganda aimed at destroying the good work that President Muhammadu Buhari has been doing for the region. Ngige said it was these half-truths that have spawned agitations by youth in the South-East. He spoke in Abuja at a session attended by stakeholders of the Association of Eze Ndigbo in 19 northern states and Abuja.
Ngige’s claims were unfounded and unsupported. They lacked analytic rigour. There is a reason why youth in the South-East are frustrated, restive, exasperated and annoyed with the government. When South-East youth are denied their rights, when they are denied freedom to express themselves, when they are deprived of opportunities that are granted to their peers in the northern part of the country, and when they are portrayed as lazy and unambitious, you can expect them to rise in anger.
Ngige provoked South-East people when he said Buhari has shown love for people in the region. This is utter baloney. How could a President who, repeatedly and publicly, expressed his contempt and hatred for people in the South-East suddenly find in his heart love for the same people?
Perhaps the most vexatious aspect of Ngige’s statement was his claim that the South-East was not marginalised. He said: “There is no maltreatment there. We are in the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which is composed of a minister per state. But we have one extra ministerial slot. So, the South East is effectively represented to ensure justice is done to our people. We are there to talk when there is no justice.”
He did not end on that note. His absurd argument continued: “People can say that we are not honoured with appointments of Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Army Staff and Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF). These are positions we have enjoyed before in the Nigerian Federation… So, if you now talk about appointments, it becomes a matter of perception. I won’t blame them…A lot of them don’t understand how government works. A lot of them don’t understand that I… can influence things that will come to my state, my zone or any other area and where we think things should be sited or done in Nigeria.”
Strangely, Ngige did not clarify how long those positions were held by South-East people.
As evidence that Ngige is out of touch with reality on the ground, he continued his outrageous assertions about what Buhari has done for the South-East: “Infrastructure-wise, if you go to the South-East, from Enugu-Okigwe and Umuahia-Aba-Port Harcourt expressways…a journey that normally takes us five hours from Enugu to Aba is now about one hour, 15 minutes. When the Port Harcourt section is finished, a journey from Enugu to Port Harcourt will take two hours. Coming to Enugu-Awka-Onitsha, two sections have been finished…We are now at the third section…If you go there now, you will see it is fully completed with drains on both sides.”
Ngige feels he is privileged with divine knowledge of the situation in the South-East. Any other view that contradicts his position must be wrong because Ngige has appropriated knowledge of how governments operate across the world. He said further: “But much, more importantly, propaganda against the government by the elites in the South-East should stop because it is that propaganda that provoked troubles that we are now noticing. People have been brainwashed.”
Oh dear. Ever since his appointment in 2015 as Labour and Employment Minister in Buhari’s government, Ngige has consistently fed the nation with a diet of lies and inaccuracies about the condition of people in the South-East. His statements suggest that Buhari has performed above expectations and that the government does not operate any discriminatory policy designed to incapacitate people in the South-East region. Questions are now being asked whether Chris Ngige the Labour Minister is the same Chris Ngige who governed Anambra State between May 2003 and March 2006. It is amazing how political office has placed blinkers over the eyes of a minister.
It is clear that Ngige plays the role of a man who intensely engineers and pumps into the public sphere propaganda messages intended to burnish Buhari’s rapidly declining public image. His actions and utterances demonstrate quite convincingly that Ngige has not been a good spokesperson for the South-East and he is definitely not a good ambassador of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he studied medicine and graduated in 1979.
As Buhari’s chief propagandist, Ngige has never admitted that Buhari has any character flaws or blemishes in the way he has managed the country in the past six years. Ngige has cut a reputation as a man who steadily and regularly deflects public criticisms directed at Buhari, despite poor public opinion and rating of the government.
Soon after his election in 2015, Buhari said (on record) that no one should expect him to accord equal attention, or allocate equal federal resources and government positions to people from a region of the country where he received 5 per cent of the votes during the 2015 presidential election. The comment was seen as an indirect reference to the South-East. If that admission did not confirm the contempt Buhari held for the region, nothing else would.
In arguing that the South-East has not been discriminated against and marginalised by Buhari’s government, Ngige has refused to acknowledge the impoverished conditions of people in the region. The harsh socioeconomic conditions in the South-East reflect, sadly, the government’s (scorched earth) policy of turning the region into a desert unfit for human existence.
Ngige is so blinded by party politics that he consistently sees a path where everyone perceives obstacles. No one knows why the man has positioned himself against the interests of his own people but, in politics, the desire for power, influence, wealth and property can overwhelm politicians with greasy palms and oily bald pate.
As long as people in the South-East continue to live like refugees in their fatherland because of the discriminatory policy of the government, the President’s threats, as well as the excesses of “unknown gunmen” and soldiers and police officers, the government cannot really claim to be fair to the region.
The government’s warlike attitude to angry youth in the South-East to whom the government has responded with insensitivity and hard language of intolerance has worsened rather than eased the tension in the region. In essence, Buhari’s threatening language has achieved the opposite effect. An elected President should show that unique quality as a compassionate, understanding and listening man who is committed to solving evolving national problems.
A President cannot use military and police force to silence restless youth. Things don’t work that way anymore. We are in a democracy, not a dictatorship. Second, this is 21st century Nigeria, not Nigeria of the mid-20th century.