The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, tells TONY OKAFOR that the Igbo should produce the president of the country in 2023 based on principle of justice and equity. He also says he has been approached to return to the Government House in Anambra State as the governor
What stage is the 2nd Niger Bridge now?
Work is ongoing on the 2nd Niger Bridge. The contractor gave an undertaking to deliver the project before 2022 which is the appointed date, I believe him because they’re working day and night. Apart from the little hiccups occasioned by demands for compensation, they’re on schedule. The job is about 45 per cent complete and the fund for the construction is available. That is the good news for the people of the South-East. The cost of the bridge from the exit route of Delta and the South-East; South-South is about N336bn, and the money is available unlike the Obasanjo/Jonathan arrangement when they were trying to look for Private Public Partnership.
But now we’re building the bridge as one of the flagship projects of the Federal Government which are- Lagos/Ibadan, East-West Road, 2nd Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kaduna-Kano, and Mambilla. Work has started on all these projects because money is guaranteed. The 2nd Niger Bridge which concerns me and the people of the South-South, South-West, and North-Central is on course. It’s a very strategic bridge that links the North, South-East, South-South and the South-West. It’s a very cheery news because, during the time of The People Democratic Party, I opposed it on the floor of the Senate and I had a very serious altercation with the then Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and the Ministry of Finance and then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius. I blasted them that they’ve not treated us well.
Is the 2nd Niger bridge is going to be toll-free?
It is toll-free for now. When we are going to toll, we’ll toll all the federal roads and bridges altogether. So, it’s not a question of tolling the bridge to recoup our money. No, we’re going to recoup all; because I’m one of those who believe that federal roads in Nigeria should be tolled.
A lot of roads they call federal roads, I don’t believe they are federal roads. The federal roads are the ones we call trunk A roads, that is the roads that lead to state capitals. The state government should face other roads in their domain and build them like we did when I was the governor in Anambra.
Why I’m going into all these details is because the people of the South-East always feel they’re being marginalised. When you ask them, they said they are not being appointed as SGF, Ngige is not made Minister of Works, Housing or Power, Health. But under the PDP administration, South-East people had ministers of power, aviation. They didn’t get all the appointments in the world, even the ones they gave them from that portfolios were abused. We also had the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealla, representing Abia.
I’m appealing to South easterners, my brothers that criticisms that are not constructive will not lead us to anywhere. Constructive criticisms are welcome by this government, this administration is not averse to such. When you criticize us, give us an alternative, your view, the solution to what you are suggesting and it will be done. It has been done many times by this government. The point I’m making is that the South-East is getting its fair deal, forget about appointments, people like big appointment, for ego sake – my brother is Chief of Defence Staff, what are you defending? For me, our people should play our politics well. This is the time for us to reengineer and join other Nigeria in believing that this country is ours and become more patriotic about it, and giving honour and accolades to who it is due and appreciate government or whoever that have done justice to you. We’ve got our fair share in the areas of infrastructure. I don’t want to delve into the area of flood and erosion control where the president ensured that the South-East gets more than other zones because it is believed and that it’s true that our soil is prone to gully erosion. So, the President recognises that and gives us a priority. You look at our roads they’re being done. The journey of five hours will now take you one and a half hours. Dangerous areas like Umunya and others have been done. These are projects undertaken in four years. But the PDP government that stayed 16 years didn’t do them.
What is going on about the Federal Government’s school feeding programme?
The NSIP is undergoing some rejigging. A new ministry has been created, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management. A lot of people are in that programme and they’re civil servants drawn to pilot the affairs. So let’s give them up to the first quarter of 2020, the programme will be repackaged not to disrupt the ongoing one. But definitely, it’s being repackaged because some areas need to be retouched. The same goes for the N-Power programme under the same NSIP. They’re all being rejigged. I do not doubt that we’ll all benefit more at the end of the day. No system is very perfect. We’ll support the idea when it comes to the FEC.
There are claims in some quarters that you are coming back to Anambra State as governor and from there you will vie for the presidency in 2023. How true is that?
