By Chinelo Obogo
Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige has formally declared his intention to contest the position of President on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
While addressing a crowd at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Alor, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State on Tuesday, the minister said he has the experience, capacity and energy to accommodate the differences among Nigerians.
Ngige said his achievements and wealth of experience as a former governor, ex-Senator and two-time minister is what Nigeria needs now, describing himself as a ‘Jack of All Trades.’
He said under his watch, the Labour Ministry has resolved 1683 industrial disputes in the last seven years, 95 per cent done successfully in the ministry and its agency, the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP), while about three per cent of the disputes went up to the National Industrial Court of Nigeria(NICN).
He also said labour under his administration has been taken to a higher level as Nigeria has been brought back to the Governing Board (GB) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) after 10 years of absence.
“Many would wonder that after serving seven years as Minister in one of the most difficult ministries of government, in a polity riddled with rising unemployment, bickering and economic disputes between workers and employers, in a famished economy, I would have asked for a deserved rest.
“Yes, a deserved rest would have been okay for me as a person but the zeal, the burning desire in me to see a prosperous, united and equitable Nigeria, where no man is oppressed, where there is no chasm between the haves and have not, would not allow me to go home and rest.
“Today, as I sit back to ruminate on the state of our country, I find a country led by a patriot, good-hearted leader, Muhammadu Buhari, though greatly misunderstood especially in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. Permit me to say that I want to get the nomination of our party and to stand on its manifesto to actualise and execute the programmes of the APC.
“Shall we say the APC as a party and as a government has failed? The answer is a big No. The three cardinal issues upon which Nigeria gave us a mandate in 2015 are infrastructure/economic development, security and anti-corruption. In properly assessing this government and our programmes, it is important we start from where we met Nigeria in 2015. I don’t want to be one of those in the class of wailers, wallowing in self-pity. I want to be your ambassador so I can go and grow prosperity, and grow the resources that are needed for a big country like Nigeria.
“Some persons have been feeding the public with wrong information that my office is to blame for the incessant strikes by labour unions. Here is an opportunity to explain my role as a conciliator.
In the case of the university unions, it is important to make it clear that the Federal Government is not owing them salaries and wages rather, what is being owed is a carry-over of allowances (Earned Academic Allowances/Earned Allowances) from the past administration and that the carry-over is being paid in instalment, under a negotiated agreement. On one or two occasions the government defaulted for lack of revenue to pay, it was properly rescheduled.
“Unfortunately, detractors have told unions that Ngige is their problem. How can the Minister of Labour be their problem when he is not their employer? The Minister of Labour is neither a member of the Governing Council of universities nor the Minister of Education or Finance. The same goes for health workers and doctors. The government side and the fixers of salaries and wages met with them and told them what they are able to pay, which is an ILO principle of Negotiation – Capacity and ability to pay. Instead of following up with negotiations, they would turn around to blame the Minister.
“For example, ASUU invented a payment platform, called UTAS. UTAS has been subjected to necessary tests by National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) which said it cannot recommend the system for use, having passed the User Acceptability test, but failed the Integrity and Credibility test. ASUU said Ngige can do the magic, to force NITDA to clear UTAS and also force the Ministry of Finance to deploy it. This magic is beyond me. They ascribed the powers I don’t have to my office.
“However, conciliation and arbitration are within the ambit of my Ministry and we are doing whatever we can, including persuasion, and subtly moving into other ministries, to try to pressure them, in order to resolve some of the issues,” he said.
Ngige appealed to ASUU to reconsider its position and save the education sector in Nigeria.
He then thanked the President for the opportunity offered him to serve as a minister, which he said broadened his knowledge of the various ministries, departments and agencies,
being a member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the conciliator of disputes between employers and employees in the various arms of government and the private sector.