Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige has said that the Igbo will never produce the Nigerian President in 2023 by threat.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, Ngige also said that he has not seen hatred of the Igbo by President Muhammadu Buhari as being claimed by some people in the Southeast rather he has seen infrastructure and love for the zone by the president.
The minister who also spoke about the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), vowed to resign from government any day he sees any maltreatment of the Igbo by the Buhari administration. Excerpts
Last time, you mentioned some federal roads in the Southeast, which you claimed the government was building, but people are complaining that nothing is going on?
No, no, no, go to Okigwe-Umuahia-Aba-Port Harcourt road, the road that takes you to Port Harcourt wharf, the Igbo import a lot of things, they use Lagos port which is now over congested. The president is building that road even with lean resources. We took bond for that particular road and when you go there now, you can do Enugu-Umuahia, good stretch of it has been done. And straight from Aba to Port Harcourt is on apart from the rain, when you go there, it’s a big construction yard, four Chinese companies attacking them. You come to Enugu-Onitsha, even within Anambra, I was there yesterday and I saw what has happened at the death junction of Awkuzu to Umunya, the Umunya spot we have lost people there, tankers had fallen there twice killing people, but you go there now, you see what RCC has done there. So, they will do this and get to Amansea and from inside Enugu into 9th Mile into Oji River, serious work is going on and by the same RCC. I told them at the Federal Executive Council that it is RCC or nothing; I don’t want Ndi Aka Construction Company that are moving all over Anambra, they will pour red soil and dye it with black and say they have built roads.
Who are bringing those people you call Ndi Aka construction?
You know them, the governors after me. The two governors, of course, none of them have used RCC or any notable company to do work here or use Setraco like I did, but the difference is clear, go and see those my roads, 16 years old, 15 years old, 14 years old no pothole, they are still standing. And they have refused to maintain the roads for the few that have one or two potholes, they have refused to patch them, rehabilitate them; make them fine. If you go to other climes, the whites, they maintain roads. There is no maintenance here and I don’t know what they are doing with the money they are collecting from the Federal Government and everybody. Even the refunds that were given to them on these roads that I built, they’ve collected refunds, N15 billion, N20 something billion and they are not ploughing them back to these roads. I am very, very upset and ashamed. Tell me the roads that the two governors after me built that are standing otherwise go and look at my own, Otuocha-Aguleri to Ifite-Dunu-Oyeagu-Abagana-Eziowele-Abatete-Ideani and from Ideani down to Nnobi. Ziks Roundabout through Nkpor, down to Umuoji, so why shouldn’t they give Anambra State good road, so Federal Government is using this same contractor RCC. Now, the Second Niger Bridge is on, about one year ago, you were one of those querying me that you cannot see anything, I told you that the dredgers are burrowing the foundation for the columns to come up, you frowned your face, but I know that you can see the columns now. That bridge Julius Berger said they will do it six months ahead of schedule. It’s supposed to be completed in 2022, first quarter, but Julius Berger says with the way we are being paid money and pumped money into it, we are going to finish this bridge end of 2021 and then you expect another bridge to come over, a railway bridge from the coastal rail that is going to come from Lagos-Ijebu Ode-Benin-Warri-Asaba into Onitsha. Then from Warri, it goes down to Yenegoa, from Yenegoa it passes down to Calabar to Aba and from Aba to Port Harcourt and to Enugu.
There are fears down here that the closure of Enugu airport was not ordinary, that it was closed down and no work is going on there?
You know I don’t deceive myself, if tomorrow I see anything that means maltreatment of the Igbo of the Southeast of Nigeria, I will resign and come home. But there is none, instead what I am seeing is infrastructural love from the president. Ask yourself why the airport runway failed, that runway was done about five, six years ago, that runway is supposed to last about 16 years if properly done. What happened, did some people share money and bring low quality job? You have to ask questions, what happened to the money for that project, our people don’t want to ask, who and who shared the money? The airport will be reopened before Christmas; that’s what the Minister of Aviation told us in Council because we took him up on that. The bill of quantities for the work is ready, it’s going to be a specialist intervention, Council will approve it immediately and competent contractors will come and it will be done just like Abuja airport was done. Abuja airport was for about two months, so the same thing is happening here and it’s because of the love the president has for the people or do you want planes to come and crash there?
Will APC take over Anambra State in 2021?
