Emmanuel Nzomiwu

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motors Company was an American industrialist and business magnate who lived between July 30, 1863 and April 7, 1947. One of the most inspiring quotes from him states thus: “The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is ones destiny to do, and then do it.”

Although a trained and qualified medical doctor, with vast experience and practice, spanning across public and private sector, Senator (Dr) Chris Nwabueze Ngige OON, Minister of Labour and Employment, without any doubt discovered himself in the realm of politics and public service where he has become a “shining” star in Nigeria and beyond. Before venturing into politics, he had a fruitful career in the Federal Ministry of Health where he rose to the Directorate cadre. His legacies before retirement from the ministry include the movement of University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) from its temporary site in Enugu to the ultramodern Ituku-Ozalla permanent site and conversion of Kano Specialist Hospital to a Teaching Hospital.

In Nigerian politics, Ngige stands out among his contemporaries. Whereas most Nigerian politicians play ‘bread and better politics’, Ngige’s political career has been guided by strong progressive ideological base and principles geared towards bringing about “the greatest amount of good for the greatest number in the society,” as advocated by the utilitarian school in political science.

On Saturday (August 8), Senator Ngige will clock 68 years on earth. Two years away from attaining three scores and10, Ngige has continued to shine in tune with his Igbo traditional title, Onwa n’etiliora, which translated into English, means “The moon that shines for all.” While his generation in Nigerian politics in a bid to feather their own nest, do not see anything bad in defecting from one political party to the other, Ngige has remained relatively consistent in terms of political affiliation.

At the inception of this democratic dispensation in 1999, Ngige with others like Prof ABC Nwosu, Senator Onyeabor Obi, Audu Ogbe, Okwesilieze Nwodo and late Senator Echeruo, using former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme’s Peoples National Forum (PNF) and a new era faction in the amalgam of G34, formed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). (PDP) eventually became the first ruling party, and Ngige emerged as the first National Assistant Secretary.

However, his election as Governor of Anambra State in 2003 propelled him into limelight. Before Ngige came to power, Anambra State under his predecessor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju was held captive by the godfathers, who not only shared the state’s  monthly federal allocation in Abuja, but also carted away the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).

The siege of the rapacious godfathers left the state heavily indebted and insolvent, with several months’ arrears owed civil servants, including teachers. Pensioners were also owed arrears of gratuities and pensions. An Igbo adage goes that mbelede ka eji ama dike which when translated into English means that “a hero is known in times of emergency.” A courageous Ngige confronted the cruel godfathers with the entire federal might behind them. Like the great Nelson Mandela of South Africa, he led a struggle to liberate Anambra State from the godfathers who constituted themselves into the cog in the wheel of progress of the state.

The battle against the godfathers reached a climax when over 200 officers and men of the Nigerian police led by an Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police, Raphael Ige, marched like soldiers of the Ancient Roman Empire into Anambra State, took over the Government House and House of Assembly, and abducted Dr Ngige to a Hotel where they attempted to extract a resignation letter from him. The coup failed when Ngige escaped from his captors. Out of anger the godfathers set fire to Anambra State Government House, the state Broadcasting Service and Ikenga Hotel, owned by the State Government.

The good people of Anambra State, both at home and abroad, queued behind Ngige in his battle to dislodge the godfathers.  In solidarity with Ngige, Nigeria’s greatest literary icon, Prof Chinua Achebe (now late), from his base in United States of America rejected a national honour given to him by President Olusegun Obasanjo. In rejecting the honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), Achebe wrote: “I have watched particularly the chaos of my own state Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places seem determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled of the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance of the presidency.”

Nevertheless, the eventful era of Ngige as Governor has remained a parameter for judging successive administrations in Anambra State, going by the quantum of projects executed by his administration in just three years. Notable among the 105 road projects executed by Ngige administration cutting across the three senatorial zones of Anambra State,  transversing six local government areas each and connecting neighbouring states  of Abia, Imo, Enugu, Delta and  Rivers include Atani-Ossomala-Ogwuikpelle-Ndoni, Isuochi-Owerri Ezukala-Ogbunka-Umunze-Umuchu road, Amesi-Uga, Ezinihite-Igboukwu, Otuocha-Aguleri-Umuleri, Nteje-Awkuzu, Ifite-Dunu-Abagana, Nnobi-Nnewi-Ozubulu-Ihembosi-Okija Iseke-Osumoghu-Ukpor, Amawbia-Nibo-Mbaukwu, Nkpor-Umuoji-Uke-Nnobi and Nnewi township roads-Bank Road, Ezemewi, 100ft Road, Ibeto Road and Nnewi High School Road.

Others are Awka township roads-Civil Service Commission Road, Nya Lane and Dualisation of Nnamdi Azikiwe Avenue, Otuocha-Aguleri-Umuleri, Nteje-Awkuzu-Ifitedunu-Abagana-Eziowelle-Abatete-Uke-Ideani Federal Road, Abba Junction, Ukpo-Abagana Road, Tarzan Junction-Onitsha-Iyienu-Afor Nkpor Junction, Umuoji-Ojoto Uno-Ichi Enugu/Onitsha Expressway, Abagana-Enugu-Ukwu (Ezi Nobert) and Nitel-Nnewi-Awka Etiti-Adazi Enugu-Ichida-Neni road.

