The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, has dismissed as false, claims by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, that President Muhammadu Buhari is unfair to the Igbo.
The Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-political body of the Igbo, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, had on Friday said the organisation backed former President Goodluck Jonathan against Buhari in the 2015 presidential election because Buhari had always been unfair to Igbo.
Nwaorgu, who said Ohanaeze had no regrets for the decision to support Jonathan, said Buhari’s antecedents in his relationship with the Igbo informed his rejection by the organisation.
The Ohanaeze scribe added that the travails of Ndigbo in Buhari’s current administration had shown that the organisation was right to reject him.
Explaining reasons for the decision to back Jonathan against Buhari, Nwaorgu had said, “We know him very well, during his first outing from 1983 to 1985, what did he do? Shagari, number one person (in the previous civilian administration was placed under) house arrest, Ekwueme, the number two, who had no constitutional functions (was sent to) prison. Igbo took note. He came out again as Executive Director, Petroleum Trust Fund, what did he do? Have you checked the allocations of PTF? Sixty-six per cent of all our petroleum money went to the North-West, his zone. He gave us (South-East) 6.2 per cent.
“With that pedigree, what will encourage people to say please come on? If we had said come on it would have put us in a poor shape that we can’t analyse well. We analysed well, and we have been vindicated.”
However, Ngige has faulted the statements credited to Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Speaking with journalists at the Annual Convention and 2016 Graduation Ceremony of Bina Foundation, a non-governmental charity organisation, in Enugu, the former Anambra State governor said contrary to Ohanaeze’s claims, Buhari’s antecedents showed that he loved Ndigbo.
Ngige said it was wrong for the Igbo to continue engaging in what he described as “politics of alienation.”
Reacting to Nwaorgu’s comments, Ngige said, “I am sure the statement did not emanate from Ohanaeze. It is the personal opinion of the Secretary-General, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, my personal friend.
“Ohanaeze has a means of expressing its views in a press statement by the President-General and such a statement must emanate from Imeobi (inner caucus).
“When you go to Buhari’s antecedents, you see his love for the Igbo – his Brigade Commander was an Igboman.
“After the war, he did not kill prisoners of war. He brought back his classmates, J.C. Ojukwu and the other man from Ojoto in Anambra State.”
Ngige added, “Buhari is a good man, he keeps to himself. He is disciplined in office, he doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He is a man who does any work efficiently.”
The minister added that Buhari had several Igbo friends.
“He has Igbo friends,” he said, adding that it was not true that the Igbo did not vote for Buhari in the 2015 presidential poll.
“It is wrong to say that the Igbo didn’t vote for him in 2015. There was no voting across Igboland, it was vote allocation,” he said.
Ngige noted that he was an Ohanaeze chieftain before Nwaorgu emerged on the scene.
“I don’t want to take issue with him (Nwaorgu). I have held various positions in Ohanaeze before him. I championed Aka Ikenga. His Igboness is not stronger than mine,” the minister pointed out.
Continuing, Ngige stressed the need for the Igbo to embrace other ethnic groups and adopt a diplomatic approach in national politics.
He said, “We should stop crying over spilt milk. We got 20 pounds after the war; we should leverage on our prosperity, industrial spirit, ingenuity and propensity for work to forge ahead.
“We need political fitness and diplomacy and we will not be left behind.
“Former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, has done a lot in successive constitutional conferences on the zoning structure and regional cooperation. I have always espoused that at Aka Ikenga. We do it and the rest shall be added unto us.”
Ngige noted that there was an understanding that the Presidency would go round and the Ndigbo could get their turn by embracing other sections of the country.
The minister also faulted calls for a new economic team to steer the country out of recession.
Ngige said the calls were being championed by job seekers and echoed by their friends in the media.
He argued that Nigeria’s economy went into recession long before the Buhari administration came on board but the phenomenon was not discovered then because of the huge foreign reserves accumulated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which he noted, had now shrunk to $21bn as a result of the crash in oil prices.
“A new economic team was not the solution to the country’s woes,” he insisted.
Ngige said, “Under the previous administration, the oil price was about $115 per barrel and the country exhausted its 2.2 million barrels daily quota of crude oil export.
“But when this government came, the price of oil dropped to as low as $30 per barrel. It later came to $50 per barrel, but because of activities of those blowing up oil pipelines in the Niger Delta, we could not export our daily quota of 2.2 million barrels. We are now exporting about 1.2 million barrels.
“Nigeria is a mono-cultural economy. Oil provides about 95 per cent of our revenue.
“So, you can see that under this administration, our revenue reduced drastically because of the slump in oil prices and activities of those blowing up pipelines.
“So, you find a situation where the supply of money cannot meet the demand.
“This is elementary economics. When the supply cannot meet the demand, there is disequilibrium. You can see the slide.
“So, nobody should blame the economic team – if you bring new people, they will still face the same circumstances.”
He stressed that members of the current economic team “are qualified.”
Ngige insinuated that some unnamed persons who lost out in ministerial posts were behind the calls for a new economic team.