You get what you ordered or paid for, if our people want an APC government here, it’s better for Anambra State because that APC government will be personified; will have the face of Ngige, will have Ngige’s advice, will have Ngige’s everything and they will enjoy what they were enjoying when I was governor here. Yes, I can assure them of that. It’s not enough to crow like a cock, onye aghala nwanne ya, it is deceit, be your brother’s keeper yet you left the people and they are suffering. If not that we brought school feeding programme and children are eating at least one sound meal, what else has this government given to the people that are welfarist in nature?
Are there efforts by some of you in government to see how in 2023 the Igbo will produce president of Nigeria?
One, politics and elections, they go hand in hand and in an election there is a reflection of democracy in every election. What do I mean by this, democracy is government of the people for the people, by the people; so, in an election, it is the greater number of people that will have the day and the minority will have their say. That is why if you go to look at electoral law, it will tell you that the man so elected is the man who has the greatest number, majority number of lawful votes. So, it is talking about numbers, it’s a game of numbers. Because it’s a game of number, you will need alliances, you will need collusion; you will need support of people to join you in whatever quest you are doing so that you can have the number. Number two, the APC constitution does not make for zoning. What we have in APC just like other political parties is tradition and convention, today all over the country; it is an acceptable norm that positions especially that of president should rotate between the North and South. It is not inscribed anywhere in our constitution and I don’t think till I left PDP it was in their constitution too, but all we politicians, the practitioners, we agreed that for us to have one country, for us to have unity, for us to have faith in one another, that it is important to rotate office between the North and the South. Even in states that the office of governor should rotate among the senatorial districts so that those who have not enjoyed it should enjoy it. That is the common agreement that had been signed, though nobody has written it anywhere. It was the Abacha constitution, which I still regard as one of the best constitutions that Nigeria ever had that made for rotation of president among the six geo-political zones. It made also for rotation of governor among the three senatorial zones, it was written in there in the Abacha constitution. It is like a gentleman agreement for today. So, we expect going forward in 2023 that all political parties in Nigeria should come to the South of Nigeria to pick their presidential candidate. Again on high moral ground, we expect that the Igbo of Southeast of Nigeria should be favoured because they are the only group that has not tested the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But power is not served a la carte. We must struggle for it, we must work for it, if you rest in your bedroom and start singing persecution, persecution, they have killed me, they hate me; nobody will listen to you. The best thing, which I have counselled and which people are listening to me now unlike before is we need to stretch out our hands of friendship. You will not get it by threat; being sentimental or emotional, you will get it by negotiation, you will get it by playing your card well, you will get it by allowing your people to join APC not by propaganda that APC is Boko Haram party; ‘we like Ngige, but he is moving with Boko Haram party’, he is following Buhari. You don’t talk like that. I am a politician, two Fulani men were contesting in the election, Atiku Abubakar, Fulani North, Muhammadu Buhari, Fulani North and I made my choice and I’m a friend to both of them. But when the push come to shove, I know the man who will win, I know the man who has 12 million votes, he has it with him in every election and for me I will not do wrong calculation because I want to be emotional, no. I am still pleading with our people to open their eyes and join APC now that the door is still open, so, that if we want to go for the presidency in 2023, we will then have the number for the war. PDP cannot give it to us, I am not even sure they would want to zone it to South. For me, they should come to this party because President Buhari has promised that he will want to assist APC to continue after his next level.
What do you have to say about the proscription of IPOB and their present threat to Southeast politicians?
I am not going to talk about that because they are not the only proscribed body, they proscribed the Shiites, Shiites is a Muslim body from their area; they are proscribed. If you threaten the government, they will proscribe you. The Shiites said they don’t recognise Buhari’s regime that they believe in Iranian people, they were proscribed and nothing has happened.
Can the Federal Government soften on IPOB?
