From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
AS a seasoned politician and professional medical doctor, Dr Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment has established himself as a household name.
Although traumatised by the recent tragic death of the Minister of State, James Ocholi (SAN), the former governor of Anambra State speaks to Daily Sun in his office in Abuja on a wide range of issues, dwelling on the ragging issue of the senatorial rerun election in Anambra State.
While defending his decision to pull out of the rerun, Dr Ngige shockingly announced that he was not even prepared to contest the March 2015 senatorial election but did because he wanted to mobilise and garner support for President Muhammadu Buhari.
He equally commented on the controversial issue of the President Buhari government paying jobless Nigerians N5000 stipend, revealing how his ministry has categorised the programme into four segments.
I want to describe the incident that happened to Ocholi and members of his family as a bad dream which will fade away. But I woke up the next day to realise that it has become a reality.
Having worked closely with him in the ministry, I cannot but say that I feel a very deep sense of loss. It was a loss aggravated by many situations that made us work together by various ways and in diferent parts.
We first worked together in the APC merger committee where he represented the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC). It was a committee with many lawyers and SANs including him and the present Attorney-General of the federation. He was among those who made the committee very tick.
In fact, he was an engine room of the constitution drafting sub-committee. Some of us who are not lawyers but professionals in party administration march them wit for wit. It was a memorable experience working with him in that committee.
He also graduated into the Interim Executive Committee of APC as the Deputy Legal Adviser, a position he held for about nine months. During those assignments, he was on top of the situation. He was always at hand to handle every emergency situation by way of offering legal advice and solution in the absence of the substantive legal adviser.
We became closer from there having known him since his Law School days as a contemporary to my brother. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when Mr President announced him as my Minister of State for Labour and Employment.
Before the announcement, he thought that he was bound to Justice Ministry or any other ministry but not Labour. I felt that Mr President knew that Ocholi and I always engaged ourselves in intellectual discourse. Since we were united again in the ministry, I never had any hesitation in assigning duties to him because our relationship had become a roundabout, intertwined friendship.
He never shied away from taking up responsibilities and we were very free with each other. I am particularly worried about the two committees he was heading before his death. They are very critical to the nation.
The committee of stakeholders in the oil and gas industry comprising PENGASSAN and NUPENG at one end as unions, the labour contractors at one end and the International Oil Corporations (IOCs) like Shell, Mobil, Agip and others at the other end with the Labour ministry as the facilitator.
We wanted the committee Ocholi was heading to work for eight weeks and come up with a solution to the problem. He was also heading the ever-rearing and tricky situation in the health sector where there are other associations and unions getting themselves into an amalgam called JOHESU. It is the umbrella body for all the associations in the health sector.
Considering my situation and that of the Minister of Health as medical doctors, I felt that the best person to head the harmonisation meeting should be a non-medical or health-affiliated professional. He was the right person to look at the issue dispassionately without bias.
His capacity as chairman of this joint negotiation committee had recorded a geometric progression. In fact, as at the beginning of this month, I had got commendation text messages from the Minister of State for Health and others on the success he had recorded.
The brief given to me already on what they have discussed proved that tempers have already gone down dramatically and monumentally.
When I heard the news of his death, I thought it was a rumour especially as I was rumoured to have collapsed and died in the National Assembly during budget defence about some weeks ago.
Initially, I regarded the news about his death as the same rumour from the same people. It came when I had finished a television interview where I extolled his analytical mind, greatness, intellectual bent, erudition and scholarship.
It was when I got security report that I started networking with people who confirmed it to me. I cannot believe that death has taken away James Ocholi, his son and wife.
I was shocked to the marrow and even as a medical doctor, I saw patients die but none was as shocking as Ocholi’s death. I had no inclination about his death. It was like a thunderbolt that only time can heal the shock.
Ocholi’s person and what to miss about him
James was a man of many parts, he was very ebullient, agile and a workaholic. He was one man that never grumbles for any assigned role and I noticed it while we were in the same committee in the party. It was the same while we worked in the Labour Ministry.
He stays in the office late like me and as somebody who likes work, I developed special interest in him. He had a very good analytical mind. He had the capacity to evaluate issues, compartmentalise them and come up with the necessary deductions.
He was intelligent with very scientific mind even as a legal person. He was a very good family man who attended virtually all functions with his wife and little wonder he died with his wife and son in the same car. I can only pray that Almighty will accept their souls.
If only we can run our programmes very well, conclude all the negotiations he started through the memo briefings he had given to me, it will be a very good legacy to his memory.
I am very sure that the Federal Government will also honour him. Mr President has a package for his family members and I can assure that none of the surviving ones will sufer in his absence.
The controversy over FG’s payment of N5000 to jobless Nigerians
We will not give N5000 for people to go and sit down at home and be sleeping; we won’t give the money to loafers and indolent persons. We are going to give to categories of people that fall under the three programmes we have packaged.
The first programme is Teach Nigeria. It is a programme we take graduates, NCE holders, education and professional graduate majors, comprising geologists, biologists, lawyers, engineers, scientists, pure and applied scientists as adhoc teachers.
In this category, Nigerians will be converted to emergency and auxiliary teachers. They will undergo training, depending on where they are domiciled. If it is near the training centre, we can give them N5000 each as transport fare.
