By Levi Obijiofor
In his eagerness to demonstrate his absolute and unassailable support for President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election in 2019, Labour and Employment Minister Chris Ngige has been speaking like a man possessed. Just one week ago, precisely on Sunday, 9 September 2018, Ngige told journalists in Onitsha, Anambra State, that Nigeria would have collapsed into smithereens if Buhari had not been elected in 2015 to steady the ship called Nigeria that was drifting aimlessly in high seas ready to sink.
That kind of comment would have been treated as hilarious because of its high entertainment value but for the fact that the man meant what he said. This is the blame game template the All Progressives Congress (APC) devised in 2015 and has been using mindlessly to channel responsibility for the government’s economic failures to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a party that was swept out of office nearly four years ago. There is a limit to which the APC can continue to paint the PDP blue in the eyes of the public. This blame game strategy may have worked within one year of the government’s inauguration. Beyond that, any attempt to shift the government’s failures to the PDP now sounds like the rhythm of a cracked record.
Questions have been asked about when the APC and the PDP would stop trading blames over which of them destroyed the country’s economy most. The captain of a ship that has taken a wrong direction in the ocean does not blame the wind or the presence of whales in the vicinity or incorrect weather forecast for the disastrous turn of the ship. They take responsibility for steering the ship in the wrong direction. In the past three years, the APC government has refused to take responsibility for widespread corruption, for condoning impunity by senior officials of state, and for taking the country in the wrong path of economic development.
Nearly four years in office, no one can say for sure the direction in which the APC-led Federal Government is headed in terms of mapping out a clear socioeconomic development policy, in terms of addressing law and order that has broken down, in terms of fixing decrepit infrastructure, in terms of improving quality teaching and research in universities, in terms of creating jobs for millions of graduates who are unemployed and have no source of income, in terms of enhancing agricultural production, in terms of injecting stability into the volatile energy sector, and in terms of promoting small to medium scale businesses.
Ngige told journalists in Onitsha that the APC government met an empty treasury when it assumed office in 2015. It is true that rapacious PDP officials ransacked the nation’s treasury for the 16 years they held power. However, could the treasury have remained empty nearly four years after the APC arrived?
When journalists informed Ngige that there was no proof, on the ground, of Buhari’s superlative performance with regard to security and economic development, Ngige said he was surprised that Nigerians were not applauding Buhari for all his achievements so far. Ngige said: “I want you to take something away and that thing is that any other person handling this situation; economy, security, it would have been worse… Nigerians should be clapping for us on a daily basis, and after thanking God, they should thank us. Yes, because God has used Buhari and some of us to make Nigeria work.”
I don’t usually hail government ministers such as Ngige who has developed a habit of inflating the achievements of a government he serves. I was shocked therefore when Ngige said the Buhari government had created more than eight million jobs through agriculture and associated industries. It is unfortunate that journalists did not interrogate Ngige thoroughly so he could point to concrete evidence of where and when the government created the mysterious eight million jobs.
Still presenting his hype about the government’s achievements, Ngige said: “We are wonderful with the economy; nobody, I mean no person would have done better than this present government… We came in and oil nosedived to $37 a barrel with a production of 600,000 barrels per day, a drop from 2.2 million and yet we managed the economy out of recession.” If you believe everything Ngige said about the government’s achievements, you must be a ready victim of charlatans. If you have not yet read the book entitled How to lie with statistics (written in 1954 by Darrell Huff), I encourage you to grab a copy.
This is not the first time Ngige has antagonised a large segment of ordinary citizens with his custom-made wacky comment intended to make a hero out of an undistinguished president. In May 2017, Ngige drew the outrage of his kith and kin when he said Igbo leaders had no right to complain about the government’s bare-faced policy of keeping Igbo people away from Buhari’s government because, in Ngige’s view, Igbo leaders failed to rally their people to vote for Buhari and the APC during the 2015 presidential election. Ngige alleged that when he spoke with Igbo leaders to garner their support for Buhari’s presidential campaign, the leaders slighted him because they expressed commitment to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ngige’s comments were published in a news report in The Sun edition of Thursday, 25 May 2017. In that report, Ngige said: “I went to our Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo in Enugu twice. They could not even reply to a letter written by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, seeking for a meeting with them.” He also recounted how he organised a meeting of Igbo leaders in Lagos in 2014 where he said he evaluated voting trends in the country and told his audience that they should allocate 25 per cent of the Igbo vote to Buhari.
Ngige complained further: “They refused to listen to me, and to make matters worse, there was no voting in most of the areas in the South-east; they just allocated 5 per cent to APC. It was that bad, it is too late to cry when the head is off. Politics is business in a way, you invest in business and you reap profit.”
As I noted at the time of the controversy, there were obvious flaws in Ngige’s argument. First, there was nothing ennobling about Igbo leaders holding a monopoly of all ballot papers in the southeast. That is not true. Igbo people do not vote on the basis of ethnicity or group membership. Igbo voters are not camel that anyone can pull in one direction and they march along. The second flaw in Ngige’s blemished analogy is that, in a genuine democracy, voters do not cast their ballot in anticipation of what they hope to derive. Voters cast their ballot because they believe their choice candidates would introduce bills that would help to improve ordinary people’s economic conditions.
Ngige was being simplistic by approaching Igbo leaders and hoping they would allocate 25 per cent of their people’s votes to Buhari. Ngige might be a senior minister in Buhari’s government but he just does not understand the voting pattern in his own region of the country.