The Ngige administration not only cleared the backlog of salaries and pensions it inherited from the previous administration, but went ahead to institutionalise the prompt payment of salaries and pensions, which has remained the minimum standard for successive administrations in Anambra State. Ngige recalibrated pension, hence, Anambra State became second state in Nigeria to pay 143 percent increment after Rivers State under Governor Peter Odili,  which was at that time, the highest earner from the Federation Account Allocation Committee, FAAC and 13 percent derivation paid oil producing states. Thus pensioners who hitherto received N8000 monthly, started receiving N22000 as and when due, while some arrears liquidation started. There were no lobbies first to exit first to get gratuities and pensions. Under  Ngige, old pensioners started putting up houses and establishing business enterprises. Indeed Anambra was agog and pensioners from the state were envied by their counterparts from sister states in the Southeast and beyond.

Dr Ngige equally made notable impact in security, education, health, agriculture water resources and indeed every other sector in Anambra State. In national politics, while other Governors in the South East geo-political zone at that time supported Obasanjo’s botched third term agenda, Ngige was the only Governor that said “no” to it. His sterling performance as Governor of Anambra State earned him the Kwame Nkrumah Leadership award for excellence in public service delivery in 2004.

Following the derailment of PDP by Obasanjo and his garrison commanders, Ngige, Audu Ogbe, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and like minds joined forces with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and other progressives to form the Action Congress (AC), which later metamorphosed into Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). In 2011, Ngige was elected Senator representing Anambra Central senatorial district under ACN, largely seen as a Western party. He was the only person that won senatorial election in Southeast under ACN. In February 2013, ACN merged with two other parties, the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive (CPC) to form the All Progressive Congress (APC).

Being an opposition Senator,  Ngige could not hold a committee chairmanship position in the senate. He was appointed Deputy Chairman, Committee on Power  and member of six other standing committees. His presence as Deputy Chairman, Committee on Power was reflected in the numerous power projects that were brought to the Southeast zone. His bills and motions in the Senate include the National Health Bill, National Health Insurance Bill,  Farmers Registration Council Bill, the Federal Housing Authority Act and the Armed Robbery and Firearms Special Provisions Act, which amongst other provisions, sought to clarify that hospitals must first administer treatment to gunshot victims before reporting the matter to the police within a reasonable period of time. He equally moved a motion for the immortalization of Chinua Achebe and as a result, Achebe was given a plenary session, an honour reserved for only National Assembly members.

Following the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari of APC in the 2015 general elections, Ngige was appointed as Minister of Labour and Employment. During Ngige’s first tenure as labour minister, the minimum wage was increased from N18000 to N30, 000. The minimum wage is the lowest remuneration paid as compensation to a Nigerian worker. He had also taken government/labour relations to another level by encouraging and promoting a harmonious relationship between the Federal Government and organised labour. He has also been proactive in labour dispute resolution. For instance, during the minimum wage saga, Ngige asked the Federal Ministry of Finance and Budget to provide funds for consequential adjustments, hence the Federal Government was not caught napping.

In International Labour and Diplomacy, he took Nigeria back to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Governing Board in 2018 and10 years absence and became the leader of Africa and Asia Ministers of Labour. In August 2019, he became the President, Government group for all countries in the ILO and had propelled and got Nigeria elected to a second term in the Governing Board as full titular, starting 2020 June.

Obviously impressed by Ngige’s performance, President Buhari reappointed him as Labour Minister in 2019. Guys Rider, the Director General of ILO described his reappointment as one of the best appointments made by President  Buhari in his second tenure. Events since then have underscored the aptness of the President’s choice. For instance, in June this year, the intervention of Ngige cut short the indefinite strike of resident doctors under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) who were demanding special allowances and Personal Protective Equipment for their members on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.

In Igbo politics, Ngige has remained a prominent player, leading Aka Ikenga as their President from 1991 to 1997 and serving as member Ime Obi (inner caucus) of Ohanaeze Ndigbo  from 1992 as President Aka Ikenga to date having been an ex-Governor of Anambra State.He led other prominent members and disagreed with the leadership of Ohaneze when they veered away from the Constitution of the body which prescribes neutrality to give an open and blind support to the PDP Presidential candidates in 2015 and 2019 elections–creating a major crack which the organization is still battling till today to cement.

Regardless of critical national assignments, Ngige has not forgotten the home front. In May, he distributed palliatives to 1000 households in his hometown Alor, Idemili South Local Government Area, Anambra State, to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on them.The beneficiaries were drawn from all the villages in Alor, namely, Okebunoye, Umuoshi, Agbor, Umunambo, Urueze, Isieke, Umuokwu, Uruezeana, among others. The town union government, Alor Peoples Assembly (APA) and village heads (Isi Ogbe) witnessed the gesture by the minister.

The minister rained cash gifts, noodles, bags of rice and other items on his people. Each of the 1,000 households, got a sum of N5000 cash, totaling N5 million. The food items were estimated at N5 million. In all, 1000 cartons of noodles, 1000 cartons of bottled water and 250 bags of rice were shared to the 1000 households. Also, N5 million was doled out to the church, bringing the total value of the palliatives to N15 million. The minister said the gesture was his own way of rendering assistance to the people as the country continues to battle the pandemic. He added that members of all political parties were eligible to benefit.

“What is Ngige’s next political move?” journalists sought to find out from him in his hometown, Alor. He replied, “Elections will come in 2023. I have the right to vie for any position. I can vie for Senate. I can vie for President if I so wish. Elections will be coming latest November 2021 to elect a successor for Obiano. I am not disqualified. I have the right to say I can run. I don’t have interest in Anambra governorship now because I am on national assignment,” he said.

No doubt at 68, Ngige has left indelible footprints on the sands of time! Onwa, NdiAnambra, Southeast, the entire Ndigbo and Nigerians are proud of you. We wish you happy birthday and many more years ahead.

  • Nzomiwu wrote from Awka, Anambra State.

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