Labour and the Different Dimensions of Ngige’s Failures; By Abadom Lawrence Amechi

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Dr Ngige, Minister of Labour & Employment

THOSE who love our country are hard to find. Our progress has remained so slow because of bad, wicked and inept leaders. Nigeria is a very blessed but paradoxically also very unfortunate country; one can hardly find a patriotic citizen among our leaders. A lot of our people are caught up in the downward spirals of insecurity, poverty, alienation, indignity, etc.  Our leaders look for ways to extort, defraud and short-change the nation.

The same ministry will approve levies for unions that are making over one hundred million naira monthly and with an overhead less than twenty million every month. Most presidents and treasurers of unions are richer than their unions. General Secretaries of some unions, including that of the NLC as a centre, are changed with lightning speed. Presidents of unions, some of who are barely literate, have foisted on themselves the task of administration. Thus, the tasking role and responsibilities of union General Secretary have been usurped by these barely literate elected presidents.

Among our leaders, there is no patriot. A nation is doomed if all her leaders are mere politicians.  I am sure that what we have today is not the vision of our founding fathers; that is if the founding fathers are not liable for the challenges of today.

In the history of Nigeria from independence to date, we have never been this hopeless. Life has become so cheap. The signpost of fear is hanging everywhere. The nation is approximating swiftly into a Hobbesian state. Everyone we have looked up to as a source of hope and inspiration in this regime has turn out to be a colossal disappointment. President Muhammad Buhari spent six months after hand over in 2015 before picking his ministers. His supporters said he was taking his time to ensure that square pegs are put in square holes.

For us in the labour circle, the appointment of a medical doctor as the minister of labour did not elicit applause. But we were consoled by the fact that the medical doctor is Chris Nwabueze Ngige. He had an encouraging résumé, one that inspires hope and trust. He is not a man who can be intimidated by blackmail or by hooliganism. Prior to his appointment, the level of despondency at the Labour Ministry and the labour unions regulated by the ministry was at fever pitch. Nigerians in the corridors of labour were busy in vigils asking God to send a messiah that will sanitise both the misery that the Ministry of Labour and Nigerian labour movement had become. I can recall that few years after his coming, the immediate past Permanent Secretary in the ministry had issues with the state.

The expectation of people within the labour circle was that a new minister will help restructure the unions and NLC that were already in disarray. The minister came at a time when the central labour body became polarised, due to irreconcilable differences arising from the delegates’ conference of 2015. Affiliate unions of NLC make laws and constitution they do not obey. Intra- union crisis were replete, and the ministry that is supposed to regulate the activities of the unions, sides with labour leaders in power not minding their nefarious actions.

Elected presidents were extending and elongating their tenures. Even the incumbent NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, had his tenure extended for two years to enable him to contest for NLC presidency.

Over six years after, I can say with all sense of responsibility that the respectable senator, and my former governor, has done little or nothing to improve the situation. If anything, the situation has gone from bad to worse. All the issues the honourable minister met on ground are still unattended to, and new ones have emerged raising the list of unions in crisis to an uncomfortable number. Besides intra union crisis, there are so many industrial relations issues that have resulted into strikes. It is unbelievable that Minister Ngige has not seen anything bad in the behaviour of most labour leaders.

Some presidents were transiting from being president to general secretaries of their unions. The level of fraud and corruption in the unions were monumental, but every year the Registrar of Trade Unions gets the unions’ accounts with an accompanying fat envelopes, he does his check with the eye of an accomplice and returns the books with no-case submission.

The same ministry will approve levies for unions that are making over one hundred million naira monthly and with an overhead less than twenty million every month. Most presidents and treasurers of unions are richer than their unions. General Secretaries of some unions, including that of the NLC as a centre, are changed with lightning speed. Presidents of unions, some of who are barely literate, have foisted on themselves the task of administration. Thus, the tasking role and responsibilities of union General Secretary have been usurped by these barely literate elected presidents.