It is possible we are going to accommodate those domiciled near the training. For those not domiciled there, we won’t provide accommodation, we will pay them N10,000 each. There are other categories of persons we can even pay N15,000 while the training lasted. The financial reward is a minimum of N5000, N10,000 to N15,000. So, Teach Nigerians or teachers education is the first category of the programme.
After the training, which might be two or three months, we will now synchronise with the state government and deploy the beneficiaries not to federal schools but state schools.
It is not also true that we will only deploy them to primary schools. Some of them will go to secondary schools. We have told the NUT that they are partners in progress on this matter because we recognise teaching as a profession. We equally recognise the teachers’ registration council.
Just as we have council for medical persons, nurses, the teachers’ council will be part of the programme. They would be certified to start teaching. If, for instance, the engineers secure employment elsewhere, other persons will take up their teaching position.
We want to domicile the management of the centres under the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), a parastatal under the Ministry of Labour. The specialist capacity centres can take many graduates, the Lagos and Bauchi centres can take over 4000 trainees each in a cycle of training. It is the same for Lafia and Enugu centres that can take as high as 2000 trainees each.
We will graduate them in that cycle and based on the degree of certification received from the NDE vocational centres, the beneficiaries will migrate to the next category for specialisation in order to have Trade Test Certificate graded into certificate one, two and three.
The trade certificates are the progenitors and replacement for the former City and Guild Certificates recognised all over the world including Europe, America and Canada. Holders of that certificate can be employed in Nigeria or outside the country under a Labour Migration System. We are partnering International Organisation for Labour Migration (IOM) system, a European Union-based organisation.
That is why we have made it clear that we are now creating pink and blue-collar jobs because there are no white-collar jobs anywhere for this administration to give Nigerians. We are facing mining, agricultural development/farming, rice, tomato cultivation, palm tree development so that we stop the importation of rice, palm oil and even tomato puree.
We are going into fish farming, bee and honey development programmes. We are concentrating on agriculture and mining as part of skill acquisition and blue collar jobs. The pink collar jobs are the service providers from those who acquire service skills. Among them are computer, GSM phones repairers, cake bakers, mechatronics, hairdressing and barbers. Some of them will be required to do five hours for two days and 10 hours in one week. They may do 20 hours or more in a month to qualify to collect N5000. There are others that will do more hours maybe because of their involvement in helping FRSC in traffic control or other type of community work which will involve working three times in a week. This category of persons cannot collect the same amount like others. They will get N10,000.
The fourth category are the physically challenged, the disabled confined to the wheelchair. These are the vulnerable in the society. It is the same for the aged that are not under any pension and have no children or relatives to help them. We will document them among those that fall into the category of N5000.
The long and short of it all is that we are not going to tell people to line up on the road as unemployed persons and be dishing out N5000 to each of them. No government ever does that, not even in the civilised world. If we do it, Nigerians will abuse the scheme.
Reconsidering his decision for senate rerun election
Well, I can tell you that a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the last election. The same scenario does not exit again when I contested that election. As situations emerge, we and our party will try to find a solution. Personally, I was not even interested in contesting the senatorial election of March 2015. I contested because I wanted a base for my party, the APC, in the South-East, I wanted to work for our presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, and make sure he gets at least 25 per cent in the South-East.
APC has won that presidential election and I have achieved that major goal. The people of Anambra State watched as PDP seized the ballot result and wrote whatever they wanted. As at today, the new scenario is that I am on another national assignment which is also very critical to the change agenda of Mr President and our party, the APC. Looking at that scenario vis-à-vis the new rerun election, I know that we have capable hands in that senatorial district and so we are still searching for the right person to fly the party’s flag.
We are still discussing within the party and I can tell you that many scenarios have been throwing up like the recent court judgment by the PDP which ordered INEC to regard the rerun election as a fresh election in which parties can present new candidates.
Nigerians angry with APC government over hardship in the country
I don’t know what you mean by hardship and those you call Nigerians. Are they the federal civil servants getting their monthly salaries as and when due? We don’t owe them, not even allowances and there is no reason they should be unhappy with the APC government.
Are the okada riders among those complaining when they are making brisk businesses or the graduates we will soon address their problem of unemployment after the passage of the budget? Unemployment is the harbinger of Boko Haramism, harbinger of IPOBism, OPCism and militancy in the Niger Delta.
It is a scourge and serious disease condition that we must fight and that is why we are in this ministry and government. We have job creation programmes under the supervision of the Vice President and other inter-ministerial ones that will be rolled out very soon.
By the time we roll out, more funds will be put into the economy. Let us warn that the funds are not for stealing. The only difference between APC and PDP is the stealing of the lots of floating funds. Many of the elite were grabbing these floating funds and they are the ones protesting that they are not happy with the present government.
Those complaining especially the elite are members or loyalists of the PDP. We are not bothered because we are going to continue with our common-people’s programme and I want to assure that the tide will soon change. So, we are waiting for the budget. Don’t forget that we are not the ones that appropriate funds but the National Assembly. We have given them budget, done some alterations and amendments as needs be in areas where some people try to mutilate and we are waiting for now. Once they approve the budget as proposed, we roll out our programmes.