Who’s telling you that story? It’s not correct. I’ve not discussed the presidency with anybody. The president just assumed office for his 2nd term in May 2019. He should be allowed to do some work. I know the government I’m serving, that anyone talking about the presidency should talk about it rightfully. By May this year, it will be one year. So I’ve not discussed the presidency with anybody. I’m facing my work as minister. But I do know that if the South-East is interested in being the president of Nigeria, they should identify with the ruling party, which is APC which Mr President is the leader, the flag bearer and captain.
For him, he’s facing his work. For those who want to politick, it is too early. But if you want to, go ahead, God bless you, but you’re on your own. I keep telling the Igbo that they have to join the train that is moving on smoothly. For them to make an appreciable mark, that they should be ready to be counted; they must start with Anambra, because it’s the next election. Anambra State is the only state that will conduct an election in the South-East before the next general election. Igbo must believe in one Nigeria and one sure way of doing that is by voting massively for the APC in 2021 in the Anambra election knowing full well that the ruling party in the state, APGA, has performed abysmally and therefore no grounds to ask the people to give them another mandate. The people gave them mandate in 2012 for Peter Obi to do a second term and after that, he brought a successor, Willie Obiano. But the people of the state are now looking at those periods and comparing it with 33 months I held sway as governor. These people’s 12 years plus have not even got to the level of development I had in two years and nine months under my leadership as governor of Anambra State.
About coming back as governor, you’re right because people have been approaching me to have a look at contesting. They are saying if you are not interested in coming to rejig the place, give us somebody whom you think you have mentored or you can vouch for or guarantee that you can play this game and administer the state with the template you left. Give us that template that guarantees prompt payment of salaries. They said I was nonpartisan when I was here. I was a neutral religious person because I believe religion is in the mind depending on how you practise yours. I have work I’m doing for now. This is not the right time to talk about politics. I have a serious assignment given to me by Mr President who genuinely loves Nigerians and wants us to live some indelible footprints.
But is the search going on?
Yes, but I will search for a good person. They have said to me, if you don’t consider us as making sense to come and run, please don’t forsake us. Search and give us a credible person who will be industrious and adopt the same template you adopted. I, in turn, I’m telling them that they need to come into APC before making all the demands. You don’t stay outside the pitch to score goals. It’s not possible, it’s important they come in. But saying I want to secede, I’m a separatist, we want IPOB, if you continue with that, other Nigerians will be afraid of you because they will believe if they give you that power, you will use it to secede. Igbo must show to other Nigerians that they are our brothers. Once they do that, they will be surprised that others will say let us go to the South-East and pick a president of Igbo extraction. If not for anything else, I know of some northerners and westerners who say that whenever South-East is given the slot, they will lay permanently the ghost of the Nigeria civil war; it would have been buried for life. All the acrimony, bitterness, suspicion would have been buried once and for all and I believe that.
You mean the Igbo should drop the MASSOB and IPOB agitations?
I didn’t say so; They should lecture them like I was doing when I was the governor. I was lecturing them, giving them food, jobs for those who were not employed and they were happy and selling their currencies which I can’t stop them from doing. Even their flag is a memento, something they use to remember the past. This is my take on that. I’ll be criticized, but I don’t care as far as I’m saying the right thing we have to agree with Nigeria on the other side.
What is your take on zoning?
My take on zoning is very simple. If you go to the Nigeria Constitution, you will not see it. But if you go to the political parties, especially the big ones, you will see it. Sometimes, they call it power rotation along with the major ethnic groups, along the senatorial zones, they are all in the constitutions of some parties. There are even those who don’t have it in their constitutions but have unwritten agreements. When we started in the PDP, we didn’t put it in our constitution. But we have it unwritten between the North and the South. It was an agreement reached the caucus meeting and it reflected in the minutes. That was how President Olusegun Obasanjo and Alex Ekwueme came out. Abubakar Rimi that came out from the north was asked to drop his ambition by the party, and he did. But later the constitution talked about rotation. I was one of those who amended the PDP Constitution. Rotation is even a part of the constitution of the Federal Republic; but more explicitly said that in appointments and other things you must reflect the diverse nature of the country in terms of appointment or election, that’s indirectly insisting on balancing. If you come down to Anambra, we have three senatorial zones.