In some unions, going to annual Geneva conference is for the President, his friends and retinue of women friends, while the General Secretary is left out. In a normal situation, the General Secretary must be in the conference every year, s/he is the professional that needs to update his knowledge to enable him to provide functional administrative leadership.

It is in the face of these ugly situations that some of us that knew Senator Ngige’s background, his character as a man who dislikes injustice, and a dogged fighter, were a bit excited at his appointment as Minister of Labour.

Over six years after, I can say with all sense of responsibility that the respectable senator, and my former governor, has done little or nothing to improve the situation. If anything, the situation has gone from bad to worse. All the issues the honourable minister met on ground are still unattended to, and new ones have emerged raising the list of unions in crisis to an uncomfortable number. Besides intra union crisis, there are so many industrial relations issues that have resulted into strikes. It is unbelievable that Minister Ngige has not seen anything bad in the behaviour of most labour leaders.

I am lamenting because if Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige leaves Ministry of Labour and Employment by next year, when the Buhari administration must have spent its second tenure, there’s nothing he can point to as his achievement. Now, I can understand why the immediate past General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr Peter Ozo-Eso, appealed to President Buhari in 2019 to give Dr Ngige another portfolio, saying that he was not fit to handle labour ministry.

Every sensitive sector of our economy has one issue or the other leading to strike – the health sector, judiciary education, energy, etc. The minister has not been able in more than six years to handle any issue to the admiration of stakeholders. ASUU’s case has become a sour point in this administration. We know that in a democracy, socio-economic decisions are taken primarily to achieve political interest. If democracy has worked in advanced Western Europe and USA, it can work here, if we have honest and patriotic leaders.

It is obvious that African leaders don’t think about legacy. We always tend to forget that no one lives forever. Our lives appear to be jungle-oriented; we are careless about what posterity has in stock for us. We must continually remind ourselves that the unforgivable memory of history and the klieg light of posterity are always focused on us by nature.

I am lamenting because if Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige leaves Ministry of Labour and Employment by next year, when the Buhari administration must have spent its second tenure, there’s nothing he can point to as his achievement. Now, I can understand why the immediate past General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr Peter Ozo-Eso, appealed to President Buhari in 2019 to give Dr Ngige another portfolio, saying that he was not fit to handle labour ministry.

What baffles me is why people change when they are in the corridors of power. All the display of goodwill, hard work, justice and fairness that Dr Ngige exhibited while in Anambra Government House, were they just by fluke or phantom? Was it because he was a political orphan? How can people in leadership positions behave as if people they lead do not matter? We are leaving in a time where outlaws are believed and government doubted. We can’t afford a nation where citizens take laws into their hands, just because they cannot get justice.

The recent disagreement in Lagos chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) was swiftly mediated upon by the NLC and government, knowing full well that our comrades in NURTW have capacity to extract justice if denied them. When the disagreement in NUFBTE started and Comrade Idowu Oyelekan boasted to us that the Honourable Minister, Senator Chris Ngige, will not entertain our complaints even if we wrote to him hundred times, I told my colleagues,  beating my chest that the Minister I know hates  injustice and he will call us, but I have been proved wrong.

After two years with several petitions, the Minister, true to Comrade Oyelekan’s assertion, really ignored us! A global thinker must first operate locally. It is only in Nigeria that people are not faithful in the little and still want higher responsibility. Because votes don’t count, our political elites can afford to handle public duties recklessly. They are not accountable to the electorate. I cannot understand how an ambitious politician can afford to toy with an opportunity like endearing himself to the heart of huge army of Nigeria workers. In other climes such minister would have been a better candidate for the Office of the President.

The network of our fault lines is fast increasing, and the cracks are proportionately widening. We play politics with everything; that is why we recorded zero progress in governance. Politicians must know that after election comes the task of governance, and politics must not be brought into governance. It is a sad thing that there is no single role model in our political space. The crowds we see at political rallies are either rented crowds, or jobless people trying to catch fun.

Comrade Amechi is member of NUFBTE Redemption Group and writes from Lagos.

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