We can soften; why not, these IPOB people are an offshoot of MASSOB led by Ralph Uwazurike. Nnamdi Kanu was Director, Radio Biafra overseas and then did a coup against Uwazurike and toppled him. So, it’s not a question of whether the government will soften or not, when I was in Anambra as governor I softened with them, I was feeding them. I told my Commissioner of Police and DSS, leave them and their flag, if it makes them happy leave them, anybody can wear any clothe he wants, if they want to tie Biafra wrapper, leave them so far as they are not harassing people, but when they harass people they become our enemy and we arrest them. So, for me, I don’t know what they are talking about, that they can be making noise and from there get Biafra, it is not possible. This IPOB; it was the late Dozie Ikedife and his group that formed IPOB from MASSOB, these people that are moving about today were not the people that formed IPOB. Those who registered IPOB were led by the late Dozie Ikedife and some other intellectuals and what they wanted was a process that will be non-violent, a process that will be negotiated, a process that can pass through due process, they go to the United Nations and make their case, they go to House of Commons and make their case. They have been going to these places and they come to Nigerian parliament and speak to their Nigerian brothers; that was their work plan, I saw it.
What is your take on zoning of governorship in your state, Anambra?
My earlier assertion is that no party has zoning in its constitution. But zoning and rotation of offices are usually done by convention, by tradition and by agreements. So, at any given time, the leaders of the party will sit together.
Talking of Anambra State now?
Yes in Anambra, we shall also sit together and look at it and know where we will choose our candidate from. For today, the Northern part of Anambra State is finishing an eight-year term. Morally, it will not be right for them to just say, they want to continue for another eight years. Central has also done their own eight years plus my three years; so, again morally, one should expect them not to want to vie for the position. The South did four years of Mbadinuju, so, they have tasted the power. So, if you go on moral grounds, you should expect that the Southern part of Anambra State should give us candidates. If for any reason that area does not have a candidate that can win any election, the party will review the whole situation.
Are you not interested in the race?
I will be too old to come up. I personally think that I will be too old to come up. So, that is how the situation will be. I don’t think APC will lose the state again. We will work hard not to lose this state. We will put in whatever we need to do, whatever we can, we will put it in because we need this place and we need it more than APGA. APGA has handled this place in the last 16 years and they have not shown us progress. Look around, the roads that are motorable today are the roads that I built as governor. Should that be the situation after 16 years? The answer is a big no. Look at the hospitals, all the general hospitals, you can’t point out one and say it’s very functional or that it is a good referral centre. Whereas I said, health is on concurrent list, it’s something that Federal Government can be doing and then the state government will do more because the people are in the states and in the local governments.
The Federal Government should actually concern itself with policies on health and build pilot programmes like they are doing of one teaching hospital in every state. If you don’t have, they will give you a Federal Medical Centre. It’s a pilot programme as far as I’m concerned on tertiary health. The state governments should build their own teaching hospitals and call it state Teaching Hospitals, fund it and refer their people there. The more the merrier, same goes for education. Most of the state universities are not well funded as we speak today. It’s only the federal universities that are funded. It’s the federal universities that you have lecturers doing teaching and research. The state tertiary institutions, be it their universities, be it their polytechnics or colleges of education is the same tale of woes. So, we need actually, to make the state government know what their responsibilities are. If they don’t know, they should go to the constitution and look at scheduling of school; come and we teach them what they are supposed to do.
How prepared is APC for this coming governorship election in Anambra?
There is no gainsaying the fact that after our last gubernatorial election, there were some schisms and factionalisation within the party and that those cracks were more widened during the last election, during the presidential election because of the way the presidential election was managed here and the National Assembly elections too. We discovered that we didn’t perform well at all, but we are still going back to the drawing table. We have started asking ourselves the reason for the failure to deliver and we are getting the answers. We are collating the answers and we are going to work on them and then before the next six months, we will start bringing ourselves together in a way that we can become a fighting force again. Do not forget that it’s in this same state that I used the former ACN to win a senatorial seat against an incumbent governor, against Victor Umeh from Central and the late Dora Akunyili, former Minister and even their allies in the INEC, we pulled it through. Do not also forget that in 2010, it was the same AC that we used to defeat APGA in the gubernatorial elections here. Yes, the results are there. They stole our mandate in 2010. They changed the results. Some of the participants, the dramatis personae in that situation have come to apologise to me since then because they have the original results. You are a witness. You were in Onitsha. You were calling us from Onitsha, he was from Awka and other places because the election bags were transparent and there were not so many parties at the time. So, you could see the votings. It was okay. Even, INEC Chairman, Iwu called me, to say that I should prepare for rerun that there was no clear winner. He’s alive today, you can ask him. Later on, they produced a clear winner. They declared Obi winner and so, this is what happened to us, but it’s okay.